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Highlands Annual Report Full of Spin

Date : Thu, 11 Apr 2013 11:47:16 -0400

For Immediate Release
April 2, 2013 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Highlands Annual Report Full of Spin

Yesterday the Highlands Council released their 2012 Annual Report, taking credit for work the Council did under past leadership and highlighting the stop of progress on implementing critical protections for the region. The report talks about approving petitions and other accomplishments, but most of that work occurred before the current staff came in. Rolling back and delaying protections for the region significantly impacts the drinking water supply for 5.4 million people across the state.This report shows some of the Governor's and some Council members' ongoing attacks and dismantling of protections for the Highlands region.

"The Highlands annual report is spin.The report itself undermines Highlands protections when it says the Council wants to move to a 'balanced approach'.That is code language for weakening protections.The Council needs to do its job and protect the drinking water for more than half the state's residents.When the report came out yesterday I thought it was an April Fool's joke," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club In the last year the Council approved six conformance petitions, compared to 31 in the previous two years under Eileen Swan's leadership.There are still over 20 municipal petitions awaiting Council approval.The Council has basically put the brakes on the conformance process especially in the Planning Area, where conformance is voluntary.The Council under Feyl's leadership approved less than a handful of petitions and those had been severely revised to include new centers and more growth in some cases in inappropriate areas that did not have available water or wastewater capacity. The Council is also delaying conformance by revising the municipal land use ordinance and telling communities to hold off on adopting it.To date only one community, High Bridge has adopted this document that puts the Highlands protections in place at the local level and this was done under Swan's leadership.

"The report seems to take credit for progress made up previous leadership while trying to hide the current leadership's own dismal record," said Jeff Tittel. The Council states addressing land owner equity priority, however there was major debate among Council members to support state open space funding which would provide some compensation to Highlands landowners.The Council finally passed the hotly contested resolution last month supporting the funding, even though the Council has continuously supported open space funding in the past.The Council weakened their past position and have not come out in support of a water user fee. Last year the Council's independent executive director Eileen Swan was fired by a Council stacked with Governor Christie's appointments.the Council's former Chief Counsel and Deputy Executive Director Tom Borden resigned in opposition to the firing of Eileen Swan.The Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director positions were filled by politicians connected to Governor Christie last year.And last month the Chief Counsel position was filled by a land use attorney who has advocated for the repeal of the Highlands Act. These staff changes and a Council stacked by the Governor will have a significant impact on the future of the Highlands region.The Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) is up for re-adoption this year and could be weakened significantly under staff and Council leadership. The Council is also in charge of preparing Wastewater Quality Management Plans that conform with the Highlands RMP in both the Preservation and Planning areas.These plans determine where sewers lines can be installed, ultimately directing future growth. 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 and he has slashed funding for the Council.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.He appointed Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee Chair of the Highlands Council despite his open opposition to Highlands protections.Highlands regulatory protections are being rolled back as well.Early in the administration DEP held a series of Highlands stakeholder meetings to weaken the DEP Highlands rules and similar meetings are being held now on the nitrate dilution model, stormwater management, flood hazard areas and Category one rules, impacting the Highlands region.

"This report tries to cover up the impacts of the ongoing attacks by Governor Christie on the Highlands region and the drinking water for 5.4 million people.The stacking of the Council with anti-Highlands appointments, the firing of Eileen Swan, and giving key Highlands staff positions as political patronage are all parts of the plan to dismantle Highland protections and promote overdevelopment at the expense of our water supply," said Jeff Tittel. The full report can be viewed here:<a>

Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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Received on 2013-04-11 08:47:16

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