LETTER – Highlands Rule Override Up in Senate Committee

On Monday, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will hold a public hearing and vote on SCR163 (Smith) that determines DEP Highlands Septic Rule is against legislative intent. The DEP’s proposed Highlands Forest Preservation Area is a major source of drinking water for up to 6 million people that includes pristine trout streams, and reservoirs. These rules will not only threaten our water supply, but are based on arbitrary science that target open space and will increase flooding. Even though the original rules were held up in Court, DEP is using the same basic nitrate model, but adding one change, which is allowing more nitrates and 4 times more pollution in the Forest Preservation Area, which will threaten New Jersey’s drinking water. The Committee is meeting on Monday, November 20, 2017 at 10:00 AM in Committee Room 10, 3rd Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, New Jersey.

“We need to advance this resolution because the DEP’s dangerous Highlands septic rules have gone into effect. This means now they can give our permits for development. With these rules, the DEP has targeted the most environmentally sensitive areas of the Highlands that will allow development to destroy these pristine areas. This is the area that contains the mountains above our reservoirs and water supply intakes. These rules will threaten the drinking water for over 6 million people. We need the Legislature to once again stand up to the Governor and protect our water in the Highlands by passing this resolution,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “After this resolution passes both houses, the DEP has 30 days to pull the rule down, make changes, or go forward. The 30-day clock will start ticking once both houses pass resolution and we need them to do so so this rule can be set aside. We need the Legislature to act because every day that passes the Highlands is threatened.”

In the Highlands’ Forest Preservation Area, which is the most environmentally sensitive area of the region and these rules will increase development by allowing more septic systems. The rules attack the Forest Preservation Area by changing the standards in the nitrate dilution model from .21 g/L to 2 g/L. That will increase density from developing from 1 house per 88 acres to 22 in forested area and 1 house per 25 acres to 8 in farmland areas.

“Twelve years after the Highlands Act was passed, the Highlands is now being threatened by Governor Christie. The Assembly must fight back against these rules by passing a resolution against them. These rules clearly violate legislative intent because the Highlands Act requires a nitrate model from ‘deep aquifer re-charge’ that has not been impacted by development. Instead, the DEP is using data from mostly developed areas of the Highlands around lakes that have shallow aquifers in areas outside the Preservation Area. This change will allow developers to build McMansions in the sky and make it more cost effective to build roads and subdivisions on top of the environmentally sensitive mountains. This is all so our Governor taking care of land speculators and developers at the expense of our water supply,” said Jeff Tittel.

These rules will weaken the main feature of the Highlands Act that helps protect the Highlands Forest Preservation Area from development. One of the main concerns with this rule is that the exempted lots that were grandfathered under the Highlands Act would be able to connect to new lots and even make it cost effective to build roads and subdivisions up the most environmental sensitive tops of forested mountains.

“The changes in DEP’s Highlands Septic Density rule will open the entire Forest Preservation Area in the Highlands to development. These standards prevent the degradation of water quality in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the entire state. The Highlands protect 64% of our state’s drinking water. By allowing the extension of sewers, it will impact open space and nearby reservoirs and streams. This rule will not only rob our clean water supply, lowering our aquifers, but will pollute our streams, rivers, and drinking water. These rules are an attack on clean water and should be blocked immediately,” said Jeff Tittel.

The Highlands Septic rules were put in place to protect our drinking water and public health, but this proposal is a dirty deal for dirty water. This is part of the Administration’s weakening of the Flood Hazard Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules as well as the failure to update the Water Supply Master Plan and preventing the Drinking Water Quality Institute from meeting.

“It is even more important that the Legislature takes action to overturn these dangerous and damaging rules because the Christie Administration has signed off on them. The DEP signing these rules is not a surprise since Governor Christie has said he wants to repeal the Highlands Act, but the Legislature would never let him. Instead he’s trying to do it one roll back at a time like DEP’s Water Quality Management Planning rules, failing to update the Water Supply Master Plan, and stacking the Highlands Council. The Highlands Septic Density Rules violate legislative intent and threaten the entire environment and drinking water of the region. That is why we need the legislature to step with this important override resolution,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.