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Governor’s War on the Highlands Continues

Date : Fri, 16 Mar 2012 11:10:22 -0400

/For Immediate Release/
March 15, 2012 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

*Governor’s War on the Highlands Continues*

/Council Votes to Oust Executive Director/**

// The Governor’s campaign to roll back protections in the Highlands region continued today as the Highlands council voted to fire Executive Director Eileen Swan.The Highlands Council passed a resolution terminating Ms. Swan and she is expected to be replaced with one of Governor Christie’s political buddies.The Council's Deputy Director, Tom Borden, resigned after the resolution passed. This is part of the Governor’s ongoing plan to roll back protections for the Highlands and 5.4 million people who depend on it for drinking water.

“This is a sad day for the Highlands.Replacing the Executive Director is part of Governor Christie’s clear attack on the Highlands region and roll back of its protections.The Governor wants to replace someone who has been professional and independent with someone who is part of his political machine,” *said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*.“We have worked with Eileen Swan in the past.Although we do not always agree with her, she has been professional, supports the Highlands Act, and is respected by a broad range of people and groups in the region.” Swan has worked to bring 39 communities so far into conformance with the Highlands Regional Master Plan and has long advocated for protections for the region on the Governor’s Highlands Taskforce and as a former Councilmember.Eileen and staff have handled wastewater management planning very professionally, based on science and the Highlands Regional Master Plan, and that may be why the Governor is trying to replace her with someone that would push for more sewer lines. She is slated to be replaced by Morris County Freeholder Director Gene Feyl, a clear political appointment.Feyl is currently freeholder and if he kept that position he would be double-dipping and it could potentially create a conflict of interest as Morris County is in the Highlands region and he would be staff on the Council.The Governor has attacked the Highlands and now he wants to put in place a staff that will be a rubberstamp for his anti-environmental agenda.

“We are concerned that not only is this a double dip but this will create cronyism to weaken the Highlands protections for special interests.Who is Feyl going to work for, Christie’s political machine or the people of New Jersey?Will he have policies or will it just be politics risking our drinking water?” *asked Jeff Tittel*. Since he took office, Governor Christie has advanced policies that undercut the protection of the Highlands.His transition team called for the elimination of the Council.The Governor has slashed funding for the Highlands Council, from $12 million to $4.4 million in 2011.Governor Christie also cut $18 million in grants for municipalities to help them conform to the Highlands Regional Master Plan in 2011.

“This action is part of the Governor’s ongoing dismantling of Highlands protections along with slashing the Council’s funding, stacking the Highlands Council with anti-Highlands members, and weakening DEP regulations,” *said Jeff Tittel*. Governor Christie has appointed individuals to the Highlands Council who have publically opposed the Highlands Act and have been parties to lawsuits to overturn the Act.Nine of his ten appointments have been approved and are now serving on the Council, giving the Governor influence over a majority of the Council votes. The Governor appointed Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee Chair of the Highlands Council despite his open opposition to Highlands protections.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, challenged the science behind the Highlands Act, and has voted against adopting municipal resolutions related to the Highlands Conformance process. Governor Christie is using these appointments to go around the Legislature to repeal Highlands protections.At a townhall meeting in March 2011, 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.Now he is replacing the Executive Director as well to further undermine protections for the Highlands region. Highlands regulatory protections are being rolled back as well under this administration.Last year the DEP held a series of Highlands stakeholder meetings to weaken the DEP Highlands rules and similar meetings are being held on the stormwater management, flood hazard areas and Category one rules, impacting the Highlands region. The administration has also supported three major, destructive developments in the Highlands region.PSE&G’s Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line and two gas pipeline projects by Tennessee Gas Pipeline company were approved by the Highlands Council.One gas pipeline has already been constructed with the administration’s support in Vernon and West Milford.These linear development projects will cut through the Highlands, increasing water and air pollution, and leaving a scar on the land that will ruin the view shed.The projects will require the diversion of public lands in State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas. The Highlands Act is important because it implements regional planning for resource protection.That includes an Executive Director and Council that promotes regional planning by looking at the impacts of development on the entire Highlands, not site-by-site or town-by-town.The Highlands Act was passed because there was a need to protect the water supply for 5.4 million. Replacing Eileen Swan with a political appointee will undermine the protection of our clean drinking water.

“Almost eight years since the passage of the Highlands Act we have to stand up and try to protect the Highlands all over again.These actions by the Christie administration are jeopardizing the drinking water for five and half million New Jerseyans.What the Governor cannot undo through the Legislature, he is weakening at the Highlands Council,” *said Jeff Tittel*.

Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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