Christie Plan To Abolish D&R Canal Commission Draws Fire
Christie is not King and may not unilaterally abolish legislatively created entities
[Update: 5/16/11 - Looks like the battle is just beginning. NJ Spotlight reports: D&R Canal Commission Doesn't Plan to Go Quietly -- or at All. Low-profile state agency resolves to fight administration's recommendation to abolish it - end update]
The 70 mile long D&R Canal is the most heavily used NJ State Park and one of the finest linear parks in the Country. It provides a spectacular recreational green space through 19 central Jersey towns and has tremendous historical and natural resource values.
The Canal itself provides 100 million gallons per day of drinking water, supplying about 20% of NJ’s drinking water to 4 counties.
The Canal is overseen by the D&R Canal Commission, which was created by the Legislature in 1974 in order to plan for and protect the special scenic, recreational, historic, cultural and natural resources of the Canal and its regional character.
To accomplish that mission established by the Legislature, the Commission implements land use regulations for development projects in the Canal zone. Those regulations are more stringent than their counterparts at DEP, in terms of protection of stream buffers, water quality, historic resources, and stormwater management.
In addition, the Commission’s reviews of nearby development consider the special landscape, design, and aesthetic considerations of a linear park, particulalry preservation of the visual character that is so vital to the recrational experiences enjoyed by thousands of people on a daily basis.
The Commission has done a superb job, has not cost the taxpayers one penny to operate, and has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment that has benefitted from the locational assets of the Canal.
The Commisison’s work is unique, mandated by law, and does not duplicate and can not be replaced by DEP. In fact, DEP reviews would be insensitive to and actually harm critical Canal values. DEP’s bureacracy would be unresponsive to Canal users.
Unique among all State Agencies, the Commission is strongly supported by thousands of residents, hikers, bicyclists, canoeists, kayakers, fishermen, birders, historic preservationists, artists, environmentalists, local businesses, and the development community.
This is an incredible success story – and no one publicly opposes the Commission.
So why on earth did DEP Commissioner Martin recommend that the Commission be abolished?
We wrote about that back on September 19, 2010 – see: Christie Dismantling Underway – A Look at DEP Targets
Since then, months of behind the scenes private efforts to convince Martin to reverse his decision have failed.
So, based on tremendous public opposition by Canal supporters, yesterday, the Legislature publicly asked that embarrrassing question too.
For coverage of the hearing (which I attended, but was unable to speak because no public testimony was allowed) read Tom Johnson’s great story at NJ Spotlight: Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission Down to One Employee - Commission is one of more than 60 agencies targeted for elimination by Christie administration.
You can listen to the compelling testimony by all 3 Commissioners and Director Ernie Hahn by clicking this link .
The recommendation to abolish D&R Canal Commission was made to Governor Christie by DEP Commissioner Martin last September.
Governor Christie’s Executive Order No. 15, issued in May 2010, required each state agency to review and make recommendations to eliminate various authorities.
So now that the facts are out to show just how ill advised the recommendation to abolish the D&R Canal Commission was, Martin is digging in and having problems saving face.
Worse, he not only refuses to reconsider the recommendation to abolish the Commission and transfer back the Commission staff he stole, Martin now is dictating who will replace the Director of the Commission after current Director Ernie Hahn retires in May (and for Ernie to be treated this shabbily at the end of a stellar career of public service is a disgrace).
This is a perfect illustration of both Martin’s incompetence and arrogance, and the ideological recklessness of Governor Christie.
Christie is not a King and is not empowered to unilaterally abolish legislatively created entities.
The Legislature can and must reverse the Martin decision in budget language.