Thursday, May 6, 2010

Highlands Regional Plan At Issue

By Krysta Daniels

The Pequannock River Coalition’s website talked about the NJ Highlands Regional Master Plan. They stated that the Highlands Act was passed by the legislature in 2003 and the Highlands Council released the first draft of the Regional Master Plan in 2006. How did the plan come about? Well there was a Highland Council of 15 members who were assembled to develop a plan that would protect and restore the quantity and quality of water resources across the Highlands area.

Like any other rough draft of a plan, there were many flaws in the 2006 version. Luckily, there were comments made and suggestions and they were taken into consideration and the plan was revised to include some of the best ideas that would work. The important parts the community and members wanted to get across seemed to have been considered. The members stressed the need for improvement and the rehabilitation of the Highlands region.

The last draft of the RMP was released in November of 2009 and many people think it was not improved. Those included in this disagreement are the readers and staff of the Pequannock River Coalition’s website.

According to New Jersey State League of Municipalities, there were significant comments on the last draft of the RMP. The website documented the statement that, “the Council and its staff have relied on the Highlands Law to defend the RMP while conceding that additional work is required to complete some of the plan’s elements. Landowners and farmers have strongly objected to the imposition of severe restrictions without the provision of compensation. Environmentalists generally support the RMP but some have criticized it for not being sufficiently specific or restrictive.”

According to the Daily Record, Governor Christie’s budget seeks to eliminate some $6 million in additional Highlands aid, including $3.6 million in property tax stabilization aid to municipalities that can prove they lost rateables as a result of the 2004 Highlands Law, and $2.2 million in watershed moratorium aid to municipalities with under developable watershed properties.

The effect of this plan will directly impact seven counties and 88 municipalities. According to the Daily Record’s website the Highland region will have a comparatively good amount of budget for this fiscal year. The article “Some key funding of Highlands survives in state budget,” states that the budget also includes full funding of $4.4 million for compliance aid and planning aid to help municipalities bringing their zoning in line with that of the regional master plan.

There is a fear that the budget cuts will threat the need for creating jobs. There are many environmental programs in New Jersey that could really use the revenue and not the cuts. This budget cut very likely will hurt the environment if something isn’t done with the Highlands region. New Jersey will be able to prosper if there are more green jobs created.

The executive director, Eileen Swan, was quoted saying the staff can continue to operate with the budget cuts without having to cut stuff. “We want to show the governor we will continue to work and perform and reach new milestones so the Highlands regional master plan will provide protection to the important resources,” Swan said.

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