By Lorraine Metz
Since June of 2008 the New Jersey Highlands Regional Master Plan has been in effect. It is part of a larger, four-state effort to protect water supply areas in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, as well. It’s an important act that will help conserve the land and resources of the Highlands Region. According to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, this region spans a 3.5 million-acre area that is important in the well-being of our environment and directly impacts our communities to save and keep our drinking water clean. Because of legislation that President Bush signed in 2004, $10 million per-fiscal year between 2005 and 2014 are to be appropriated by the Secretary of Interior to help preserve land in the Highlands, according to the NJ highlands Council.
In New Jersey the Highlands Region includes an 859,358 acre area encompassing88 municipalities. Information provided by the NJ Highlands Council also includes a well researched assessment of the land including surface and ground water, open space, farmland and recreation. In New Jersey we depend on the Highlands to supply 65% of our drinking water which serves 5.4 million residents.
While focus on the streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs are crucial, the Highlands Act also addresses other aspects of the region including forests which help with surface water filtration as well as habitats for animal and plant species. Due to urbanization as well as commercial and residential building there has been a loss of agricultural lands. The Farmland preservation program has helped the Highlands region by preserving acres of land useful in the ecology of the region.
Since the Highlands Act now includes a Master Plan, we can count on our communities to be protected restored and nourished. Not all Highlands communities have agreed to the plan and New Jersey is offering benefits to those communities that will become a part of the act. New Jersey promises legal benefits including legal representations and help with town ordinances as well as their local zoning decisions. The state also provides grants to help with the process.
At the end of 2010, New Jersey released a letter stating that four more towns and a county were approved for conformance with the Highlands Plan. These communities, all approved on December 16th, were Mahwah Township, Bethlehem Township, Califon Borough and Glen Gardner Borough. Also recently approved were Byram Township, Chester Township, Hampton Borough and Lebanon Borough. After these groups in December were approved, the number of municipalities involved in the program rose to 59 of the 88 municipalities in the region. There are still many areas in New Jersey that have yet to conform to the Highlands Plan including most of Morris County, which is the center of the Highlands region.
While there are still municipalities that have yet to submit a plan to conform local zoning to the regional master plan, the Highlands Council is hopeful that eventually all 88 municipalities will approve of the act and allow the Highlands Regional Master Plan to take total effect in helping protect our water supply land.
For more information:
If your community is not yet involved in the Highlands Regional Master Plan more information on your area as well as petitions are available at - http://www.highlands.state.nj.us/njhighlands/planconformance/index_municipal.html
For a look at the tracking sheet of ongoing projects in the Highlands Region -http://www.highlands.state.nj.us/njhighlands/projectreview/pr_tracking_sheet.pdf