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WHEREAS, the Highlands Act signed in August 2004 created a Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council charged to prepare and implement a regional master plan for the entire Highlands region and divided the 850,000-acre Highlands region into two areas: a preservation area, where development would be strictly regulated and a planning area, where development would be monitored; and

WHEREAS, with lessons learned by the agricultural community in the Pinelands, the Highlands law included a significant exemption for agricultural and horticultural activities and related development in the preservation area; as such, agricultural development and activities in the preservation area are separate and apart from the strict regulations that are imposed by the DEP upon major development in the preservation area; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Agriculture developed and adopted rules to implement the separate process for agricultural development and activities in the Highlands Preservation Area; and

WHEREAS, farmers in the preservation area of the Highlands are greatly concerned about how the strict regulations will impact the equity of their land; and although land acquisition and land use tools such as transfer of development rights (TDR) are key strategies in the preservation area, a dedicated funding source and the actual implementation of a viable TDR program remain as critical concerns; and

WHEREAS, in the short term, the State Agriculture Development Committee has directed that an additional $30 million in Garden State Preservation Trust funding for farmland preservation made available through a 2003 public question be used exclusively for the preservation of farms in the Highlands; and

WHEREAS, efforts continue with regard to establishing a dedicated funding source for farmland preservation efforts in the Highlands region; and the Department continues to monitor and contribute to the policy framework and progress toward future implementation of the Highlands TDR program in order to maximize program success and provide equity protection for affected landowners; and

WHEREAS, the Department was represented on the “Highlands Working Group” that was established by the New Jersey Farm Bureau to follow the work of the Highlands Council and provide support for the farmer member of the Council; and the Department also continues to be actively involved in the Highlands Regional Master Planning process and continues to be an advocate for the agricultural industry in the Highlands region; and

WHEREAS, based on communication with the Highlands Council and its staff throughout the process, it has been our expectation that the regional master plan produced would yield a sustainable and balanced Plan – balanced in terms of environmental protection, economic viability and fairness to landowners, yielding a plan that includes development, redevelopment and preservation; and

WHEREAS, the Highlands Protection & Planning Council released their draft Regional Master Plan (RMP), Land Use Capability Map and Atlas on November 30, which set forth a framework for protecting the important resources of the Highlands region; and

WHEREAS, while it is evident that a great deal of work went into development of the draft plan and mapping information, it is also clear that much more work and public discussions remain ahead; and

WHEREAS, as this planning process continues, we must ensure not only that we protect the natural, agricultural and cultural resources of our Highlands communities but that we do so in a way that is fair and equitable for our farm families and others who are affected in the region; and

WHEREAS, the draft plan and mapping information should be viewed as the beginning, not the end, of this critical regional planning process that was initiated with the passage of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act; and

WHEREAS, to carry out this plan requires a number of critical components:
  • A dedicated source of funding for land and easement acquisition in the Highlands to permanently protect these lands while compensating property owners.
  • A viable, private sector-driven TDR program that aids in preserving our important resources while promoting growth in appropriate areas.
  • Funding for conservation planning to implement soil, water and natural resource conservation practices on our agricultural lands to ensure proper stewardship of these resources into the future.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 92nd State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on February 13, 2007, direct the NJDA to continue to be engaged in all aspects of the Highlands RMP process, continue to monitor the work of the Highlands Council and continue to be engaged in the effort to identify a dedicated source of funding for farmland acquisition in the Highlands region.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Governor, the Legislature, the Highlands Commission and all who review, monitor or implement the Highlands Master Plan to be mindful that such implementation should not inhibit or impede agriculture and that they recognize and utilize the existing structures and programs employed by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the USDA to address the interplay between agriculture and conservation.