Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fight over septic tanks draws full house in NJ Highlands

New Jersey Highlands scene - NJDEP Photo
New Jersey’s bid to open up a portion of the Highlands to development won both praise and criticism Wednesday night, with some property owners hoping it could enhance land values but environmentalists fearing it will degrade the drinking water for millions.

Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight covered the packed hearing attended by some 100 people at the New Jersey Highlands Council offices in Chester on a proposal by the Department of Environmental Protection to allow more building in approximately 69,000 acres of the most protected part of the region.

Johnson reports:

The rule proposes to increase the density of septic tanks in the preservation area of the Highlands, the latest in a series of regulatory changes environmentalists say weaken water-quality protections in the state being pushed by the Christie administration.
The dispute, to a degree, focuses on a highly technical debate over what levels of nitrate may be absorbed into the soil, and eventually leach into groundwater supplying up to 6 million people. But the larger issue remains a still-raging debate over the creation of the Highlands, a forested expanse of more than 860,000 aces of gently rolling hills, farmland, and forests.
“We need your help, but that’s not it. Find some money for the farmers and landowners,’’ said Hank Krumpp, a farmer in the Highlands, echoing a frequent complaint of property-owners who say the 12-year old law has ruined land values.
David Shope, a farmer from Long Valley, who bought his land in 1971, put it succinctly. “I’m still waiting to speculate on it,’’ he said. “Sprawl is in the eye of the beholder.’’
But that is precisely what many conservationists fear. ”What we’re seeing right now is a recipe for sprawl in the Highlands,’’ warned David Peifer, Highlands project director for the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.
Constance Stroh, president of the Upper Rockaway River Watershed Association, agreed, in part. “With this rule, the DEP is responding to the complaints of land speculators,’’ she said.
Elliott Ruga, policy director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, said the change proposed by the department bows to pressure from developers. “I question whether the New Jersey DEP understands the values of the resources it is designated to protect,’’ he said.
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