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Christie DEP Holds Public Hearing On Highlands Clean Water Rollback

Christie seeking to weaken Highlands Act via DEP regulations and bypass Legislature

DEP promoting significant new development in Preservation Area

Today (Wednesday, June 1, 2016) DEP will hold a public hearing at 6 pm in Chester NJ on proposed rollbacks of what are known as the Highlands “septic density standards” (see this for the public hearing location and comment info).

It is vital that all supporters of Highlands preservation, water quality, and forest protections attend and speak out at this public hearing.

The proposed rules would significantly increase development in the Highlands Preservation Area, undermine the Regional Master Plan (RMP) and destroy the Highlands Council’s “capacity analysis” that forms the basis of things like the local Affordable Housing Obligations under COAH.

Governor Christie has been unable to secure amendments to weaken the Highlands growth management protections through the Legislature, so he is abusing his executive powers in DEP regulations to gut the Act through the back door.

The DEP proposed rollback of the Highlands “septic density standards”  is an obvious political deal by the Christie DEP that lacks a scientific or legal basis. The deal is designed to settle a very old lawsuit filed way back in 2008 by the NJ Farm Bureau.

This Christie DEP deal has been in the works for over 6 years now, it was announced recently by DEP at two informal presentations, and it follows required rule making procedures.  This is not a “nearly clandestine meeting”  as frantically claimed in an email today by George Stafford of the NJ Highlands Coalition (do they pay this guy a salary? Probably on Dodge’s dime.)

But your might not be aware of all that because the Highlands Coalition has been very busy working on Dodge Foundation funded diversions and frivolous stunts like pub crawls, festivals, sports car road rallies, and golf outings, instead of defending the current DEP rules, educating the public, warning the public, and organizing opposition to this long planned rollback.

Make no mistake, the fact that the DEP was even able to propose this rule shows that there has been a massive failure of advocacy at the Highlands Coalition and their Foundation funders.

They knew it was coming for 6 YEARS and did nothing to organize public opposition to block it. I blame them as much as the Christie DEP, who were just following orders.

In order to show that massive failure, lay out fatal flaws, and to help the public with comments on the proposed rule, I want to repost the following material, in chronological order, starting with the most recent and going back over 6 years:

I provide this information, which documents the political deal that reversed the prior Corzine DEP and an independent Administrative Law Judge’s legal and scientific findings.

But you really don’t need to take my word for it.

This is really all you need to know, case closed:

Excerpt of the DEP proposal at page 5. The DEP unequivocally states that the Christie DEP has reversed prior policy and scientific and legal findings by DEP that are upheld by an ALJ at OAL:

The OAL hearing was held on January 13 through 16, 2009. In an Initial Decision dated March 24, 2009, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that the rule at N.J.A.C. 7:38-3.4 establishing the septic system density standards was based upon substantial credible evidence in the record and was a valid exercise of the agency’s discretion. In his Final Decision dated July 13, 2009, the Commissioner of the Department adopted and supplemented the Initial Decision, finding there was substantial, credible evidence in the record to conclude the Department had a rational, scientific basis for establishing the septic system density standards, and that the Farm Bureau did not meet its burden of proving the Department’s methodology was arbitrary or capricious.

The Farm Bureau and the Department filed additional briefs with the Appellate Division and oral argument was scheduled forMarch 9, 2010At the request of the Department, and with the consent of the Farm Bureau, the Court entered an order dated March 5, 2010, removing the appeal from its calendar and staying it until September 9, 2010. With the consent of the Farm Bureau, the Department requested, and the Appellate Division granted, additional stays of the appeal until December 28, 2011. Before the expiration of the stay, the Department moved for a remand so that it could develop and propose appropriate amendments to the septic system density standards. The Court granted the motion and dismissed the appeal without prejudice on January 25, 2012.

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