This afternoon the New Jersey Senate is voting on two very important bills: SCR59, The Waiver Rule and S703, Permit Extension Act of 2008. These two bills are very important as SCR59 will be an important step in stopping the DEP from undermining environmental protection and S743 will help undermine environmental protections including the Highland Planning Area and the Pinelands Preservation Area. That both bills are up at the same time is somewhat troubling. Is the senate looking to do one good thing so that they can vote in favor of a bad thing? While the legislative process is always one of compromise, there should not be any compromise of basic environmental protection.
I have written about the DEP’s Waiver Rule and why it is bad. Take a look at Assembly Tells DEP to Waive Goodbye to Waiver Rule, Waiver Rule: One Rule to Rule Them All! for more information on that topic.
Why is Permit Extension Act so bad? Hasn’t there already been several Permit Extension Acts? Yes, and I have written about the Permit Extension of 2008 when it was originally introduced. If we already have it, then why is S743 bad? It is bad because it is more expansive than the original act. The original Permit Extension Act was strongly opposed by environmentalist and the final product was the result of strong negotiations between all parties. The final bill removed from the Act environmentally sensitive areas. Under NJSA 40:55D-136.3(a), environmentally sensitive areas was defined to include: Planning Areas 4B (Rural Environmentally Sensitive), Planning Area 5 (Environmentally Sensitive) or a critical environmental site, the Highland Regions except for areas designated for growth and the pinelands area except for areas designated for growth. In these areas the Permit Extension Act of 2008 did not extend permits.
S743 redefines environmentally sensitive areas. Under the pending bill the definition of Environmentally Sensitive Area does not include either the Highlands Planning Areas or the Pinelands Planning Area. The bill goes further by adding a definition of “smart growth area” by including all of the Highlands Planning Area as a growth area. The Highlands Planning Area covers about 450,000 acres of New jersey of which about two-thirds of it is considered environmentally sensitive. The Planning Area includes Under the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the purpose of the planning area is to:
- Protect, restore, and enhance the quality and quantity of surface and ground waters therein;
- Preserve to the maximum extent possible any environmentally sensitive lands and other lands needed for recreation and conservation purposes.
- Protection and maintain the essential character of the Highlands environment;
- Preserve farmland and historic sites and other historic resources
- Promote the continuation and expansion of agricultural, horticultural, recreational and cultural uses and opportunities;
- Preserve outdoor recreation opportunities, including hunting and fishing, on publicly owned land.
- Promote conservation of water resources
- Promote brownfield remediation and redevelopment
- Encourage, consistent with the State Development and Redevelopment Plan and smart growth strategies and principles appropriate patters of compatible residential, commercial and industrial development, redevelopment , and economic growth, in or adjacent to areas already utilized for such purposes, and discourage piecemeal, scattered, and inappropriate development, in order to accommodate local and regional growth and economic development in an orderly way while protecting the Highland environment from individual and cumulative adverse impacts.
As can be seen from the above list, the main purpose of the planning area was to preserve the area while allowing limited and controlled development. This goal was reinforced by Section 12 of the Statute that provided the regional and local master plan for the preservation area shall include:
A preservation zone element that identifies zones within the preservation area where development shall not occur in order to protect water resources and environmentally sensitive lands . . .
S743 completely ignores this requirement of the law as it restores and extends permits that may predate the Highlands Act. The Highlands act specifically provided at all permits would expire within three years of the enactment of the Highlands if construction, beyond site preparation, had not begun. That means if you had a permit and did not begin meaningful construction prior to August 10, 2007 your permit expired. Under S743 permits that expired between January 1, 2007 up to the present will be revived. Permits that have been gone for up to 5 years will now be valid. Many of these permits would pre-date the Highlands Act and would pre-date any regional master plan and local plan that protects the sensitive areas within the planning area.
It is difficult to rectify the strong intent to protect the Highlands Planning Area with the expanded language in S743. If this bill passes out of the Senate it will be hard to justify that vote against the 34 Senators that voted in favor of the Highlands Act in 2004. Hopefully S743 is not passed to in its current form and the Senate stands up for the environment and all of us today.
Please read these related posts:
Permit Extension Act: