A legal foundation here that is affiliated with a similar one headed by James G. Watt until he became Secretary of the Interior is seeking to intervene in a court case as counsel for opponents of the Pine Barrens Comprehensive Management Plan.
The group, the Mid-Atlantic Legal Foundation, is representing the Boards of Education of Woodland and Washington Townships and the Pine Land Landowners Defense Fund. The fund is headed by Marvin F. Matlack, a member of the Woodland board.
In Federal District Court in Trenton tomorrow, these groups will ask Judge Anne E. Thompson for permission to intervene in a suit that seeks to halt implementation of the plan.
The foundation is one of six affiliated under the umbrella of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest in Washington. James R. Richards, vice president of the center, said its purpose was to ”provide a balance against extremist environmentalist organizations, such as the Sierra Club, and consumer-oriented groups, such as the Nader organizations.”
The center, Mr. Richards said, was formed in 1975 to help create and organize law offices around the country to represent opponents of regulations favoring environmental and consumer groups. Foundations were established from 1976 to 1978 in Chicago, Atlanta, Kansas City, Denver, Philadelphia and Washington, each with an independent board.
The largest of these offices is the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, whose first, and so far only, president and chief legal officer was Mr. Watt. He resigned to become Secretary of the Interior. Until he left, Mr. Watt and his foundation represented oil, mining, ranch, power company and other business interests in the West. The center and its affiliates are nonprofit, tax-exempt law firms. Mr. Richards said that contributors included business corporations, trade associations, foundations and individuals.
The movement to establish the network, Mr. Richards said, was triggered by the decade-old battles over the Alaska oil pipeline. Suits by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations delayed pipeline plans until Congress approved an exemption from the environmental impact statement requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
”The rhetoric you see in the newsletters of the center and the affiliates,” Mr. Richards said, ”gives you a definite feeling” for their philosophy. For example, Mid-Atlantic’s winter newsletter notes that a branch office was opened in New York City as part of an ”expanding challenge to government overregulation and specialinterest extremism.”
The foundation’s brochure says that the organization was formed to represent ”the broad public interest against growing governmental regulation and extremists’ encroachment on private rights and the free-enterprise system.”
The plan to prevent overdevelopment in 1.1 million acres of New Jersey’s pinelands was adopted by the state’s Pinelands Commission last November and approved by Cecil D. Andrus on Jan. 16 as one of his final acts as President Carter’s Interior Secretary. It was formulated pursuant to the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 and the state’s Pinelands Protection Act of 1979.
Builders, landowners, local politicians and other opponents who tried unsuccessfully to prevent its adoption now seek to stop implementation through court challenges, political pressure for changes in the law and other approaches.
One of several pending legal challenges was filed in Federal Court by Hovson’s Inc., the Coalition to Save Agriculture, the Coalition for the Sensible Preservation of the Pinelands and Folsom and Woodland Townships.
The plaintiffs are builders, developers, lawyers, realtors, investors, farmers and others. The original defendant was the Secretary of the Interior,but two weeks ago, Judge Thompson permitted the state, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to intervene on the side of the defendant, the Pinelands Commission. Tomorrow, she will hear arguments by Mid-Atlantic that the two boards of education, both in Burlington County, and the Matlack organization of 250 landowners should be allowed to intervene on the other side.
Richard M. Hluchan, a Deputy Attorney General representing the state, said that he would oppose intervention on the ground that the new groups sought to raise new issues beyond the scope of the suit, namely, the effect of the plan on schools and on the life style of pinelands residents.
In papers filed with the court, Myrna P. Field, president of Mid-Atlantic, and Bradford S. Smith of Cinnaminson, a lawyer for the would-be intervenors, said that their clients feared that the plan’s restrictions on land use would devalue property so much that assessments and tax bases would be reduced, thus rendering school boards unable to provide suitable education.
”The distinct possibility of closing local school systems and the forced relocation of children by busing are especially disconcerting,” the papers said.
The foundation asks that the court find that the Interior Secretary’s approval was conditional and, therefore, illegal. It wants the court to order him to withdraw approval, reconsider and then flatly approve or disapprove the plan. This would amount to taking the decision on the pinelands plan away from Mr. Andrus and giving it to Mr. Watt.
Mr. Hluchan said that disapproval by the Secretary might cut off Federal funds for land acquisition and management of the plan but that the plan would remain in existence anyway because its adoption was authorized by the state’s Pinelands Protection Act.
If that happened, all funds would come from the state. In any case, Mr. Hluchan said, the argument that the plan is invalid because Mr. Andrus attached conditions to his approval is itself invalid because there were no conditions.
But E. Terrence Moore, executive director of the Pinelands Commission, said in an interview that he had agreed, at the request of the Department of Defense, to submit certain amendments within six months of Mr. Andrus’s approval. Defense Department properties in the pinelands are Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base and the Lakehurst Naval Engineering Center.
Mr. Moore said that the department wanted to be sure that it was unrestricted in using the facilities during a war emergency. He said that the amendments, yet to be submitted, were not substantial and that the commission was not committed to accepting them.