Water Wars

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:http://www.highlands.state.nj.us/
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.
Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:
  1. byramaniac
    February 12th, 2008 at 10:30 | #1

    Weingart and Swan are mere puppets for a Governor who “talks the green talk” but still has trouble with any kind of walk!
    This plan is a sham, and the people perpetrating it should be ashamed of themselves!
    The public should be outraged – and call for the immediate resignation of Weingart and Swan for this cheap propagandizing ploy!

  2. Abitha
    February 12th, 2008 at 11:23 | #2

    Hey Bill,
    How about showing the other side. The side of the farmers being choked out. The side of municipalities and residents losing control of local zoning and planning. The fact that RPM lines are riddled with issues. The Highland’s landowner rights and local economy taken away and controlled by water users outside the Highlands, at no added cost for these users.
    BTW-The two photos you show are protected from any building already. How about showing a photo of a pristine area on the edge of a river that is slated for high density affordable housing by virtue of where it lies on the RPM?

  3. stonecottage
    February 12th, 2008 at 12:24 | #3

    I am a Highlands land owner. I purchased my land in part to conserve a slice of the natural woodlands that are left in New Jersey. And as a Highlands land owner, I am concerned that there will be no ground water left in my well if my neighbor is allowed to sell out to build another Toll Brothers development. Many of the Highlands subwatersheds are in deficit. It’s time to move beyond “I do what I want with my land, to hell with you and yours” and think about the larger community. The groundwater belongs to the state, and that is ALL of us. I know, it’s not the ‘American way’, but if you believe the science, we have a major problem here.
    Oh, and it’s RMP, not RPM, Abitha – stands for “Regional Master Plan’.

  4. Abitha
    February 12th, 2008 at 12:31 | #4

    Thank you for the additional photos Bill. Yes, I don’t like this either. But I do find it less objectionable than high density, that will add even more stress to the local infrastructure and water resources. And, the desire of the State for more affordable housing will indeed result in this type of building. Which may be your story a few years down the road.
    One of your future stories may also include that same dairy farm with structures falling into disrepair because the farmer does not have enough land equity to borrow for repairs. …….unless the state should find a viable way, and the money, to counter this issue. And, I don’t consider the TDR plan a solution.

  5. nohesitation
    February 12th, 2008 at 13:39 | #5

    Abitha – a couple of points to clarify what you say:
    1) there is no high density in the RMP – all the density incentives in the Planning Area are purely voluntary. Towns must choose to revise zoning and Master Plans to accept the TDR and growth zones mapped by the RMP in the Planning Area.
    2) NJ’s highest court has ruled that the Constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing and the COAH statute and regulations DO NOT OVER-RIDE ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS.
    The COAH threat is misinformation.
    In fact, the best way to minimize COAH and all development threats is to force the Council to adopt the strongest environmental standards in the RMP, and then have planning area towns “opt in” to them.
    3) Please show me examples or credible Reports or data where real farmers have not qualified for agricultural production or agricultural building upgrade loans BASED SOLELY ON A CLAIM THAT THE LAND HAD LOST SPECULATIVE DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL AND RESULTING LOWER APPRAISED VALUE DUE TO ENVIRONMENTAL RESTRICTIONS, and that THIS REDUCTION CONSTITUTED LOST EQUITY THAT VIOLATED LOAN STANDARDS..
    I beleive this is another myth.

  6. njhighlander
    February 12th, 2008 at 14:40 | #6

    Kudos to Bill for telling it like it is. Thanks to individuals like Kushner and O’Hearn, we hear about the truth of the flaws in the Highlands Council ‘s RMP. As a NJ Highlander, I am very aware of the water deficit in the lands near my home. The water beneath the ground is getting harder to come by and in time of drought, it is nearly impossible to extract. Excess demand is the plausible culprit. Ground water is being depleted faster than it can be recharged and as a result, local residents suffer. But it does not stop there. Surface water levels fluctuate. All one need do is periodically drive by the reservoirs and see just how low they are. In the summer, the water is exceptionally low and in some cases gone. Again, excess demand is the plausible culprit. One another matter, I have grievous concerns about developments of petrol stations near Tier I and Tier II well head protection areas. I have not heard of any provisions within the RMP that offers policy on the do’s and don’t of the development of gasoline stations near well head protection areas. There have been historical cases of water contamination of aquifers and wells within the NJ Highlands region, yet this issue appears to not be addressed by the Highlands Council. What if anything will they do to protect my drinking water as well as yours from MTBE contamination? Local government may not be able to defend adequate well head protection policies, especially if the Highlands Council remains mum and refrains to include well head protection policies in the RMP.
    In summary, looking at the landscape and seeing the developments where they lay, it is clearly evident that a good portion of the land should not have been developed. But it was. We can not go back and change things, but must moved forward. We are facing issues created decades ago. And we have to take into consideration that what actions are taken today will impact the future. Stonecottage hit the nail on the head with their comment “It’s time to move beyond ‘I do what I want with my land, to hell with you and yours’ and think about the larger community.” We are all stewards of the land and have an obligation to do what is right. And in the case of the water and geology of the Highlands, we should be listening to science because it speaks clearly about the critical situation of the land. Clean natural potable drinking water is our gold. But if our water sources are contaminated and depleted, then how will anyone benefit from the loss?

  7. Abitha
    February 12th, 2008 at 21:31 | #7

    If you look at the Farm Bureau report, I believe it is called the Samuel’s Report, it will give you the figure of 82% of farm equity is in its development potential.
    That said, there was an article written in this paper about 2 months ago about an orchard owned by Bob Best that referenced bank issues.
    If you also review the 2002 USDA NJ agriculture census and can calculate the average return on equity for the State of NJ.
    There is also a lot of information on the Warren County website under the Highlands section.
    There is a lot in all the above sources that collectively have been the source of my statements.
    Do you have anymore information about the State’s highest court ruling that COAH does not override environmental rules an regulations, as you stated above? Please let me know a little more about this so I can do some research. It would be much appreciated.
    Understand that I have lived in the Highlands for over 30 years and would have preferred that Rt 78 was never completed. But through the Federal Government grants both 78 and 80 were connected to ‘remote’ areas. This is what spawned the incredible growth.
    Oh, and thank you stonecottage for pointing out my transposition. It happens more than I like to admit.

  8. spacemom
    February 13th, 2008 at 08:46 | #8

    Hi Wolfe,
    One comment on your response to Abitha, while conformance in the Planning Area is voluntary, in the Preservation Area, it is mandatory. That’s been one of my major concerns, that these Existing Community Zones and TDR receiving zones they’re busily creating in the Preservation Area will be mandated when communities are forced to conform with the Act. That means they will be forced to zone for the density suggested by the mapping. So many policies in the RMP are tied to those existing community zones, I think it’s very disingenuous of the Council to say they are just ‘overlays’ showing where development already exists. If no policies were attached to those zones, MAYBE I would believe them. I’d like your opinion on that.
    Also, NJHighlander is smart to be concerned about the gas stations, and the exemptions in the Act will let them sail right through. There is an application right now in Ringwood for a Quick-chek store plus 10 pump gas station located on the site of a former car repair facility. It is literally across the street from the Wanaque Reservoir (450 feet away according to testimony from the applicant’s engineer at a recent meeting). The site is within tier 2 of the borough’s largest public supply well (3200 feet away). The applicant already has their Highlands Exemption based on ‘redevelopment’ at 125% of the footprint of an existing site. I doubt that the DEP looked at either of those factors in giving the exemption since they’re really just looking at the development site and rely on the applicant’s info, but they would be unlikely to backpedal now.
    There is another application from Quick-check for a second station in West Milford, fairly close to Pinecliff Lake, I believe. I think what we’re going to find is that the exemptions are going to let many projects proceed, and even more will be blessed by the Highlands Council if some of the projects coming through the pipeline right now are any indication.

  1. June 12th, 2015 at 17:59 | #1
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