Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dems Fight Change in River Buffer Zones

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dems Fight Change in River Buffer Zones

Article excerpt

Democrats in the state Legislature are trying to block the Christie administration from changing rules that limit development along the state's rivers and streams, arguing that the changes would make it easier for developers to build on the ecologically sensitive strips of land, increase flooding and degrade water quality.

The administration has said the changes, which it unveiled in June but are not yet in effect, would merely make the permit process easier for property owners who have small projects, such as adding a swimming pool or putting an extension on a house, and would actually help reduce flooding and protect water quality.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, has introduced a resolution that would force the state Department of Environmental Protection to either withdraw the rule changes within 30 days of the resolution's passage or make major revisions. If the agency ignored the resolution, the Legislature could pass a second resolution that would prevent the changes.

In 2004 and 2007, the state issued rules to address storm water and flooding by protecting the strips of land that border streams and rivers. The rules set a minimum 50-foot buffer that restricts development, but in some cases the buffer can be 150 or 300 feet, depending on how vital the rivers are. The 300-foot buffer is required for the highest priority bodies of water, called "Category 1," or "C1" -- those that flow into drinking-water reservoirs or through parks and wildlife refuges.

The buffer is intended to protect the trees and plants that grow on the banks of rivers and streams, because they can absorb pollutants as well as rainwater, lowering the risk of flooding. Their roots can prevent erosion and the shade they provide in summer keeps river water cool enough for aquatic life to survive.

All of North Jersey's drinking-water reservoirs, such as the Oradell and Wanaque, qualify for a 300-foot buffer, as do certain portions of the Hackensack, Passaic, Saddle and Wanaque rivers and their tributaries. …

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