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Sprawling Out as Fast as We Can

Date : Wed, 28 Jul 2010 14:00:23 -0400

  For Immediate Release
July 28, 2010 Contact Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club Director, 609-558-9100

Sprawling Out as Fast as We Can

A report recently released by Rowan University with help from Rutgers University shows New Jersey continues to sprawl out at an alarming rate. According to the report, between 1986 and 2007, New Jersey saw a 26 percent increase in the amount of developed land. In the last five years, our population has gone up 1.2 percent and the amount of land loss has increased by 7 percent.

New Jersey now has more urban than forested land and more than half of the growth is occurring in rural and environmentally sensitive areas. The report, like previous reports, should serve as a wake up call that New Jersey is on a path to be paved over within a generation, resulting in severe impacts to our environment, economy, and quality of life.

"This report is an alarm bell showing New Jersey is not properly managing growth," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. "We're paving over farm fields and environmentally sensitive areas at a higher rate now than at any time in the past."

The report provides a lot of very good data, however, it does not look at the direct impacts growth has on the population. Those impacts are troubling. Out of every state in the nation, New Jersey has the highest percentage of streams that are impaired for water quality. We are the only state in the nation where every county is out of compliance for ground level ozone. In some of our urban counties, the air quality is 20 times the health base standard for certain air toxins.

We have experienced five major floods in the last decade, causing billions of dollars in damage and resulting in a loss of life. We've also seen major droughts that have impacted our water and economy. Dissolved oxygen levels in our bays and oceans are dropping due to an excess of nutrients. The Barnegat Bay is turning into New Jersey's largest stormwater detention basin and its whole ecology is changing. Jellyfish and sea nettles are dying and we may loose our clamming industry because of this poor water quality. Beaches on the Raritan Bay have been designated as Superfund sites.

New Jersey is loosing farmland as a percentage of the state faster than any state in the nation. In 1950, we had 2 million acres of farmland. That has dropped to a little over a half million acres. The fastest growing counties for urbanization include southern parts of the state like Cumberland and Atlantic counties, where once rural and environmentally sensitive lands are now being paved over. While we are destroying our last remaining open spaces, we are allowing our cities to decline instead of focusing on redevelopment. Because of overdevelopment, New Jersey runs the risk of depleting its drinking water supply and lacking proper sewer capacity. Traffic gets worse and worse each year.

"These are the consequences of many failed policies over the years in trying to reign in sprawl," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.

New Jersey has made many different attempts to manage land use, including the Highlands Act, Pinelands Act, State Planning Act, Sewer rules, and a robust open space program. We've tried to protect water supplies through Category One stream designations and buffers. Unfortunately, many of these programs have come late with much of the state already lost to sprawl and urbanization.

Now, under the Christie Administration, these programs are under attack. Christie's policies will make things much worse:

* New sewer rules that would limit sprawl and development in certain environmentally sensitive areas have been set aside.

* A process to undermine the Category One stream program and weaken the storm water program has begun.

* Highlands and Pinelands laws and regulations are being attacked.

* Under the guise of "red tape," the administration is attempting to streamline permitting and eliminate environmental protections to make development on our last remaining open spaces even easier.

* A bill that would prohibit New Jersey standards from exceeding federal standards is being pushed.

"The Christie Administration is dismantling key environmental program and regulations, which will sprawl us out quicker, adding pollution and overdevelopment," Tittel said.

The report says only half the development is occurring in areas designed as environmentally sensitive and rural by the State Plan. However, the report doesn't explain that there are many important areas designed for growth in the State Plan. The State Plan is a longstanding policy fraud that is used as an excuse for sprawl while failing to encourage revitalization.

The State Plan has designated growth areas fifty feet from major water supply reservoirs in endangered species habitats on trout streams without sewer or water supply. The State Plan has designated more than 300,000 acres of environmentally sensitive areas for growth. The development occurring there is not center-based or transit oriented.

New Jersey should follow the lead of states like Oregon, where 35,000 acres in their growth management plan have been designated for new development, which will create a half a million jobs and attract a half a million people. In Oregon, the average one-family house is built on a quarter acre, whereas in New Jersey it is built on two acres. Oregon is redeveloping its cities with light rail to accommodate growth and ripping down highways for a waterfront park, while we continue to sprawl out and widen our highways through environmentally sensitive areas.

Even in the Pinelands, where a growth management plan has worked, there are major problems with sprawl in some of the growth areas. In the Highlands, there are thousands of units to be created through exemptions and other loopholes. The Highlands and Pinelands laws, which help protect import areas but are not as limiting to growth as some have said, are under attack by the Christie Administration and are subject to weakenings.

New Jersey has severe water problems. Many of the rules put in place in the last five years have helped but have not solved the problem. We may be the first state in the northeast to run out of water. We have come close to this predicament during drought conditions, especially in Northeastern portions of the state, like Bergen County. Attacks by the Christie Administration to loosen protections on drinking water will only make matters worse and will undercut protections we have fought for over the last seven years.

We believe there are several steps New Jersey should take to handle growth.

* Direct growth to the right places. There are more than 300,000 vacant areas for growth located in sewer service areas that are not environmentally sensitive. There are 75,000 fractured acres of environmentally sensitive designated for growth that are not connected to larger environmentally sensitive tracts. More than 100,000 acres of brownfields are ready for redevelopment as well as 100,000 greyfields, which are closed shopping centers and abandoned parking lots.

* Develop growth management boundaries outside of the Highlands and Pinelands to channel growth in appropriate places. We must develop regional planning in areas like the Delaware Bayshore, where we are seeing development at alarming rate. We also need to enforce the rules in place so that we are actually protecting our natural resources instead of sprawling out.

* Find a stable source of funding for open space.

* Strengthen and eliminate the loopholes in our coastal law, CAFRA.

* Develop statewide programs to limit impervious cover and protect steep slopes.

* Establish better programs to manage stormwater and retrofit urban areas

* Invest in infrastructure in urban areas so there is enough water and sewer capacity for the growth we need to direct there

* Improve mass transit in urban and suburban areas, allowing people to get to work in an environmentally sound manner while encouraging redevelopment

"In New Jersey we're paying the price for bad land use decisions like sprawl, overdevelopment, traffic, and air and water pollution, all while paying the highest property taxes in the nation. This is the result of failed land use policies," Tittel said.

The legislature itself has been complicit in following the builders' agenda, passing more than a dozen bills that promote sprawl and undermine good planning, such as Time of Decision, Permit Extension and the New Jersey Stimulus Bill that allows developers to keep 75% of tax money to pay for development.

"Under the guise of red tape and a bad economy, the Governor and Legislature are undermining key environmental programs while spending millions of tax dollars to subsidize sprawl," Tittel said. "New Jersey has had many successful programs in the past and we need to build and improve on those so we can ensure future generation will have adequate open space, clean water and a better quality of life."

### Kara Seymour, Program Assistant NJ Sierra Club 145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618 609.656.7612 (f) 609.656.7618  <http://www.newjersey.sierraclub.org/> www.newjersey.sierraclub.org   Received on 2010-07-28 11:00:23

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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