Archive for August, 2015

Is West Milford Attack on Highlands Act The Beginning of the End?

August 24th, 2015 No comments

Christie Extended DEP Highlands Rules, but Only Until December 31, 2015

[With End Note]

Today’s Bergen Record has an important story, see:

The local government is going to attempt to poke some holes in the Highlands Act.

Earlier this month, West Milford’s Township Council initiated an attorney-led examination into the act’s standing as a potential unfunded state mandate. Council members say they are ultimately planning to develop and file a complaint with the state’s Council on Local Mandates. The 20-year-old council is authorized to declare state directives that lack a funding source as optional, enforcing New Jersey’s “state mandate, state pay” amendment to the state constitution.

But the story failed to connect the strategic dots or hold Gov. Christie accountable for his unfunded mandate policy.

The Council on Local Mandates could do a lot more than “poke holes” in the Highlands Act – it could essentially strike it down if it found the Highlands Act imposed unconstitutional unfunded state mandates.

The Highlands Act is implemented and enforced by the mandatory Highlands Regional Master Plan and mandatory DEP regulations. Those planning requirements and DEP regulations impose mandates not just on developers, but on local government too.

Lending support to the unfunded mandate cause, Governor Christie – in the first hour of his first day in office – issued a set of sweeping Executive Orders, including Executive Order #4, which provides:

1. No State agency shall recommend, propose, publish or submit any regulation containing an unfunded mandate, as defined under New Jersey law (N.J. Stat. 52:13H-2), unless expressly authorized in writing by the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor. 

Now here’s where the timing of the West Milford challenge and the DEP Highlands regulations gets interesting – suggesting critical decisions on the Highlands are in the balance.

Gov. Christie extended the DEP Highlands regulations, but only until December 31, 2015:

By the authority vested in him pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:14B-5.1d(2), Governor Chris Christie, on November 7, 2013, directed that the effectiveness of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules be restored as of its expiration date and the expiration date for N.J.A.C. 7:38 be extended from November 2, 2013 to December 31, 2015. 

Even without action by the Council on Unfunded Mandates, the Christie DEP could gut the Highlands Act via regulatory rollbacks – something I fear has already been agreed to to resolve the Farm Bureau’s still pending lawsuit on the septic density standard.

Adding to the timing issue, the Highlands Council is now in the process of reviewing and updating the Highlands Regional Master Plan – another possible unfunded state mandate target.

Interestingly, the entire Council on Unfunded mandates memberships expire in February 2016.

If this Council is going to review the Highlands Act, it needs to happen quickly and right now – and the issue comes before the Council just during the same timeframe that DEP rules expire and the Highlands Master Plan is being updated.

Is all this just a coincidence?

Or is the West Milford attack strategic, signaling the beginning of the end of the Highlands Act as we know it?

Will someone wake up the”advocates” at the NJ Highlands Coalition and ask them?

(or are they too busy filling out Dodge Foundation grant application and organizing pub crawls, micro-brew promotions, and festivals?)

[End note: Think this can’t happen? Well, think again. Follow the numbers:

1. The DEP just proposed to repeal – that’s right, repeal – the Category One (C1) 300 foot stream buffer rules.

[C1 is repealed and replaced by “riparian zone” standards under Flood Hazard Act. As I’ve written several times – and DEP admits in the proposal – a C1 stream and buffer are very different from and have more protection than a FHA regulated water and a  “riparian zone”. While FHA regulates more activities than C1, the net effect is a significant loss of protections. And the linkage to water quality standards and federal Clean Water Act protections are eliminated.]

As a result, thousands of miles of C1 streams will lose protections, including many miles of streams in the Highlands Planning area, where the DEP Highlands rules don’t apply and the RMP is voluntary.

Yet there was not a peep of public opposition to that proposal by conservation groups, the Highlands Coalition or the Keep It Green crowd.

Seems they only want to spend your money to give to their friends to protect their backyards.

They seem to have abandoned the regulatory tools and DEP altogether.

Perhaps they fear that the public will ask why we spend millions of dollars to protect a place like Wichecheokie Creek, when DEP regulations can do most of the same job for nothing.

In contrast, Rich Bizub at PPA recently convinced the Pinelands Commission to raise concerns with DEP about impacts on the Toms River, which flows into the Pines.

2. But that’s not all – DEP issued a draft water pollution discharge permit for a new sewage treatment plant on a low flowing headwater stream (Crosswicks Creek) and Delaware tributary, designed to serve new development on farmland and forested stream buffer in a rural town on the edge of the Pinelands.

If DEP can permit a new sewage treatment plant here, DEP can do it anywhere.

This permit reversed 2 decades of DEP’s statewide water resource protection policy concerning new wastewater infrastructure.

Again, that permit got no public criticism from conservation groups, who recently noted that they are too busy to litigate the final permit expected to be issued by DEP any day now.

3. DEP adopted new coastal rules that not only ignore climate change, they actively promote new development in hazardous and environmentally sensitive coastal locations, including on top of shellfish beds.

Again, no public opposition from the conservation crowd.

4. DEP is flouting the Clean Water Act across the state, most obviously in Barnegat Bay, which is on the verge of ecological collapse.

Yet coastal groups work favorably with DEP, including praising bullshit projects, all while receiving $1 million grants.

5. The State Plan and all forms of water and land planning at DEP have been abandoned or weakened until death.


6. But when the Christie DEP issued completely toothless Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) permits in response to a lawsuit by NY/NJ Baykeeper, the applause by planning and conservation groups was loud and sustained.

Anything can happen folks, particularly with this Governor and DEP Commissioner and the current compromised and cowed conservation group “leadership”.

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Northeast Road Trip

August 22nd, 2015 No comments

A few shots from my recent whirlwind northeast road trip

There’s no place like …..

Last Tuesday, I went to Albany NY to support pipeline protesters and bring home their work.

Seeing that I was on the edge of the Adirondacks, I figured I’d head north, get in a hike before dark, and stealth camp there instead of going right back home.

I found a great spot in some private logging lands just off Slide Brook, a small tributary to the Boquette River just south of New Russia.

Just before dark, I met a man who hunted the property, who was out scouting. I was initially concerned that he’d demand I leave, but he was very friendly and we had a good conversation. He liked to hike, camp, fish and hunt. Told me about his 11 pound carbon fiber kayak he got from a local craftsman that he uses to fish interior ponds.

In one of several moments illustrating that you can’t get away from bad shit no matter how far you roam, he told me that Slide Brook had been hit hard by Sandy.

Next morning, I didn’t feel like going home and thought I’d head further north and visit Quebec. (see Quebec photos).

Ausable Chasm (8/13/15)

Ausable Chasm (8/13/15)

Lake Champlain, near Peru NY

Lake Champlain, near Peru NY

Spent the day in Quebec, but with no stealth camping opportunities in the City, decided to head south for the Maine border.

Found another spectacular stealth campsite just over the border near Jackman Maine.

Attean Pond

Attean Pond

Kennebunk River

Kennebunk River


Not exactly what Thoreau saw:

saw a lot of logging in Maine woods

saw a lot of logging in Maine woods – Not exactly what Thoreau saw

Next day, continued into New Hampshire to see some of the Presidential Range.

White Mountain National Forest was far too crowded and no way was I prepared for any serious hiking (and I would never drive to the top of Mt. Washington, no less pay $28 to do it), but managed to find some nice short hikes along streams draining the mountain:



And of course, had to see Bretton Woods


Again found a great stealth campsite in National Forest land less than a mile off off Rt 118 near Warren NH.

sunrise in WHite Mountains, looking northeast toward Presidential Range

sunrise in WHite Mountains, looking northeast toward Presidential Range

In morning, headed west toward Vermont, thought I’d see the Green Mountains.

In another case of amazing serendipity (I seem to have a nose for this) I found a spectacular hike to Silver Lake, where I spent the afternoon. Hiked in with just a bottle of water and the dog, so sorry, no photos.

Got back to the car and was too pooped to hike back in with tent for the night, so figured ‘d find another stealth opportunity. But didn’t realize I was on the western edge of the mountains, not far from civilization.

As nightfall approached, I got shut out and ended up doing some urban camping along a railroad line, behind an abandoned factory in Whitehall NY.


Just happened to be next to a rail switching yard, with a bunch of trains rolling thru most of the night – tremendously loud and scary – they even left me with some oil trains. Nothing like the smell of oil trains at sunrise – can’t seem to get away from this shit no matter where you go:

oil trains, near Whitehall NY

oil trains, near Whitehall NY


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Greetings From Quebec

August 20th, 2015 No comments

I had the chance to visit Quebec, a lovely city. I was so pleased by the friendly Canadian and Quebecois welcome. The streets were full of friendly people and the architecture and history were everywhere spectacular.

Here are some of the street scenes I saw there (shot on 8/12/15):

















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A Climate Agenda for the Pinelands

August 20th, 2015 No comments

Time to Go On Offense Instead of Ad Hoc Pipeline Battles

Raise The Bar

State House Annex, Trenton, NJ (8/20/15)

State House Annex, Trenton, NJ (8/20/15)

Environmental groups today held a noontime press conference in Trenton to announce a new Pinelands campaign to stop the South Jersey Gas pipeline.

Emile DeVito of NJ Conservation Foundation made the most cogent remarks, calling out the pipeline as a “prohibited project” under the CMP and explaining the significance of maintaining the integrity of the CMP to preserve the Pines.

[Doug O’Malley, Environment NJ, had the best “streetfightin’ man” metaphor, calling Wittenberg’s action a “sucker punch”.]

Perhaps that campaign should have been kicked off months ago, to create some public and media pressure to prevent Executive Director Wittenberg from executing her mutiny.

Perhaps a public campaign could have bucked up friendly Pinelands Commissioners to get out in front of Wittenberg’s Machiavellian schemes.

Perhaps an intrepid political reporter could have injected the Pinelands pipeline abuse into Governor Christie’s national ambitions.

But alas, the deed is done – the only thing that can block it at this point is litigation.

So, the cliche’ “too little, too late” comes to mind with respect to today’s campaign kickoff announcement.

BUT, the campaign need not be in vain.

Pinelands activists could use the campaign to begin a grass roots effort to go on offense on the climate front.

As I’ve argued, with Gov. Christie in control of all things Trenton and firmly in denial on the climate front, any progress will need to come from the regional planning entities like the Pinelands Commission, Highlands Council, Meadowlands Commission, and Delaware River Basin Commission.

Such a grassroots supported and regional focused effort could lay the foundation for the next Gubernatorial and Legislative campaigns and begin to cultivate media traction and build local support.

It could also set the stage for the next Administration’s policy agenda and frame the key issues in NJ’s plan to comply with the Obama Clean Energy Plan, implement the Global Warming Response Act, and repeal/revise the Christie Energy Master Plan.

So, here is a talking point level agenda, based on testimony I’ve previously presented to the Pinelands Commission and written about in more detail here:

1) Moratorium on pipeline and fossil infrastructure pending update of  the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan  (CMP) regulations to provide adequate safeguards

Models:  Cuomo fracking moratorium and DRBC fracking moratorium

2) Update CMP to address climate change and energy policies

Model: Adirondack Park Agency Plan Energy Policy.

Basis: Pinelands Commission and other studies on climate impacts to pines forest and ecosystems

3) Update CMP to include lifecycle carbon analysis and at least 1/1 mitigation requirements to offset any new carbon emissions from any new development

I’m tired of playing defense – and We gotta start somewhere.

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Passaic River Running like An Open Sewer (Again)

August 20th, 2015 No comments

High Nutrient Loads from Sewage Plants Threaten Water Supply Intakes

Bergen Record Blames The Weather

You can file this one right up there with Ronald Reagan’s “trees cause air pollution” and his Secretary of the Interior James Watt’s recommendation to wear a hat and sunscreen to protect against depletion of the ozone layer.

Someone famous once said (was it IF Stone? Or George Orwell?) that journalism was writing the story that the powers that be don’t want told, all the rest was public relations and propaganda.

The Story They Don’t Want Told

North Jersey has a serious plumbing problem in the Passaic River basin, particularly during the dry summer months.

During dry summer months, the flow of the Passaic River can reach 100% treated wastewater.(DEP buries all that under the phrase “critical conditions”)

At times, pollution levels get so high that the river can no longer be used for water supply.

Think of the Wanaque Reservoir as a bathtub. It is filled in two ways: 1) natural rainfall and 2) pumping of millions of gallons of water from the Passaic River.

There are 70 or so sewage treatment plants that discharge wastewater upstream of the intake that pumps river water to the Wanaque Reservoir and above the Passaic Valley Water Supply Commission’s (PVWSC) intake.

Those sewage treatment plants do not remove all chemicals, contributing to the fact that DEP has found over 500 chemicals in the river, a water supply source.

Similarly, drinking water treatment does not remove all chemicals in the source river water. So some of those chemicals pass right through to your tap.

Additionally, cancer causing chemicals called “disinfection byproducts” are created by treating the river water to remove some of the algae that grows explosively due to high pollution levels in the river.

That’s right – millions of gallons a day of wastewater are the source of water supply for millions of residents of north jersey.

Under drought conditions: 1) the reservoir is not replenished naturally; 2) the river can become too polluted for pumping to the fill the reservoir; and 3) the river can become so polluted that it forces a shutdown of the intakes.

Heavy sewage treatment plant pollutant loads and drought cause a triple threat – seriously jeopardizing both the quality and quantity of the water supply for north jersey.

Obviously, the PVWSC would rather not discuss that in public.

Obviously, the sewage treatment plant operators and DEP would not like to discuss the fact that lax pollution discharge limits threaten the drinking water of millions of north Jersey residents.

The Propaganda They Report

After more than 30 years of the same problem occurring on the Passaic River during virtually every summer, and news reports of DEP weakening water quality standards for nutrients, you would think the news reporters would get it.

You would be wrong.

Today, the Bergen Record reports on the deplorable water quality of the Passaic River – above drinking water supply intakes – and blames lack of rain! See:

Summer heat, combined with two months of below average rainfall, has left the Passaic River and many North Jersey waterways covered with algae and looking like pea soup.

Algae, which feeds off nutrients in treated waste water and runoff that is deposited in rivers, streams, and ponds, has turned much of the shimmering Passaic a murky green. While just about everything else has been drying up, the aquatic life that is frequently disrespected as “pond scum” has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Runoff? How can there be a non-point pollution runoff problem with so little rain?

Deposited? Like a bank deposit? Does the pollution “deposited” earn interest?

Nutrients? They’re good for you, right? Like what the doctor says I need to eat more of?

Summer heat and low rainfall? Of course, we can’t control the weather so the problems in the river are beyond our control, right?

The Passaic Valley Water Commission goes even further, and blames the sun:

“This time of year, with a lot of sun hitting warm water, you will see algae come up,” said Joseph A. Bella, the executive director of the Passaic Valley Water Commission. “Heavy rain will flush it.”

Hello! On high ozone air pollution days, we don’t blame the sunlight and temperatures!

I sent the reporter a note about how wrong he got the story – I forgot to remind him of several reports in the Bergen Record about how DEP lax regulation of the sewage plants threatens the water supply for the region:

Rich – the algae is a result of the fact that the river is flowing 90% or more nutrient rich wastewater discharge, NOT the lack of rainfall.
The algae is NOT benign – it creates drinking water cancer risks from what are called disinfection byproducts, which form from the chlorine used to treat the organic matter in the river water.
It also depletes oxygen in the river which kills fish and other life.
The high percentage of the river flow that is wastewater also contains high levels of nitrates.
Nitrates can cause “blue baby syndrome” – i.e. kill infants.
Nitrates can not be removed by treatment – the drinking water standard is 10 ppm (mg/L)
You should ask Passaic Water Supply folks – and DEP – what the nitrate levels are.
DEP might have to order shutdown of the river intakes if levels approach 10 ppm

Here is the reporter’s lame reply:

Rainfall would dilute the nutrients, correct? So it is the lack of rainfall that makes the water nutrient rich from which the algae feeds, correct?
It’s the byproducts from disinfection that creates the cancer risk, not the algae itself, correct?
To which I responded:

False, False, & False,

1. The Clean Water Act does not set pollution discharge permits based on rainfall and dilution. The 70 or so sewage plants upstream of Passaic intake need tighter permits. They are called “water quality based effluent limits”.

2. It is NOT the lack of rainfall – the nutrients that feed the algae growth are there regardless of the flow of the river. The concentration increases when the river flows low during drought periods.

You got spun by the Passaic water district, who doesn’t want their consumers to know that they are drinking recycled waster eater.

3. It the excessive algae wasn’t there, there would be no need for massive use  of chlorine disinfection

Google “source water protection” – the premise is that drinking water supplies should be protected and that the onus is on the polluters (sewage plants) to use advanced treatment, not the water supply utilities.

This is a long running 30 year battle in the Passaic.

DEP is not adequately protecting those Passaic River intakes.

And the polluted river water is so polluted that DEP does not allow it to be pumped to the Wanaque Reservoi8r during the summer.

You can file this one right up there with Ronald Reagan’s “trees cause air pollution” and his Secretary of the Interior James Watt’s recommendation to wear a hat and sunscreen to protect against depletion of the ozone layer.


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