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Hopewell Is A Poster Child for Why Open Space Diversion is Fatally Flawed

Watershed Planning & Water Quality Management Tools Saved The Town From Massive Sprawl

Open Space Diversion Would Slash Funds For Those Same DEP Programs

No town in NJ provides a more compelling example than Hopewell of the value of watershed planning, water quality management, and DEP science and technical support programs.

I just read another highly misleading half truth Op-Ed in support of Open Space Ballot Question #2, this one by my friend Jim Waltman at Stony Brook Watershed Association., see:

Waltman touts prior efforts to preserve the rural character of Hopewell:

Unlike some surrounding communities, Hopewell Valley’s rural character has been largely preserved thanks to sustained efforts to protect open space and farmland. Hopewell Township’s residents have made a strong commitment to conservation and preservation and with tremendous results, but nearly 20,000 acres of undeveloped land remain open to development — that’s 50 percent of our total area. Voting yes will help protect our clean water and quality of life for generations to come.

But Mr. Waltman leaves something critically important out of his argument.

Hopewell lands were protected from sprawl development by the very watershed planning and water quality management programs that the open space ballot initiative would severely cut.

Hopewell, in the mid 1990’s, became the battleground and statewide focal point for what was then called the war on “suburban sprawl”. I was a resident of Hopewell at the time and was proud to be engaged in this fight.

These battles publicly revolved around massive development plans that involved extensions of sewer lines into Hopewell to support intensive development.

Millions of square feet of new commercial development and thousands of new residential units would have been served by the proposed massive increase in sewer infrastructure and capacity, including along Scotch Road/Merrill Lynch, the BMS campus in Pennington, and north along Rt. 31. These debates included expansion and upgrade of the Pennington treatment plant.

[and if those sewer lines were built, land values would have increase 10 times or more, making an acquisition strategy cost prohibitive.]

A few years later, there was another major development battle at the Berwind site – this one involved expanding an old package wastewater treatment plant and various regulatory restrictions imposed by a DEP Category 1 stream designation.

The common denominator and decisive factor in all these debates was the science and regulatory requirements of DEP’s watershed planning and the water quality management programs.

In fact, a group of residents I was involved with, represented by Bill Potter of Princeton, actually filed a lawsuit that successfully blocked the planned ELSA sewer capacity on the basis of violation of these DEP regulatory and planning requirements.

Those are exactly the same DEP programs that would be slashed by the Open Space ballot diversion.

As I’ve written, based on DEP’s budget documents, there would be 123 DEP staff positions in water quality monitoring and planning cut under Ballot Question #2 – with $16 million more from DEP’s science and technical programs that provide support and $18.1 million from DEP land use regulation that implements the science and planning.

Here is what those DEP staffers do that Hopewell directly relied upon – across the entire state:

Since 1996, 4% of the revenue annually derived from the tax imposed by the Corporation Business Tax Act (P.L.1945, c.162) has been dedicated to the Department. A portion of this dedication has been used for the following purposes: watershed-based water resource planning and management, financing the cost of water quality point and nonpoint source pollution monitoring, nonpoint source pollution prevention projects, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) development and implementation, as well as lake restoration and grants. Conducts planning on watershed management, water quality, water supply, coastal zone management, nonpoint source control, stormwater management, and other planning requirements associated with the federal Clean Water Act and the New Jersey Water Quality Planning Act. Also administers the National Estuary Program and federal Section 604(b) water quality management planning.

It is incredibly disingenuous – and just flat out wrong –  for Waltman to ignore this history and regulatory realty in his arguments in favor of Question #2.

On top of all that, following these major battles that local environmentalists won, Hopewell built on that success by adopting perhaps NJ’s most innovative and science based Master Plan and zoning scheme, which is based on water resource capacity – both water quality and water quantity.

Again, it is exactly that science, watershed and water resource capacity based planning, and regulatory programs that preserved so much land in Hopewell that would be slashed under the Open Space diversion.

No town in NJ provides a more compelling example than Hopewell  of the value of watershed planning, water quality management, and DEP science and technical support programs.

It is extremely shortsighted and totally counterproductive to sacrifice those very effective programs on the mantle of a half baked, rob Peter to pay Paul, open space funding scheme.

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