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Enviro's Seek Veto of Highlands Plan Adoption

Date : Mon, 28 Jul 2008 11:18:33 -0400

Press Release

     For Immediate Release:
     Contacts:             July 23, 2008      Julia Somers, Executive Director, New Jersey Highlands Coalition 973-588-7190 (office), 973-525-2768 (cell)

     Dave Peifer, Highlands Project Coordinator, ANJEC,

            973-539-7547

     Jeff Tittel, Executive Director, New Jersey Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

     Dave Pringle, Campaign Director, NJEF, 732-996-4288                           

Enviro's Seek Veto of Highlands Plan Adoption More Development in Drinking Water Deficit Areas; New Disturbances in Waterway Buffers; Polluted Groundwater Impacting Wells; Unscientific Changes to the Plan

Trenton, NJ - The leaders of New Jersey's environmental community called on Governor Corzine today to halt the implementation of the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) by vetoing the minutes of the recent Highlands Council meeting. They asked that he send the Highlands Council back to the table to fix the Plan. They strongly stated that there are sections of the Plan that will result in the public's health being threatened, and will endanger both the quantity and quality of Highlands drinking water supplies serving over 5.4 million New Jersey residents and New Jersey three largest industries.

By a 9-5 vote, the Highlands Council approved a resolution to adopt the Regional Master Plan at its July 17th meeting in Morristown. More than three-quarters of the speakers from the public sought strengthening amendments which would have protected water supplies and ensured that existing conditions are not degraded below an acceptable public health and safety standard. All of these critical amendments failed to be approved, while three minor clarifying and detail specific amendments were approved. The minutes of the July 17th meeting must now be approved by the Highlands Council at this Thursday's Council meeting and must be approved by the Governor before Plan implementation can begin.

In a letter to the Governor, New Jersey's environmental community laid out specific concerns that were addressed in several amendments proposed by some Council members that were meant to strengthen the Plan (which all failed) and additional concerns not addressed by the Council at all. The Plan in its current form will not meet the mandates of the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act and will threaten public health and safety. The environmental community called on the Governor to veto the minutes of the July 17th Council meeting and to:

work to meet the mandates of the Highlands Act (as laid out in the letter);

protect public health and safety for the residents of New Jersey, both inside and outside of the Highlands Region;

ensure a socially and environmentally just Highlands Plan and provide a long-term, adequate, stable funding source for the Garden State Preservation Trust;

include a simple non-degradation standard in the Plan that will ensure the health of the residents of our State and the economic vitality of our business community;

make immediate, appropriate appointments to the Highlands Council of fully qualified individuals who support the most significant goals of the Highlands Act, both to fill the long-vacant Somerset County seat and to resolve the current imbalance in Council membership between elected officials and public members; and

direct inter-agency coordination such that the Highlands Council and the RMP will be incorporated into relevant state policies and programs. For example, a memorandum of understanding with the Council on Affordable Housing will ease concerns raised by planning area municipalities regarding the RMP voluntary opt-in process and their mandated affordable housing requirements.

The Coalition would like to recognize the support for the strengthening amendments of Council members Tracy Carluccio, Tim Dillingham, Debbie Pasquarelli (R - Warren), Freeholder Liz Calabrese (D - Bergen) and Freeholder Tahesha Way (D - Passaic).

"The Highlands Council failed to protect flood victims and the water supply of over 5 million New Jerseyans and our 3 largest industries. Fortunately, the Governor can do the right thing by vetoing their actions and calling for the Council to strengthen the plan," stated David Pringle of the NJ Environmental Federation, noting Chairman Weingart and a majority of the Council, including Corzine Administration member Janice Kovach, voted against the environment most or all (73% for Kovach, 100% for Weingart) of the time on the key votes last Thursday.

Dave Peifer, Highlands Project Director for the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) explained, "The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions recognizes that important progress has been made in the development of the Regional Master Plan. However, we remain concerned about the lack of 'bright line' standards, and clear guidance for municipalities. The plan as adopted contains numerous difficult and cumbersome processes that appear to be accommodations to development interests. In particular we remain concerned with continued development in water deficit areas, processes that allow reduction of riparian buffers and the policies on allowable nitrate contamination that, if implemented, will allow further degradation of Highlands water resources. Science based 'bright line' limits and policies could be substituted for these cumbersome processes. Clear policies and guidance, supported by science would enhance rather than hinder the implementation of the RMP, especially in the Planning Area municipalities, where conformance is voluntary."

"A truly protective RMP is the only option to continue to provide clean and plentiful drinking water to our residents and businesses of New Jersey. The current RMP is flushing a necessary Act's mandates down the toilet with polluted Highlands water," added Julia Somers, Executive Director for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. "The current RMP simply does not protect water quality and quantity by allowing the continued depletion of the Highlands' aquifers, the increased pollution of ground water drinking supplies and allowing undisturbed stream buffers to be invaded unnecessarily."

Jeff Tittel, Executive Director, New Jersey Chapter, Sierra Club, added, "The Governor can show real leadership and commitment to protecting the drinking water of the people of New Jersey by vetoing the Highlands Council's minutes. This will ensure that we can meet the goals and objectives of the Highlands Act, and protect our drinking water which is the clear mandate of the Act."

### Received on 2008-07-28 08:30:02

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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