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Christmas Comes Early for New Jersey Builders

Date : Wed, 21 May 2008 12:51:40 -0400

For Immediate Release Contacts: Jeff Tittel, NJ
Sierra Club, (609) 558-9100 May 21, 2008 Dave Pringle, NJ Enviro Federation, (732) 996-4288

Christmas Comes Early for New Jersey Builders

On Monday Assemblymen Greenwald and Cryan introduced the Permit Extension Act, the major bill being pushed by builders and developers in New Jersey. This bill is an attack on the environment, on good planning, and on home rule. "This is one of those special interest bills they try to pass quietly in the middle of the night," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, "but it will have dire consequences for the state of New Jersey."

The Permit Extension Act would extend all permits and approvals for developers at the state and local levels for six years, allowing projects that were permitted many years ago to avoid changes in environmental law, public health standards, building codes, or local zoning. "This bill is one of the biggest giveaways to developers in the history of New Jersey," Tittel added. "It would result in more flooding, more people living on toxic sites, more sprawl, and more pollution in our environment."

The act includes what Tittel terms a "Dracula Clause." It would allow projects where permits or approvals have expired within the past two years to be brought back to life, even if those projects would cause environmental harm or damage to public health.

It would undermine the state's Pollution Discharge Rules, Flood Hazard Rules, Site Remediation Rules, Category 1 Rules, and others, preventing their appropriate implementation in violation of the laws that brought these rules into existence. In fact, the bill's language specifies that the permit extension would be in effect from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2012, due to the current economic situation. "For what's supposed to be a short-term problem, they're looking for a long-term giveaway," said Tittel.

The act would also arbitrarily extend permits affecting federally-designated programs, such as the Wetlands Act and Clean Water Act, violating Memorandums of Agreement between the state of New Jersey and the federal government. In essence, this would mean that the Bush Administration, with its atrocious environmental record, would be more protective of the environment than the New Jersey legislature.

Currently Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permits are good for five years plus a five year renewal, and on some occasions can be renewed beyond this. With the Permit Extension Act, all permits would be good for at least sixteen years. "This would be like a project that was approved during the Reagan Administration being built during George W. Bush's administration," commented Dave Pringle, Campaign Director for New Jersey Environmental Federation. "The world changes a lot in sixteen years. Circumstances are different and scientific knowledge is light years ahead of where it was before."

The six year clock makes this bill even worse than the two previous Permit Extension Acts, which were passed despite a veto by Governor Florio and a conditional veto by Governor Whitman. While those bills caused a great deal of environmental damage and sprawl problems that the state is still feeling the effects of today, the first act only extended permits for two years and the second one for one year. This bill would be for twice the time of those two acts combined.

The Permit Extension Act is the first of what environmentalists anticipate will be a series of bills based on the Department of Community Affairs' (DCA) Housing Task Force reports, which were written by individuals with ties to the building industry with no input from the public or environmental groups. "The builders and the sprawl machine are trying to take over land use and environmental planning in New Jersey," noted Tittel. "We believe that this bill was written by the New Jersey Builders Association and that the legislators that introduced it are just fronting for them. This is an example of special interest money influencing the legislature to the detriment of the public."

The DCA and the builders have claimed that a downturn in the economy necessitates doing away with environmental regulations to keep the building industry afloat. "The builders are using the economy as an excuse to overturn important environmental protections, even though these regulations have nothing to do with the subprime mortgage crisis," concluded Pringle, "But it will cost the state of New Jersey far more if we allow the builders to wreak havoc on public health and the natural resources we depend on for our economic and physical well-being."

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For Immediate Release Contacts: Jeff Tittel, NJ
Sierra Club, (609) 558-9100 May 21, 2008 Dave Pringle, NJ Enviro Federation, (732) 996-4288

The Encap Extension Act Examples of Projects That Would Be Affected By the Permit Extension Act

The Permit Extension Act would extend all permits and approvals for development projects for an additional six years with no attention given to whether a project was good or bad. This indiscriminate approach would allow projects that no longer meet environmental, public health, or building standards to go forward. For example:

* Encap's approvals would be extended for another six years, instead of those permits expiring and Encap actually being required to be cleaned up.

* Eagle Ridge in West Milford, a project of 288 homes above the Wanaque Reservoir in an endangered species area, would be revived, although its approval by the local planning board and its Highlands Act exemption expired last year. This project was originally proposed in the 1980's and was kept alive by the first Permit Extension Act. If built, it would have a dramatic impact on water quality in the Highlands region, especially in the Wanaque Reservoir, and would dry out the wells serving surrounding homes, violating the Highlands Act, the Water Quality Planning Act, and West Milford's zoning ordinances. The Permit Extension Act would allow this to happen over the opposition of the mayor and the town council.

* At Pond View Estates in Rockaway, the water permit has lapsed because it is in an area of groundwater contamination. Under this bill, the permit could be reinstated and residents of the area could end up drinking contaminated water since the bill has no public health and safety clause to prevent this.

* In Jersey City, proposed projects that were ultimately not built on contaminated chromium sites could go forward with their permitting, despite the fact that the toxic waste they sit on is now 12 times the standard for public health. Last year the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), citing better, more recent science, changed the standard from 240 to 20. Under the Permit Extension Act, however, the No Further Action letters saying that cleanup had been completed to the DEP's standards and construction could now go forward would be grandfathered, and houses would be built on toxic sites.

* The act would grandfather approvals for strip clubs and sex shops, even if a town had since changed its zoning to ban them. There was a case like this in Edison after the first Permit Extension Act.

* The act would grandfather the permits to dump dredge spoils in Palmyra Cove Nature Center, which the local community has worked hard to renegotiate.

* It would allow projects sited in flood plains and Flood Hazard Areas to continue, putting people in harm's way and increasing flooding in the area, which in turn would impact downstream property owners and put even more people in potential danger.

* It would also allow projects sited next to Category 1 streams and above reservoirs to be built, impacting water quality and water supply in our already overburdened state and adding more pollution to the streams that provide our drinking water.

* It would prevent projects approved now from being subject to any green building codes that are later adopted, hampering our ability to fight global warming and meet the mandates of the Global Warming Response Act.

* It would grandfather Highway Access Permits, even if it later turns out that the project could cause a public safety hazard.

* It would prevent the implementation of the Kiddie Kollege law, banning the building of schools or daycare centers on contaminated sites.

* It would prevent DEP from revoking permits that were illegally granted, such as on a number of golf courses in Somerset County.

* It would prevent towns from changing their Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) plans, forcing development into environmentally-sensitive areas.

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Becca Glenn, Program Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618

609-656-7612: phone

609-656-7618: fax

Received on 2008-05-21 12:59:47

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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