Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Lawmakers Flush Christie's Septic Plan for Highlands

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Lawmakers Flush Christie's Septic Plan for Highlands

Article excerpt

A plan by the Christie administration to allow more development in the most protected regions of the Highlands was shot down by the Legislature late Monday, blocking what many saw as a serious threat to an area that supplies drinking water to millions.

The resolution approved by the Senate and Assembly essentially turns back a plan that would have permitted as many as 1,145 more septic systems to be built in New Jersey's mountain region dotted with reservoirs and aquifers.

"The Legislature showed its commitment to the citizens it represents by this action, which is intentionally an arduous procedure and a last resort," said Elliott Ruga, policy director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.

The resolution passed the Senate 21-16 and the Assembly 41-25 during a dizzying legislative session that saw 200 measures approved in one day. It essentially says the septic plan is invalid because it defies the intent of the 2004 Highlands Act, a law that severely limited development to protect drinking water.

Supporters of the plan, including the New Jersey Builders Association, said striking down the septic expansion plan continues an imbalance in the region, where economic development and property rights have taken a back seat to environmental protections.

The resolution would have forced the Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, to amend or withdraw the septic rule. Current Commissioner Bob Martin will be replaced by Catherine McCabe after Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is sworn in on Jan. 16. Environmentalists believe McCabe and Murphy would uphold the Highlands protections.

Approved by the DEP last year, the septic plan was Christie's signature move in easing the 2004 law that limited development on 800,000 acres over seven counties, including Bergen, Passaic and Morris.

While the Highlands Act has been celebrated by conservationists, landowners have complained for years that their property values have unfairly plummeted. The hardest hit were farmers, whose large patches of land could have been developed into homes, strip malls or office parks.

The state does not have enough money to fund the estimated $1.3 billion it would cost to preserve 92,360 acres of conservation lands and 70,197 acres of farmland. …

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