Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Funds For Highlands Protection Running Dry

By Lindsey de Stefan

Protecting the Highlands of New Jersey was established in the 2004 Highlands Act. According to the New Jersey Highlands Council website, this beautiful, spacious and bountiful area consists of some 860,000 acres spread across seven counties and 88 municipalities within the state. But this land required not only protection, but rehabilitation and revamping. Like many other precious areas of open land in our state, dedicated individuals set out to save it and were rather successful in their attempts. Various means were undergone to conserve the Highlands.

One of the most important measures was the creation of a Highlands Council. The Highlands Council was assigned the key responsibility of creating a Regional Master Plan to which all of the municipalities within the Preservation Area would be required to adhere to. A Regional Master Plan was recognized as being crucial to the protection of this critical area of our state. Eventually, in July of 2008, a plan was adopted.

Conforming to meet the standards required to conserve this area properly is costly, however. The state has promised to provide funding to assist participating municipalities in their necessary endeavors to conform to Highlands Regional Master Plan standards. This includes the cost of professional services needed to perform technical work. Up until this point, this has been more or less of a success with a 95% cooperation rate of all municipalities within the Preservation Area, according to the Highlands Council site.

But now there is a problem. New Jersey Governor Christie’s administration is seeking to cut the funding for the protection of the Highlands. This would inhibit the implementation of long term initiatives, such as improving the quality of the drinking water, since this region is a huge supplier of our water, and repairing environmental degradation in some areas of this vast expanse of nature. Without funding, however, all of these things will become impossible.

For more information: http://www.state.nj.us/njhighlands/

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