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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: 8/10/01
01/92
CONTACT: Sharon A. Southard or Amy Collings
(609) 984-1795 or 609-292-2994

WETLANDS REGULATIONS ADOPTED

State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Shinn today announced DEP adopted revised freshwater wetlands regulations, and is proposing additional rules to further strengthen the state's wetlands protection program.

The regulations are one component of a comprehensive plan to restore and improve the quality of the state's freshwater wetlands. The adopted regulations will provide more stringent protections and help enhance the quality of New Jersey's wetlands.

The rule package contains adopted revisions proposed last August, and a concurrent proposal making three changes to further strengthen the wetlands program and comply with EPA recommendations. New Jersey is only one of two states with the delegated authority from the federal government to regulate wetlands. The rule package will ensure that the state's wetlands protection program continues to be consistent with the federal program.

"Freshwater wetlands provide critical habitat for wildlife, filter surface water runoff, are crucial to flood control by absorbing and storing floodwaters, and help aquifer recharge. The revised wetlands rules, combined with DEP's other wetland initiatives, will form a comprehensive strategy to accommodate planned growth while improving New Jersey's water quality and fostering biodiversity which is important to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems statewide," said Shinn. He noted the revised rules include several significant strengthenings, as well as streamlining measures that will improve the efficiency of the permitting process.

The rule package includes the following:

  • Special protection for small wetland vernal habitats that are crucial to the breeding of several amphibian species, some of which are threatened or endangered;
  • Limits on the placement of new homes near transition areas, or "buffers," to avoid creating backyards that cannot be used because it is a regulated area;
  • Stronger penalties for failure to promptly perform required mitigation;
  • More efficient application and permitting procedures including combined general permits and transition area waivers, and combined freshwater wetlands and floodplain permits for some activities that occur in wetlands located in floodplains;
  • Stricter limits on the use of the general permit for isolated wetlands in certain waters;
  • New general permits for landfill closures, stream cleaning by local governments, tree cutting for airport safety, livestock watering troughs, and brownfields redevelopment; and
  • Standard operating procedures to protect wetlands during dam removal, brownfield redevelopment and landfill closure.

The rule provides new protection for vernal habitats which are isolated wetlands recently found to be key breeding grounds for numerous amphibian and plant species. Protecting these essential wetlands and other functional wetlands, combined with improved mitigation and conservation strategies, is expected to result in cleaner water and a healthier environment.

The adopted rule revisions reflect lessons learned from DEP's 13 years of experience with the regulatory program by which DEP issues freshwater wetlands permits. The rules set the standards and procedures for DEP to issue land use permits to control and direct the filling, construction, paving, and destruction of vegetation in freshwater wetlands or transition areas, and the placement of fill in open waters.

"Although New Jersey has the most stringent and comprehensive wetlands programs in the nation, the newly adopted rules provide additional safeguards to protect the environment and to ensure the future success of the state's wetlands program," said Shinn. "Fortunately, New Jersey has stemmed its historic wetlands losses. Coastal wetlands are almost never allowed to be filled, and significant wetland restoration projects have begun to restore some of the values previously lost. The loss of freshwater wetlands has also significantly slowed."

In the past, under the federal wetlands program, the state was losing approximately 2,000 or more acres of wetlands per year. The state now permits the average annual filling or disturbance of 160 acres which is offset by 80 acres of required mitigation. We have reduced the net loss from 2000 acres to 80 acres per year.

Shinn said while no wetland losses are desirable, given the fact that New Jersey has 730,160 acres of freshwater wetlands and 250,000 acres of coastal wetlands, the actual annual net loss of freshwater wetlands is only 0.01 percent.

"When you consider that we are experiencing these minimal losses at a time of significant economic growth and development, the state's wetland program is very successful, and these new rules and initiatives, will strengthen our program to continue these successful trends,"he said.

"We are acutely aware of new, more complex challenges that face us at the dawn of the 21st century," said Shinn. "While we have greatly protected the number of acres of wetlands since we took assumption in 1994, we are working on a number of DEP short- and long-term strategies." He explained that DEP and academic partners are conducting several important wetlands research projects to better assess New Jersey's wetlands resources, including the identification of unique wetland land and animal communities. The research is already helping land managers make better decisions about protecting and restoring wetland communities, including improved methods for wetland creation, restoration, and enhancement.

In addition, to ensure no net loss of wetlands in the near future, Shinn said DEP will enhance land use compliance and enforcement actions by implementing a priority-driven system to increase monitoring of regulated activities within critical wetlands areas based on their habitat and functional value. Also, he noted, DEP will strive to minimize the impacts of development on the quantity and quality of wetlands by expanding the implementation of best management practices for stormwater control from new development. This will be accomplished by the development of watershed-based stormwater management plans through partnerships with local and regional agencies, and through regulations.

"By the year 2005, we will see an increase of wetland acreage," Shinn said. "We plan to reach this goal by accelerating the use of credits held by the Wetlands Mitigation Bank, by the continuance of mitigation requirements in individual permits and certain general permits. The department will also coordinate with other state and federal agencies to acquire funding to create and enhance wetlands in areas impacted by agricultural, transportation and other development activities."

A public hearing will be held on the concurrent proposed amendments at 1 PM on September 27 at the New Jersey Department of Personnel Multi-Purpose Room, First Floor, 44 Clinton Avenue, Trenton. The rules will appear in the New Jersey Register on September 4.

The adoption and the concurrent proposed amendments can be viewed or downloaded on DEP Land Use Regulation Program website at www.state.nj.us/dep/landuse.

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