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September 20, 2003

Contact: Amy Cradic

Governor McGreevey Forms Task Force to Protect Highlands:
Open Space Preservation and Safeguarding Drinking Water Supplies Top Priorities

(03/130) RINGWOOD TOWNSHIP - Recognizing the Highland region's extensive natural resources, exceptional farmland and its value as a major source of drinking water for New Jersey residents, Governor James E. McGreevey established a new Highlands Task Force charged to advance conservation efforts and comprehensively review measures that encourage land acquisition, regional planning and smart growth.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today announced the creation of the Highlands Task Force during the Highlands Coalition Annual Meeting held in Ringwood State Park, Passaic County.

"The Highlands is a critical resource that is experiencing tremendous pressure from population growth and development. Every effort must be made to aggressively preserve remaining open space and safeguard the region's precious water supplies," said Governor McGreevey. "I've charged the Task Force to identify steps needed to preserve the Highlands, while providing smart growth opportunities for local communities and maintaining our quality of life."

As outlined in a signed executive order, Governor McGreevey formally directed the Task Force to examine legislation, regulations, model local ordinances or other government action necessary to pursue the following goals:

  • Protection of water quality, drinking water supplies, wetlands, critical plant and wildlife species habitat, vegetated stream corridors, and contiguous forests;

  • Identification of methods to protect and preserve open space and sustainable uses of natural resources of the Highlands region;

  • Identification of methods to enhance farmland preservation and support the agriculture industry in the Highlands region;

  • Identification of methods to promote historic, cultural, scenic and recreational resource opportunities that preserve the natural features of the Highlands region; and

  • Provide smart growth opportunities, including economic development and redevelopment, in the Highlands region through regional planning, including coordination of transportation and infrastructure investments and administrative agency activities, consistent with State Development and Redevelopment Plan (2001).

The Task Force will hold public meetings and present recommendations to the Governor regarding the above mentioned issues within six months.

"We can not afford to let unchecked sprawl jeopardize a nationally significant area that provides water for half of New Jersey residents and supports critical wildlife habitat," said DEP Commissioner Campbell. "Governor McGreevey has set an aggressive timeline for the Task Force to establish a Highlands action plan to address the mounting threats to this precious natural treasure."

Since 1984, 65,000 acres - nearly 100 square miles - of the Highlands region have been lost to development, and sprawl and the pace of development in the region has dramatically increased. The rate at which forested lands and wetlands have been lost has more than doubled since 1995.

"We applaud the Governor's continued leadership on the Highlands. He has put forward a clear charge and set in motion an inclusive and thoughtful process to ensure the long-term protection of this threatened region of water, beauty and life," said Executive Director of the Highlands Coalition Thomas A. Gilbert.

The Highlands region is an area that extends from northwestern Connecticut across the lower Hudson River Valley and northern New Jersey into east central Pennsylvania. The New Jersey portion of the Highlands region is greater than 1,000 square miles, covering portions of seven counties and 90 municipalities.

The Highlands region is an essential source of drinking water, providing clean and plentiful drinking water for one-half of the state's population, including communities beyond the Highlands region. In addition, the Highlands region contains other exceptional natural resources such as clean air, contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds and plant and wildlife species habitats. The region contains sites of historic significance, and provides abundant recreational opportunities. Approximately 110,000 acres of agricultural lands are in active production in the New Jersey Highlands region.

Governor McGreevey's proposal to increase open space funding for the Highlands region will be presented to New Jersey voters as a ballot question this November. In his State of the State address, the Governor pledged to dedicate an additional $50 million over the next three years for open space preservation in the Highlands, as well as implementing a limited time capital gains tax waiver for those landowners who sell their property to the state's open space program.

The 19-member Task Force will include cabinet members DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell; Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin; Department of Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus; Department of Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere; and the Chief Executive Officer and Secretary of the Commerce and Economic Growth Commission William Watley. Additional members of the Task Force include: Lois Cuccinello, Passaic County Freeholder; Val Huddle, Bergen County Freeholder; Mayor Frank Van Horn, Knowlton; Tom Gilbert, Executive Director Highlands Coalition; Tom Gilmore, Executive Director, Audubon Society, NJ; Michele Byers, Executive Director, Conservative Foundation; David Epstein, Executive Director, Morris Land Conservancy; Joe Riggs, K. Hovanian; Tammy Horsfield, Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, and Malcolm Borg, member of the public. The Governor will name the remaining members of the Task Force shortly.



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