Senator Smith, Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee with members of the Governor's Highlands Task Force and
Commissioner Campbell, NJDEP at Wanaque Resevoir (March 2004) more informaton on saving this important
natural resource available at www.savethehighlands.org
Senator Bob Smith and Senator Bob Martin - sponsors of Senate Bill No.1, Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act. The bill is co-sponsered by Senate President Richard Codey, Senator Joseph Palaia and Senator Joseph Vitale.
Lily Donohue, a 13 year old activist, testified before the joint committee on April 22, 2004. It was "Take Your Child To Work Day" and parents, legislators, lobbyists and activists alike were all equally impressed with this intelligent young lady who spoke about preserving our water for future generations. Lily said it best, "we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children".
Click here to view the video recording of Senate Environmental Committee session, held at 10:00 AM on April 22, 2004.
216 Stelton Road
Piscataway NJ 08854
Known for it's scenic beauty, the highlands hold many treasures for the state of New Jersey. The 1,250 square mile stretch of land in the northwest of the State is home to 88 municipalities. The highlands provide many ecosystem services for the rest of the State, which is why it is so vitally important that we work hard to preserve the land. Ecosystem services are those intangible functions that ecosystems provide, a whole greater than the sum of its part. An example is how marsh-land and swamps provide a buffer for flood water, and act as a filter for toxins in the water. The Highlands produce 380 million gallons of water each day, which is an ecosystem service the whole state relies upon. Continued development would rob us of this rich, natural resource.
In an article, "Its Time to Protect Our Highlands' Waters", co-written by Assemblyman John McKeon, the Statesmen had the following to say:
"While New Jersey has become largely industrialized, there still exists at the heart of this urban and suburban jungle on of the few remaining vestiges of the wild lands that excited our early settlers, the New Jersey Highlands…The New Jersey Highlands Region is recognized as a landscape of special significance by the United States Forest Service and consists of 800,00 acres…Statistical studies indicate that the Highlands receive more visitors each year than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined…
…As legislators, we must hold the state of our environment paramount and seek a more socially responsible public policy to prevent the contamination of the Highlands' water supply. To clean it up after it has been polluted is fiscally irresponsible and simply wrong…
…Due to the proximity of the Highlands to rapidly expanding suburban areas, it is at serious risk of being fragmented and consumed by suburban development. Currently, the population of the New Jersey Highlands is growing at a rate 50% faster than the statewide average, with more than 3,000 acres per year being lost to development. The existing land use and environmental regulation system cannot protect the water resources of the New Jersey Highlands against the environmental impacts of sprawl development…
…Time is of the essence."
On September 19, 2003, Governor James E. McGreevey signed Executive Order No. 70 creating the Highlands Task Force and charging it with making recommendations to preserve the natural resources of, and enhance the quality of life in, the Highlands region. The Task Force was a diverse, bipartisan group of individuals consisting of 19 members, 5 of which were cabinet members, and 14 officials and citizens, including the Freeholder Directors from Morris and Somerset Counties, the mayor of Lebanon, Freeholders from Bergen and Passaic Counties and representatives from environmental, business and developer interests. For a copy of the report, visit www.savethehighlands.org.
The Task Force report recognized immediate action necessary to protect resources through creation of regional council with mandatory authority in a preservation area. The Task Force also suggested a balanced between growth and environmental preservation outside of the preservation area.
In regards to the creation of a Highlands Preservation Area, the Task Force decided:
- The most sensitive environmental lands must be protected in a Preservation Area.
- This process should begin with the natural resource data sets assembled by the U.S. Forest Service and Rutgers University and updated by Rutgers University and the New Jersey Water Supply Authority as part of their work with the Task Force.
- Primary consideration should be given to lands that provide drinking water for reservoirs and large forested tracts adjacent to those lands.
- These lands should be connected to preserved open space through other environmentally sensitive lands, given the importance of establishing a Preservation Area that is contiguous and has well-defined boundaries, and given the need to link water supply and large forested lands with permanently preserved open space. State Plan designated centers should be excluded from the Preservation Area.
- Once the Preservation Area is identified, its boundaries should then be translated from the natural resource data sets to on-the-ground points (such as street-to-street descriptions; municipal boundaries; survey lines etc.) that are required in order for the Preservation Area boundaries to be enacted by statute.
- The Department of Environmental Protection should be directed to identify the lands and establish the boundaries in accordance with the methods and scientific standards set forth in these recommendations.
- The Legislature should then designate the Preservation Area boundaries by statute.
The Legislature has now proposed draft boundaries lines for the preservation area (see attached). These draft boundary lines will be amendments to S1/A2635. The map attached is not part of the legislation and was included to assist the public for information purposes only.
Based on the draft boundary lines, the preservation area (excluding major surface waters) is approximately 395,000 acres -- about half the area of the entire Highlands region.
- 96% of State Planning Areas PA1 and PA2 in the Highlands region are outside the preservation area.
- 100% of State Plan Designated Centers in the Highlands region are outside the preservation area.
- Lands already environmentally protected (such as preserved open space) in the preservation area total 171,000 acres (43% of the PRA).
- Lands already developed in the preservation area total 79,000 acres (20% of the PRA).
- Lands currently unprotected and undeveloped in the preservation area total 145,000 acres (37% of PRA).
- What is the main purpose of the Highlands bill?
To protect our drinking water. Over 4 million people. That's more than half of all New Jerseyans, including 292 municipalities and 16 counties.
- How important is Highlands' water to jobs and the State economy?
Extremely important. Major business in the State, such as the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical and food processing industries, depend on Highlands' water. So too, does the eco-tourism industry. The same large forested areas that supply Highlands' water make the region a tourist destination for twenty-two million people a year, more than visit Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite combined.
- How is preservation of the Highlands related to water treatments costs?
According to the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, if we don't preserve critical lands in the Highlands, taxpayers will have to spend $30 billion in water treatment costs between now and 2050 just to treat water from two of the Highlands' major reservoirs (Wanaque and Monksville).
- Where are the important drinking water lands in the Highlands?
The legislation designates a Preservation Area that is primarily comprised of the lands that supply the drinking water to the State's major reservoirs in the north and to the Spruce Run and Round Valley reservoirs in the South.
Of the over 800,000 acres that make up the Highlands region, the legislation defines a preservation area of approximately 398,000 acres with approximately 145,000 acres of undeveloped land. The remainder of the region shall be included in the planning area. The Council will prepare a master plan for the entire Highlands region (preservation and planning areas) within 18 months.
The Act creates a Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, which will consist of 8 elected officials from Highlands' counties (5 municipal and 3 county elected officials) (no more than 4 from the same political party) and 7 residents of the State (they must all satisfy stated requirements for relevant knowledge and experience)( 4 must be landowners, business owners or farmers in the Highlands Region or residents or non-residents who benefit from or consume water from the Highlands Region).
Municipal and county plans for land in the preservation area must be consistent with the Highlands master plan. Municipal and county plans in the planning area will be encouraged, through the use of incentives, to be consistent with the Highlands master plan. Various other agencies and commissions with land use and water quality and quantity responsibilities in the Highlands are required to consult with the Council to ensure that their actions are consistent with the Act.
There will be adequate protections in the preservation area to safeguard drinking water and other important environmental resources.
There will be real incentives for smart growth and for directing growth to appropriate areas through a transfer of development rights program.
Land preservation will be funded through: existing Garden State Preservation Trust funds; a portion of funds approved by the votes for this purpose in November 2003; and developer fees (as implemented through a transfer of development rights program). Dedicated revenues from the Realty Transfer Tax will provide the financial incentives and benefits for towns that receive growth.
MYTHS ABOUT THE LEGISLATION
- Can a landowner to put on a deck or porch?
Yes. Improvements to single-family homes existing on the date of enactment -- such as an addition, garage, shed, driveway, porch, deck, patio, swimming pool or septic system -- would be exempt under the bill. [Section 30]
- Can a landowner to construct a single family home on a lot owned by the individual on the date of enactment?
Yes. [Section 30]
- Can a landowner rebuild a building?
Yes. [Section 30]
- Is the State taking land without just compensation?
No. The legislation specifically allows the construction of single family homes. In addition, the bill contains a specific provision that requires Green Acres and the State Agriculture Development Commission to utilize an appraisal that establishes a "pre-Act" value. [Sections 28 & 53j & 54j]
- Can a landowner harvest forest products in accordance with an approved forest management plan?
Yes. [Section 30]
- Can schools, places of worship and hospitals make improvements?
Yes. [Section 30]
- Can routine maintenance of roads be performed? Yes. [Section 30]
- Can transportation projects that have been approved by the voters proceed? Yes. [Section 30]
- Can development projects proceed if they are far enough along in the approval process?
Yes, the bill includes a grandfather provision for projects that have at least one local approval and one DEP permit. [Section 30]
- " Is the DEP's limited right of access to a property for the purposes of carrying out its duties under the bill modeled after existing legislation?
Yes. It is modeled after the Fresh Water Wetlands Act (the DEP has less authority under the Highlands' bill version).
- Is the DEP's limited right of access to a property for the purposes of carrying out its duties under the bill modeled after existing legislation? Yes. It is modeled after the Fresh Water Wetlands Act (the DEP has less authority under the Highlands' bill version).
- Will the bill prohibit all growth in the Highlands?
No. Contrary to what opponents claim, the bill does not make the Highlands region a "no growth" area. The bill does not contain a development moratorium or permit freeze. Redevelopment within and outside the preservation area will be allowed. Real incentives would be provided to support and encourage appropriate economic development and growth outside of the preservation area.
- What specific policy will assist towns in the planning area grow smart?
In the planning area, there are approximately 363,000 acres where the highlands preservation area regulations will not apply. There will be transfer of development rights receiving zones (as defined on page 4), incentives (such as state aid to support smart growth infrastructure) and clustering incentives. In the preservation area, there will be an exemption for single-family homes, provisions for redevelopment and for brownfields development.
- Does the bill mandate growth areas in the Highlands?
No, the creation of growth areas will be voluntary; incentives will be provided for towns that agree to receive growth. At public hearings, the public voiced strong objection to mandating growth areas. Also, home rule advocates have objected to giving the Council mandatory powers outside the Preservation Area.
- How will adequate housing be provided in the Highlands region?
Housing supply will be protected. The reality is that unless we protect our drinking water, there can be no new homes in the Highlands and families that want to continue living there may not be able to. Regional planning, transfer of development rights (including impact fees and other substantial incentives to encourage the creation of TDR receiving zones) and affordable housing obligations will provide appropriate housing.
TAX PAYER ASSISTANCE
- Will there be taxpayer relief?
Yes, watershed aid and property tax stabilization aid programs are contained in the legislation.
- What watershed aid will there be?
Towns received no watershed aid this year. Under the bill, they will receive $47 per acre.
- What property tax stabilization aid will there be?
Towns in the preservation area will be compensated for lost tax revenues attributable to the bill for a period of ten years. This is based on a program that Pinelands' towns have approved of.
- What percentage of the Preservation Area is made up of Agricultural Lands? Only 8%.
- Will Highlands-specific regulations apply to farms outside the Preservation Area? No.
- For farms in the Preservation Area, does the bill cut back on existing, active farm activities?
No. The bill specifically exempts farming activities from the Act's provisions.
- Can a farmer in the Preservation Area build structures, such as greenhouses?
Yes. Farmers can exceed the Act's 3% impervious cover limit by preparing a farm conservation plan. Beyond 9% a farmer would have to meet more stringent standards adopted by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Protections. The farm bureau specifically supports these provisions.
- Doesn't existing regulation already fully protect our drinking water resources in the Highlands?
No. For instance, DEP does not have authority to stop construction on steep slopes near reservoirs.
- Where will Highlands-specific regulations apply?
The bill provides for environmental regulations that would be applicable only in the Preservation Area.
- How many acres will be affected by Highlands-specific regulations?
Approximately 145,000 acres. The entire Preservation Area is about 395,000 acres is size. Approximately 79,000 of those acres are already developed and approximately 171,000 acres are already environmentally protected; that leaves just 145,000 acres (of the almost 800,000 acres in the entire Highlands region) that will be affected by the Highlands-specific regulations.
- If a town in the Planning Area "opts in" does that mean that the Preservation Area regulations would then apply?
No. Opting in would just mean opting into the regional plan prepared by the Council..
- What will be the effect of the bill on large, commercial development?
There will be little effect. Large commercial development is generally located the growth areas identified in the State Plan (PA1 and PA2 planning areas). 96% of these areas in the Highlands are located outside the Preservation Area. In addition, 100% of the State Plan Designated Centers in the Highlands are outside the Preservation Area.
TRANSFER OF DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS PROGRAM
- What is a transfer of development rights ("TDR") program?
Essentially, it is a system in which a landowner in a TDR "sending zone" (because of its importance for supplying drinking water) gets credits that he can redeem for money from the TDR bank and those credits can be used by developers to get permission for denser development in TDR "receiving zones" (where it is appropriate to grow). TDR sending zones will be in the Highlands Preservation Area and TDR receiving zones will be outside the Preservation Area.
- What is being done to make the program effective?
Learning from the experience with TDR in the Pinelands, the Highlands' TDR program will establish dollar value for the credits (easily payable and redeemable). Also, the bill provides strong incentives for municipalities outside the Preservation Area (in planning area towns and in portions of counties outside of and adjacent to the Highlands region) to establish receiving areas: municipalities will be authorized to impose impact fees on residential development, eligible for grants planning grants and grants for needed amendments to ordinances, entitled to legal representation, and accorded priority status for State capital improvement or infrastructure programs within the Highlands region. The administration has also committed to providing immediate funding for the bank so that it can get up and running quickly and effectively.
- How will land preservation be funded?
Land preservation will be funded through: the existing Garden State Preservation Trust programs; ballot initiative I approved by the voters in November 2003 (a portion which will go to the Highlands); and developer fees (i.e. fees paid by developers in order to be permitted to build in voluntary receiving zones where development is appropriate and approved of by the town).
- How will incentives for towns be funded?
Dedicated revenues from the Realty Transfer Tax will provide the financial incentives and benefits for towns that receive growth.
- Will the use of Garden State Preservation Trust program funds for Highlands purchases take funding away from potential acquisitions outside the Highlands?
No. The bill specifically provides that the amount spent for State purchases will be at least as much as the amount spent in each county between 2000 and 2004.
- Are we "rushing" the protection of the Highlands?
No. The issues have been studied and studied for years. Over the past 20 years, three Governors appointed task forces that studied the Highlands. The US Forest Service did an exhaustive study in 1998 and 2002 concluding the area needed additional protections. Governor McGreevey's Highlands Task Force spent 6 months studying the highlands and the bipartisan body produced an action plan recommending immediate action.
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