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Highlands Act Opponents Approved to Highlands Council

Date : Tue, 24 May 2011 13:20:51 -0400

For Immediate Release
May 23, 2011 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Highlands Act Opponents Approved to Highlands Council

Governor Christie's Highlands Council appointments made it past the Senate today, despite two of his nominees, Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee and Hunterdon County Freeholder Robert Walton, being on the public record openly opposing the Highlands Act and the Highlands Regional Master Plan. The Governor has nominated a slate of 10 individuals, many of which have spoken out against the Highlands Act and challenged the law's constitutionality in the past. Governor Christie is using these appointments to go around the Legislature to repeal Highlands protections. Sierra Club is concerned that six of his ten appointments will take the side of developers and corporate polluters over the protection of New Jersey's water supply.

"Today the Senate placed politics before protecting the state's drinking water. Two of the newest Highlands Council members, Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee and Hunterdon County Freeholder Robert Walton, are opponents of the Highlands Act and have been appointed as part of the Governor's attempt to dismantle the Highlands regulations. The Governor is stacking the Council with members who will weaken environmental protection and not enforce the law," said Jeff Tittel, Director New Jersey Sierra Club.

Mayor Rilee opposed and openly delayed Roxbury's conformance to the Highlands Regional Master Plan. He objected to state mandated compliance with the Highlands Act and has voted against adopting municipal resolutions related to the Highlands Conformance process. The Mayor of one of the least engaged communities in the Highlands process has now been appointed to the Highlands Council and expected to lead the conformance process. Freeholder Robert Walton has been quoted in the Hunterdon County Democrat saying he is "diametrically opposed to the Highlands Act." He has stated that he would vote against Hunterdon County submitting a conformance petition to the Highlands Council. On his Facebook page, Walton has stated the Highlands Act is a land grab and should be "scrapped". As Councilmembers, Rilee and Walton will not be implementing the Highlands protections they oppose. Instead they will open the Highlands up for development causing a loss of open space, destroying our water quality, and creating overdevelopment and sprawl.

"These Highland Council appointments mark the beginning of the dismantling of environmental protections for five and a half million New Jersey residents," said Jeff Tittel.

The Christie Administration's support of Highlands Act opponents to serve on the Council emphasizes his desire to restrict implementation of the Highlands Act, eliminate the Council's funding, stack the board with pro-development members and weaken DEP regulations, making the Highlands regulations essentially meaningless.

At a townhall meeting in March in Hoptacong, Governor Christie stated that the Highlands Act "was based on a lie" and as the Democratic legislature prevents him from repealing the Highlands Act, appointing "commonsense" individuals to the Council is the only recourse he has to weaken the Highlands regulations. The confirmation of these appointments is the Governor's opening salvo in rolling back Highlands protections.

"Christie would rather appoint people from special interest and people who have a political agenda to dismantle Highlands protections to the Highlands Council than protect our drinking water," said Jeff Tittel. "The Governor is playing political games and putting our drinking water at risk."

Six vacant or expired seats on the Council remain and the Governor has nominated individuals to fill those seats. Still awaiting confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee are Bergen County Surrogate Michael Dressler, White Township Mayor Sam Race, Sussex County Freeholder Richard Vohden, former West Milford Planning Board Chairmen Michael Tfank, aquatic biologist Michael Sebetich, and Passaic County Freeholder Bruce James. There is no diversity among the Governor's nominees. No women, no minorities, no environmentalists.

The remaining nominations must be held until the Governor nominates a balanced slate of individuals who actually believe in protecting the Highlands. Diverse opinions are needed on the Council, but open opponents of Highlands regulations must not be placed on the Council.

The Highlands region provides drinking water to 5.4 million New Jersey residents across 14 counties and the state's key economic industries.

"Today the Senate took the side of politics over the protection of drinking water for the people of New Jersey," said Jeff Tittel. "Rilee and Walton's appointments will undermine critical protection for New Jersey's water supply."

Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator NJ Sierra Club 145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618 609.656.7612 (f) 609.656.7618 Received on 2011-05-24 10:20:51

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

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