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State Plan Changes Target Highlands Protections

Date : Fri, 25 Jan 2013 11:16:05 -0500

For Immediate Release
January 15, 2013 Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

State Plan Changes Target Highlands Protections

Tomorrow the State Planning Commission will vote to alter the existing State Plan mapping to allow more development in a sensitive region of the Highlands.Mt. Olive is requesting that a 413 acre tract important for water supply and containing critical species habitat and historic resources be re-designated from environmentally sensitive, Planning Area 5, to suburban, Planning Area 2.This re-designation would allow for commercial development of the site outside of the Highlands Act regulations, potentially to allow the development of new offices for BASF.Under the new Strategic State Plan, the tract would become a priority growth investment area if re-designated Planning Area 2.This would allow for new infrastructure on the site such as sewers.Portions of the site have been previously disturbed, but the re-designation request would open the entire site to inappropriate growth, including the portion bordering Allamuchy State Park and containing the Morris Canal.The Sierra Club opposes this map change and the policies under the State Strategic Plan that would turn the site into a priority investment area.

"They are deliberately using the State Plan to undercut Highlands protections.This is a giveaway to developers at the expense of our water supply and our environment," s*aid Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club*. "This goes against even the State Plan since it meets all the criteria for Planning Area 5 and that is why it has been designated PA 5 for over 20 years.Instead of using science, they are using political science to take care of politically connected developers." Mt. Olive has not conformed to the Highlands Council's Regional Master Plan for their Planning Area and the site could become a designated "priority growth investment areas".If this re-designation is approved Mt. Olive will be rewarded for poor planning and not moving forward with the conformance process.Under the Strategic Plan section 2.3 growth areas receive more infrastructure, such as sewers, to support higher density development.This will also be able to get state funding with the growth area designation.In the Memorandum of Agreement between the Highlands Council and State Planning Commission, the State Plan is supposed to be coordinated w the Highlands Regional Master Plan, not trump it as seen here.

"There is nothing strategic about taking care of special interests at the expense of the environment.They are using the State Plan to get around the Highlands Conformance process.This is part of the Christie administration trying to repeal the Highlands Act without going to Legislature," said Jeff Tittel. This site met the criteria to qualify as environmentally sensitive with Planning Area 5 protections and to change it goes against science.Portions of the site are in the Highlands protection zone.This re-designation will take care of a developer, and is political science, not actual science.There are more fitting sites for this type of development.Under the State Strategic Plan they will get sewers and public financing, promoting growth in areas that are environmentally sensitive at the expense of areas such as Dover and Morristown. Changing the designation would make the tract subject to the Permit Extension Act and on site permits would be extended.

"When the Final State Strategic Plan was released I said, 'Under this plan there is an incentive for the towns that don't want Highlands protections to not conform to the Regional Master Plan.By not adopting those protections the towns get more growth and environmental destruction.'This request by Mt. Olive is proof that the State Strategic Plan was set up to undercut Highlands protections," said Jeff Tittel.

Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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Received on 2013-01-25 08:16:05

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