SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The South Plainfield Borough Council, at a meeting April 19, approved a resolution for the remaining of a municipal parcel in memory of the late Peter G, Barnes, III, a former senator and assemblyman as well as New Jersey Superior Court Judge.
Resolution 21-148, which was approved unanimously by the governing body, authorizes the borough to rename South Plainfield's portion of Dismal Swamp Conservation Area as the 'Peter G. Barnes III Preservation Area.'
The Dismal Swamp stretches through over 1,000 acres of hardwood forests, EPA-designated Priority Wetlands, and wild meadows that run through South Plainfield, Metuchen and Edison; locally, it extends from the end of Metuchen Road to Helen Street and back behind the recycling center. The other towns in which the Dismal Swamp runs through have also approved the renaming in Barnes' honor.
"He was a great man and a great Senator and Assemblyman…who will be missed by a lot of people, including myself," said Councilman Robert Bengivenga, Jr. "This [renaming] is well-deserved."
According to a 2018 TAPinto article, the Dismal Swamp is home to countless different wildlife species and many archeological artifacts. It serves as a habitat for 175 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, and 25 species of amphibians and reptiles. It is also home to numerous trees and plants, many designated as rare, threatened or endangered. Additionally, archeological digs in the Dismal Swamp have unearthed artifacts, including ones found to be over 10,000 years old.
In 2008, Barnes with support from now-Senator Patrick J. Diegnan and others, passed the Assembly and ultimately led to the formation of the Dismal Swamp Preservation Commission. The nine-member commission, which included representatives from the aforementioned community and Dunellen as well as environmental experts and county leaders, was tasked with creating a regional Master Plan to prevent further encroachment and has regulatory authority over the swamp.
Renaming the Dismal Swamp in Barnes' honor, according to South Plainfield leaders, is fitting due to the role the late politician played to ensure its preservation. "He tried his best to get that Dismal Swamp Commission going and was excellent in getting it established," Bengivenga, who served as a member of the commission, said. "Although we were on different political parties, he did not care; he always reached out if there were any issues and always asked if there was anything he could do…"
Barnes, who died unexpectedly in February at the age of 64, grew up in Edison and attended Gettysburg College and the Widener University School of Law. A Democrat, he began his political career in 1996 as a councilman for Edison Township and, after more than a decade, went on to represent New Jersey's 18th District, which includes South Plainfield, serving first in the Assembly (2007-2014) and then the Senate (2014-2016). He resigned from the Senate in 2016 following his nomination and confirmation as a New Jersey Superior Court Judge, serving in this role until his death.
"Anytime, whether it was a snow storm, natural disaster, hurricane, whatever it was, you knew [Peter] Barnes was going to reach out," said Mayor Matt Anesh, adding, "He always offered to help in any way. This truly is an honor…[and] he couldn’t be more deserving…"
Council President Derryck White reflected on the time, just prior to Barnes taking his seat on the bench, that he invited him to speak at South Plainfield Middle School. "He arranged his schedule…and made a point to come down and speak to the students in [Joe] Blondo's civic classes. He stayed as long as necessary and answered all their questions," said White, adding, "He was a very good man and a true civil servant. I am glad we are able to do this."
"I can think of no more fitting memorial to my friend, Peter Barnes. It was because of Pete's advocacy with Governor Corzine that the Dismal Swamp was permanently preserved," Diegnan, who served alongside Barnes in the Assembly before taking over his seat in the Senate in 2016, told TAPinto. "Pete was a tireless advocate for improving our quality of life and protecting our environment. How fitting it will be to visit the Peter Barnes III Preservation Area and recall what a special person it is named after."
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