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Highlands Victory, Permit Extension Held

Date : Fri, 16 Mar 2012 11:41:30 -0400

/For Immediate Release/
March 16, 2012 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

*Highlands Victory, Permit Extension Held *

// Yesterday the Legislature put our drinking water before special interests by holding a bill that would weaken protections for the Highlands region.The Senate and Assembly were set to vote on the Permit Extension Act, which would redefine the Highlands Planning Area as a growth area in law. Had this legislation stood the Highlands Planning Area would be designated a growth area in laws going forward and currently existing laws and plans such as the Water Quality Management Planning Act, the Strategic Plan, and others.Half the Highlands, 440,000 acres, would have been turned into a mandatory growth area even with two-thirds of it designated environmentally sensitive and undeveloped land and all of it draining to water supply intakes.

"Had this bill gone forward Highlands protections would have been repealed for half the region. Holding this bill is a great victory for the environment and New Jersey. This bill was supposed to be railroaded through yesterday, but instead the sprawl express got derailed. This was part of Governor Christie's continuing war on the Highlands, but the rank and file Democrats of the caucus overwhelmingly stood up to stop this bill from destroying our drinking water,"*said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.* The Permit Extension Act would allow developers in the Planning Area to ignore updated environmental laws, public health standards, building codes, and local zoning changes. Many of the projects will be grandfathered in and will be exempt from changes to the water quality management planning, stormwater, flood hazard area, stream buffer and encroachment, and category one regulations.The Permit Extension Act will extend developers permits until 2014.

"The builders and land speculators overreached when they targeted 440,000 environmentally sensitive acres in the Highlands for development. The Legislature saw through their game and stood up for the environment. This gives us a chance to either stop this bill permanently or work for the Highlands and other environmentally sensitive areas to be left out," *Tittel said.*"Under this bill a contaminated wetland in Woodbridge would get more protections than a mountain in the Highlands Planning Area next to a reservoir." The bill would amend the definition of Smart Growth to include the Highlands and Pinelands.This state and federally recognized regions were excluded from the two previous rounds of this legislation.According to DEP, 2957 projects came in to DEP to see if they qualified for the previous round of Permit Extension.The DEP denied 1425 of those requests and we are concerned that many of those were projects in the Highlands that could now qualify.Removing the Highlands from the Permit Extension Act is critical to stopping the type of development the Highlands Act was created to stop from coming back to life. Including the Highlands Planning Area in the Permit Extension Act would mean weaker protections in the Highlands than in the rest of the state.The Permit Extension Act exempts Planning Area 5, environmentally sensitive areas, and Planning Area 4b, sensitive agricultural lands under the State Plan.However, the majority of the Highlands Planning Area is in those Planning Areas 5 and 4b but would be included in the latest Permit Extension Act under the new smart growth definition.Permits would be renewed in environmentally sensitive areas of the Highlands that would remain protected if they were outside the region.Removing the Highlands from the Permit Extension Act is critical to stopping the type of development the Highlands Act was created to stop from coming back to life. The bill's "Dracula Clause" is a provision that would bring back bad projects that have expired, impacting hundreds, if not thousands, of permits.With this bill we will see increased flooding, water pollution, and other environmental problems.

"Under the Permit Extension Act, the permits for Windy Acres in Clinton Township would come back to life, even though it is now preserved land," *said Jeff Tittel*. The Highlands Act is important because it implements regional planning for resource protection.The Highlands Act was passed because there was a need to protect the water supply for 5.4 million.

"Because the bill has been held in both houses, we now have a chance to remove the Highlands Preservation Area from the legislation.We won a temporary victory yesterday but it is critical to amend this bill. Otherwise half the drinking water for New Jersey will jeopardized," *said Jeff Tittel*."In the battle between special interest and public interest; the public interest won. This is a victory not only for clean water, but people standing up to developers, speculators, and their special interest lobbyist. Yesterday the good guys prevailed."

Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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