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DEP Succumbs to Political Pressure

Date : Tue, 27 May 2008 11:44:11 -0400

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jeff Tittel May 27, 2008 (609) 558-9100

DEP Succumbs to Political Pressure List of C1’s Cut

Last year the Sierra Club was pleased to be a part of an Earth Day announcement that heralded the proposal of 910 miles of streams for upgrade to Category 1 (C1) status. When Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson signed the final rule adoption last week, however, only 686 miles remained on the list. While the addition of certain streams, such as the Swimming River, Toms River, Pompeston Creek, and Musconetcong River, is a positive step made despite a great deal of political pressure, we are troubled by the 224 miles that were ultimately left out.

Many of the streams that did not make the final list were those that the Sierra Club considered among the most important. For the most part, these streams had controversial development projects tied to them, such as the Mountain Creek Ski Area along Black Creek, redevelopment of the former Lucent site and expansion of Bristol Myers Squibb on the Stony Brook River, and various projects along the Pequest and Walkill. While these projects would not necessarily have been prevented from going forward, the developers will get a free pass to pollute without the requirements of maintaining buffer zones and water quality levels in the streams.

“What concerns us most is that the areas that were dropped were those where there was the most political pressure from legislators and influential people in the business community opposing protections,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It seems that the department was using political science rather than sound science in determining the streams that were removed from this important list.”

“The DEP will come up with all kinds of excuses – my dog ate my homework, the sun was in my eyes – but these ‘technical changes’ seriously undermine the protection of water in New Jersey. For some reason, the places where they have found additional information that negates a classification of C1 are the same places that have had the most opposition from special interests and are most threatened by development,” he added.

Tittel also noted that 240 miles of the original 910 miles proposed for upgrade were in the Highlands Preservation Area, where they already receive certain levels of protection. “Although the C1 designation would help protect the streams by guarding against Highlands exemptions, the DEP only gave new protections to about 400 miles of streams with this adoption,” he explained.

The Walkill River is an example of an important waterway that will not get adequate protection under these rules. The Walkill was originally nominated for C1 status in 1988 because of the presence of federally-protected bog turtles. Four different governors have proposed it, but backed down due to political pressure for local development interests and politicians in Sussex County. Although the Walkill provides habitat for the bog turtle, drains into a National Wildlife Refuge, is an integral part of water supply in the state of New York, and already has flooding problems due to overdevelopment – for example around Sparta – New Jersey is once again bowing to political pressure and allowing more sprawl and development to further threaten this vital resource.

The Pequest has also been dropped from the list. This river is in the Highlands Planning Area, where development pressure is at its highest. Instead of protecting the water supply of the people of New Jersey, however, the DEP has given into political pressure.

In addition to the new designations, the C1 Rules include updated guidelines for how new C1 streams will be chosen. The Sierra Club opposed the adoption of this section on the grounds that the new criteria are too stringent and would undermine not only the future adoption of C1 streams, but even the renewal of protections for streams that have already been designated.

“We find it disturbing that even though the DEP’s current standards were upheld by the court last year after a challenge from the Builders Association, the department is now backing down and adopting standards that will make it harder to protect New Jersey’s waterways,” said Tittel.

The new criteria are so demanding that very few waterways in New Jersey will be able to meet them. For example, under the new rules, only streams and rivers that supply drinking water for over 100,000 people could get protection – those that supply drinking water to fewer will not. Streams that have a federal designation of Wild and Scenic will not get protection, nor will those that drain into National Wildlife Refuges.

“What was supposed to be a day of celebration because of the upgrading of these streams has instead shown that it is pay-to-play and politics as usual in New Jersey when it comes to the environment, that special interests win out of the protection of our water supply,” concluded Tittel. “Yet again with the Corzine Administration, what is supposed to be a victory turns into frustration and the undermining of environmental protection in the state. >From the attempt to close state parks to proposals to build new nuclear plants, it seems to be one thing after another with this administration.”

Category 1 is New Jersey’s highest level of protection for waterways. Once designated C1, waters get a 300-foot buffer under the stream encroachment and storm water rules and are to have no measurable or calculable change in water quality. These streams are the most pristine, have endangered species habitat and high recreational value, and are the most important to water supply. They are the gems of our natural world that need to be protected.

##########

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 2008-05-27 11:51:44

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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