Archive for February, 2008

Water Wars

February 12th, 2008 8 comments

A new battlefield opened last night in Paterson at the Highlands Council’s second of three public hearings on the draft Regional Master Plan (RMP).

Ross Kushner, Executive Director Pequannock River Coalition is a strong critic of the Highlands draft RMP.
Kushner speaks at a Trenton press conference opposing the Plan last month.

An absolute donnybrook (I’m an old hockey player, and I haven’t heard that word used in ages) erupted after Council Chairman John Weingart opened the hearing. Weingart went on the offensive and took the highly unusual step of reading a press release by the Highlands Council. The press release chastised the public – primarily the environmental critics of the RMP – for 7 “misconceptions” of the controversial plan.
Kushner took strong exception, calling the press release “wildly inappropriate” in his testimony to the Council last night, and this morning issued a statement that said (in part):
“The Highlands Council was charged with the serious responsibility of developing a Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) that will implement the water resource protections of the Highlands Act. Unfortunately the plan produced to date does more to promote development in the Highlands than to protect vital water supplies. This is evidenced by the fact that 50 of the state’s top environmental groups recently sent a letter to Governor Corzine stating “. the current draft RMP does not provide adequate protection for our critical Highlands resources, especially its drinking water.”
In the past, the Council seemed to rely on the ploy of burying their pro-development policies deep in the 400 pages of jargon that comprised the RMP and in the additional endless text of reports and addendas.
Citizens and environmental advocates were tenacious, however, at ferreting out and exposing these policies. Growing outrage and concern culminated in the letter to Governor Corzine and in multiple publications, press events and statements denouncing the RMP.
With their walls beginning to crumble, the Highlands Council has now taken a different approach: a disinformation campaign. In a “press release” issued at a public hearing in Paterson on February 11 the Council has attempted to thwart negative comments at prior hearings by addressing 7 so-called “misconceptions” on the RMP. According to the Council this was done to “.focus additional public comment…”
“On its face this tactic is wildly inappropriate. The Council has no right to tell members of the public how they should comment or on what topics their attention should “focus.”” slammed Kushner. ” If the Council has tired of hearing multiple comments addressing the same problems in the RMP perhaps it is the Council, rather than the public, that needs improved focus. Moreover, the arguments offered in the release are a blatant attempt to defend the indefensible.”

Robin O’hearn, Director of Skylands CLEAN speaks at a Trenton Press conference calling on Governor Corzine to impose a moratorium and direct the Council to strengthen the seriously flawed draft Highlands Plan.

Another of the strongest advocates in the Highlands and sharpest critics of the draft Plan, Robin O’hearn of Skylands CLEAN, accused the Council of a bait and switch: “What the Highlands Act giveth, the RMP taketh away” she said.
The next and last public hearing on the draft RMP will be held on Wednesday night at 6:30 pm Voorhees High School, 256 County Rt. 513, Glen Gardner.
A copy of the draft RMP is available on the Council’s website:
Here’s what we’re fighting for:

Round Valley reservoir. Cushetunk Mountain provides superb wildlife habitat, including for bald eagle, and excellent hiking trails. Forests help protect a clean water water supply.
Round Valley reservoir – for info see:

Photo replies to Abitha: I know those Round Valley reservoir forests are already protected – I posted them as illustrations of the resource values we were fighting to protect, not to imply they were vulnerable. That seems obvious to me so please do not attempt to twist my words.
This is a real dairy farm – that practice is not at all restricted by the Highlands Act. Highlands farmers want to cash out and develop, not continue farming:

These are pictures of Highlands forests that are not protected – they get destroyed by local zoning (home rule) that allow construction of McMansions. Do you want to defend THIS?

Destruction brought to you by Toll Brother$

I will get additional photo’s illustrating environmentally sensitive lands that are mapped for development under the flawed draft RMP – just got this shot from Pequannock folks who say: “[this is] the right bank of the Pequannock in this shot is a TDR Receiving zone in the RMP…and actually already preserved land! THAT is how bad their mapping is!”

More photo’s of why we fight – courtesy of Robin O’hearn

Inspiration point is a view of the Wanaque Reservoir facing west from the top of Governor’s Mountain in Ringwood. A member of CLEAN, Diana Gibson Brown took this photo about 5 years ago.
Westbrook is a shot I took of the West Brook about a mile north of the Wanaque reservoir.
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Where were the Urban Mayors?

February 11th, 2008 2 comments

Could you imagine a public hearing up in the Catskills to determine the fate of New York City’s water supply and no representative from NY City even showing up?

The second of three final public hearings on the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) took place tonight at an urban location: Passaic County Community College in Paterson.
The whole point of holding a public hearing outside the Highlands region was to allow urban interests to get involved and assure that their interests in their own water supply were protected by the Regional Master Plan (RMP).
As the Plan was developed, those interests were largely unrepresented and – by default – subordinated to the economic interest of rural Highlands landowners, developers, and the parochial “ratables chase” views of suburban Mayors.
The NJ Highlands provides the source of drinking water for 5.4 million NJ residents,and most of urban NJ – Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, et al all are dependent on Highlands water.
Newark’s reservoirs and watershed lands lie in the Highlands. The Boonton Reservoir that supplies Jersey City is fed by the Rockaway River that drains from the Highlands. The Passaic Valley Water Supply Commission takes water from the Passaic River. Paterson and Passaic county water rates are directly impacted by the Highlands RMP.
In an extreme example of environmental injustice, upstream Morris County sewer plants discharge pollution that forces Passaic to incur millions of dollars of costs in treatment to make water safe to drink. Residents in Morris County have lower sewer rates while urban residents of Paterson pay the price.
Highlands landowners make windfall profits from development that threatens urban NJ’s water supply.
The draft Highlands RMP will have a HUGE impact on whether these cities have adequate, clean, and affordable water.
So where was Corey Booker and urban mayors to argue for the strongest RMP protections for their water supply?
Not one showed up – they didn’t even send a representative.
Their absence was an embarrassment.
Could you imagine a public hearing up in the Catskills to determine the fate of New York City’s water supply and no representative from NY City even showing up?

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The Many Faces of Jon Corzine

February 10th, 2008 18 comments

Yesterday, I attended the Mercer County public hearing on the Governor’s toll plan. In my view, press accounts have not portrayed the complexity of the issues, the process, or the people involved. Bowing to the yahoo “pigs fly” faction of NJ 101.5 talk radio, media accounts have failed to honor or convey the dignity of the democratic deliberations (at least the hearing in Mercer). As they say, a picture is worth a thousands words – photo’s convey more subtle meanings lost in the dominant media narrative.
(Full disclosure: while these photo’s and captions may appear partisan or support the Governor, readers are advised that I oppose the toll scheme and other elements of the Plan and have been a strong critic of the Governor.)

The Governor’s staff opened the hearing, forcefully set the tone and established expectations: respectful, thoughtful and civil dialogue.
The Governor immediately reinforced the message showing respect, humility, and sincerity.
Democrats representing the Mercer County area spoke with constituents before the hearing began. Their presence reinforced the seriousness and lent gravitas to the proceedings. They avoided partisanship. (from left: Assemblywoman Greenstein (D/14); US Congressman Holt; Assemblywoman Watson Coleman (D/15); Mercer County Executive Hughes)
The finest and most uplifting spirit of citizenship was alive and contributed to a dignified conversation.
Elected Republican representatives of the area tended to be partisan, divisive, and offered several misleading criticisms. Freshman Assemblyman O’Scanlon (R/12) was taken to task by Corzine.
Senator Jennifer Beck (R/12) speaks. Corzine strongly objected to her misleading analogy comparing the plan to paying off deb with a credit card.

The Governor made a forceful presentation. He listened to critics, revealed vulnerability and some sense of humor, and showed many complex faces. Here are a few:

As an athlete, in the big games, you strive to leave it all out on the field.
To his credit, the Governor left it all out on the field yesterday.

DEP to Flood Victims: Protection “Cost Prohibitive”

February 8th, 2008 2 comments

$38 BILLION for tolls, $380 million for bond consultants, and NJ can’t find money to map where the flood risks are?

Statehouse. Trenton, NJ. This photo was shot from a place that was under 5 feet of Delaware River floodwater in June 2006.

Governor Corzine has made no secret about his alleged commitment to protect New Jersey residents from what has turned into a devastating cycle of more frequent and severe flooding across the entire state. In the wake of the major flooding of June 2006, the Governor toured flooded areas to survey damage caused by the rising waters of the Delaware River.
Governor Corzine Tours Flood Areas to Assess Damage

A major part of the problem with flooding is lax regulation of development – too much development causes excessive runoff, and downstream development in the flood plains gets flooded out.

Over-development generates large volumes of runoff, that can quickly cause even small streams to rapidly flood after relatively moderate rainfall. Over-development has radically altered the natural hydrology of NJ watersheds, greatly increasing flooding risks. Maps have not kept pace with development and greatly under-estimate risk, allowing more people and property to unknowingly be placed in harms way (often without flood insurance).

A combination of lack of of flood maps, outdated flood maps, and inaccurate flood maps impedes efforts to protect people. Without accurate maps, more development is allowed to be built in the wrong places. Old maps do not reflect the amount of stormwater runoff that results from heavily developed watersheds. As a result, DEP does not know where the real flood plain is. Inaccurate maps allow people to live in harms way, often without knowing of risks or flood insurance.
So, one would think it would be a high priority to update the maps.
Not for DEP – or the Governor, apparently.
In their own words, here is DEP’s formal legal reply to a request that maps be updated: (both comment and reply are printed verbatim):
46. COMMENT: Update of the Department’s flood hazard area mapping is required, as evidenced by the age of the current maps and the fact that land use/land cover and hydrological factors have changed dramatically since the maps were adopted. Current flood hazard area maps greatly underestimate flood risks and allow inappropriate development to continue. The Department should make specific commitments to secure monetary resources so that it can update existing floodplain delineations to reflect current hydrological and land use/land cover conditions, and to adopt new flood hazard area maps where none currently exist.
RESPONSE TO COMMENTS 46: The Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules are designed to protect the residents of the State from the increased impacts of flooding and environmental degradation that would otherwise be caused by unregulated development in flood hazard areas and riparian zones. Creating and adopting State flood hazard area mapping is a separate and independent process, which extends beyond the scope of the adopted new rules. Furthermore, updating the Department’s existing flood mapping for the entire State would be cost prohibitive

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DEP Weakens Protections of Stream Buffers

February 6th, 2008 4 comments

DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson has revoked her own order issued little more than a year ago protecting so called “Category 1″ stream buffers.

The effect of this sudden reversal makes it easier to cut stream buffers in half – from 300 feet to 150 feet – allowing development in the area surrounding the most sensitive streams, lakes and rivers, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).(Click on link for links to all the DEP documents). 

This is a natural stream buffer. Vegetation filters pollutants to help keep water clean, prevent flooding, provide wildlife habitat, and natural beauty. DEP rules protect 300 foot wide natural buffers along “Category 1″ streams.

On January 24, 2008, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner (DEP) Lisa Jackson rescinded an Administrative Order that she issued on January 2, 2007.

The 2007 Order mandated that developers conduct a strict scientific demonstration to prove that any disturbance or reduction in the buffer widths along Category One streams resulted in equivalent protection before any construction would be allowed:

“[T]he Department shall not approve any encroachment [into a buffer] unless the applicant has demonstrated…that the functional value of the [buffer] will be maintained”.

Her 2007 Order was praised by environmentalists but loathed by developers.

This is what a natural buffer looks like after developers turn it into a stormwater management facility at a housing development.

The strong 2007 Order was replaced by a weak guidance document. The new 2008 guidance document guts the scientific demonstration required under the 2007 Order and means that the current 300 foot buffer can be reduced to 150 feet without a rigorous prior showing that the important natural values will be protected.

This is a stormwater outfall in a stream buffer and direct discharge into a stream.
DEP rules prohibit this within 300 feet of “Category 1″ streams. Developers oppose these DEP restrictions. Stormwater runoff and non-point source pollution are the number one threat to water quality. Stormwater pollutes sensitive trout streams with sediment, pesticides, fertilizers, and causes erosion, flooding, and loss of habitat
Forested mountainside destroyed for building lots. Development on forested steep slopes causes massive erosion, sedimentation of streams and wetlands, downstream flooding,and destruction of prime habitat.
Engineering solutions don’t work.

This is what happens when forests are cut down for development. Forests provide natural recharge and preserve and protect clean water supplies. Development destroys those critically important functions.

We are paving mountain forests and jeopardizing our water supply for McMansions and greedy developers.
Development road to nowhere.
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