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Enviros Urge Council to Fix Highlands Plan or Withhold Support - Vote Scheduled for Thursday

Date : Wed, 16 Jul 2008 12:36:56 -0400

For Immediate Release:
Contacts: Julia Somers, NJHC, 973-588-7190 Wednesday, July 16, 2008 Jeff Tittel, Sierra, 609-558-9100

David Pringle, NJEF, 732-996-4288

Environmentalists Urge Council to Fix Highlands Plan or Withhold Support Critical Amendments, Final Vote Scheduled for Thursday

Chester and Trenton, NJ - With the final critical votes scheduled for tomorrow, New Jersey's environmental community today urged the Highlands Council not to adopt its Regional Master Plan (RMP) until it is strengthened with a series of amendments to provide adequate protections for the water supply of over 5 million New Jerseyans and the State's three largest industries.

"While much work has been done on the plan, much more needs to be done," said Julia Somers, the NJ Highlands Coalition's (NJHC) Executive Director. "We urge the Council in the strongest terms to withhold support for the plan until strengthened with several amendments to provide these protections."

The Highlands Council is scheduled to debate, consider public comments, and vote on amendments and final passage of the RMP tomorrow, Thursday, July 17th at 10 am in Morristown. The amendments address currently non-protective policies regarding development in water deficit areas, stream buffers, groundwater pollution from septics, and non-science based changes to the Highlands map.

"Thursday is Judgment Day for the Highlands Council and Governor," stated Jeff Tittel, a NJHC Policy Committee Co-chair and Director of the Sierra Club's NJ Chapter. "Either we'll have a plan that protects the Highlands or sells out the water supply for future generations."

"As we are seeing today with skyrocketing energy prices, failure to plan properly for the future can lead to crisis," said David Epstein, President of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. "We need a strong Highlands Regional Master Plan to properly protect our water supply, but only with strengthening amendments will it be strong enough to help us avoid future crises."

With the amendments, made public last week, still evolving, the environmentalists released their current positions (see attached) on the amendments, the most important being restricting development where the Council's own science has found a water deficit.

"It's critical the Council address our concerns about development in deficit watersheds," added Bill Kibler, Executive Director of the South Branch Watershed Association, a NJHC member.

"We can't build our way out of water deficits just as we can't borrow and spend our way out of budget deficits. We should NOT gamble with our children's water supply. No water, no future."

The environmentalists also have other concerns not addressed by any of the proposed amendments, including cluster development on farmland, lack of a clear social and environmental justice statement, as well as concerns over certain standards and guidance documents which will be developed and released after plan adoption.

-- more --

"A successful plan must be based on sound science with standards that are clear and comprehensible. It doesn't make sense to let developers build where there is a chronic water shortage, even if they write a complex recharge plan," Cindy Ehrenclou, Executive Director of the Upper Raritan Watershed Association, a NJHC member, explained. "The proposed amendments, based on straightforward science, strengthen the plan and provide the clarity which will begin a logical path to implementation."

"The Plan does not give towns enough direction to move to the crucial next step: conformance," continued Sandy Batty, Executive Director of the Assoc. of NJ Environmental Commissions, a NJHC member. "It sets up complicated procedures on how to deal with development in water deficit areas and stream buffers. And it lacks clear standards and firm, legitimate guidance documents so that towns will know what actions they must take to conform."

"The proposed plan would encourage clustered housing on farmland, resulting in scattered and piecemeal residential development, another form of sprawl that goes against the intent of the Act to preserve Highlands resources," said Michele Byers, Executive Director of the NJ Conservation Foundation, a NJHC member.

"The current plan still allows for political deal-making to trump water protection," added Eric Stiles, NJHC Vice Chair and Vice President for Conservation of NJ Audubon Society. "Towns can simply redesignate areas for growth through map adjustments regardless of the science and social justice."

In addition to supporting strengthening amendments, the environmentalists drew a line in the sand against any amendments that would weaken what they say is an already too weak plan.

"The plan going into tomorrow risks folks in the Highlands drinking their own septic and folks downstream being flooded and not having a plentiful, clean affordable water supply," concluded David Pringle, a NJHC Policy Committee Co-chair and Campaign Director of the NJ Environmental Federation (NJEF). "The Governor and Council will be on the hook if this plan isn't strengthened let alone if it is weakened."

The New Jersey Highlands Coalition is a diverse and effective group of organizations and individuals - small and large, local, regional, statewide and national - all working together to protect, enhance and restore the New Jersey Highlands.

-- end --

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 2008-07-16 12:45:48

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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