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Christie DEP Turns Off Lights And Goes Home – Market Trends Looking Good

DEP Abdicates State Role In Water Quality Planning

The Market and Local Government Know Best

Tomorrow is the first of three public hearings on the Christie DEP’s proposed repeal and total re-write of the Water Quality Management Planning rules (AKA “sewer rules”).

I plan on writing a detailed series on these rules like I did on the Flood Hazard debacle – but for now, will just provide a short excerpt that really captures the essence of the Christie DEP’s views of planning, regulation, the free market and DEP’s role.

Basically, they turn back the clock on a more than 50 year evolution in NJ’s land use and water resource planning tradition – a total surrender to “the market”: (DEP proposal):

Notably, as evidenced in building permit data from the New Jersey Department of  Community Affairs, market conditions are resulting in development and redevelopment in urban centers, “first ring” suburbs, and other areas with preferred access to public transportation. Studies from the National Association of Realtors report that the next generations of home buyers/renters are seeking to reside closer to jobs and amenities in mixed use, higher density communities with better access to public transportation. The data also supports that the construction of multi-family homes (requiring centralized wastewater) is now a greater percentage of the construction market than single-family homes (typically on ISSDSs). Employers and developers are making investment and locational decisions based on these trends, and the Department anticipates that these investments and decisions will continue in the foreseeable future. These trends represent a positive trend for the environment. Redevelopment, rehabilitation, and infill development means that undeveloped areas are under reduced development pressure and may remain undeveloped longer or, perhaps, in perpetuity through other Department initiatives, such as the Green Acres or Blue Acres compensated land preservation programs, or through other land preservation techniques. 

My good friend, Bill Neil writes:

Why did I ever worry, and plead and petition?  The magic of the market, and good business common sense, took care of it all.  Why not just sunset all the regs, land air and water on Jan. 1, 2016?  DEP could be run with a staff of ten to issue “advisory” only bulletins of moral suasion.

Yup – and contrary to the 900 plus pages of obfuscation in the Flood Hazard rules, the DEP makes no effort to mask that radical abdication:

.. the Department has determined that it is an appropriate time to revise its regulatory approach to water quality management planning. This determination is also consistent with Governor Chris Christie’s Executive Order No. 2, which requires the Department and other State agencies to review their rules for redundancies.

The Department’s revised approach to water quality planning is based on the principle that “planning” involves the ability to consider a range of options to solve or avoid problems; planning should not be directive or rigid. As part of its revised approach, the Department is reducing the number of analysis required, and revising the timing of their required submission, simplifying the water quality planning process, and committing to providing assistance to local communities as necessary to address water quality issues within particular communities. The Department will no longer mandate that the WMP agencies conduct all of the analyses previously required as part of the WMP, or that local communities downzone or enact nonpoint source pollution prevention ordinances as a condition of WMP adoption. Determinations regarding the land use impacts of future development and the means to address wastewater treatment needs are more appropriate at the permitting stage, when detailed site specific information is available. While the information and analyses required under the existing 2008 rules are valuable, it is not necessary to require all of it during the planning process. At the planning stage, it is a more appropriate use of Department resources to focus on delineating sewer service areas and to work collaboratively with local governments to identify unmet capacity needs and to evaluate nitrate loads.

 This proposal signifies the end of an era of State land use and water quality planning – a total surrender to the market:

DEP has abandoned the State role to local government – and then DEP gutted all the local government ordinance and planning requirements! DEP says that all that planning was “too difficult”, that capacity based planning was to “directive” and “rigid”.

No need to consider environmentally sensitive areas or whether there is enough water supply or sewer capacity to serve new development in water and land planning – we can fix all those problems in our rubber stamp permit process!!!!!

More to follow as this debate unfolds.

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