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State of New Jersey-Department of Environmental Protection-DEP Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Guidance
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Highland Myths and Facts

Myth: The rules don’t allow me to plant a garden.

Fact : The DEP Highlands rules only require a permit for a “Major Highlands Development”. A flower garden or vegetable garden would not be considered a “Major Highlands Development” and therefore would not require a permit.

“Major Highlands Development” does not include agricultural or horticultural development or agricultural or horticultural use.


Myth: The rules don’t allow me to cut firewood without a Highlands permit.

Fact : The DEP Highlands rules only require a permit for activities that meet the definition of “Major Highlands Development”. Selective tree cutting or removal of dead trees would not meet this definition and therefore does not require a permit.


Myth: The rules don’t allow me to put an addition on my existing home.

Fact : The Highlands Act and implementing rules exempt any improvement to a legally existing single-family dwelling in existence on August 10, 2004. This includes additions, garages, sheds, driveways, porches, decks, patios, swimming pools, or septic systems, as long as the improvement maintains the use as a single-family dwelling and does not permit use of the structure as a multiple unit dwelling.


Myth: There is no money to support land acquisition for open space and farmland preservation in the Highlands.

Fact : While preservation funding is limited, substantial resources have been dedicated to funding land acquisition in the Highlands. Since the passage of the Highlands Act, almost $160 million in State funds have been set aside to state, local, and nonprofit open space acquisition projects in the Highlands. These funds will be supplemented by new appropriations of State funds for Highlands preservation in 2006 and subsequent years. The Federal government, counties, municipalities, and conservation nonprofits represent important sources of additional Highlands acquisition funds.

In addition, the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) continues to accept and process applications for farmland preservation in the Highlands Region through all five of its acquisition programs. Also, there is an additional $30 million in SADC funding that has been dedicated to the preservation of farms specifically in the Highlands.


Myth: If my project is exempt, DEP requires me to obtain an exemption letter.

Fact : An exemption letter (a.k.a. Highlands Applicability Determination) is not required by the DEP unless an application for a permit unrelated to the Highlands legislation (ex. Freshwater Wetlands, Stream Encroachment, or Water Supply permit) is being submitted to the DEP for activities located within the Preservation Area. This is required so that the DEP can determine which rules ( Highlands or the others listed above) to apply in reviewing the permit application.

However, even in the case noted above, an exemption letter is not required for:

  • Improvements (ex. Driveway, garage, shed, patio, deck, septic system or swimming pool) to an existing single family dwelling in existence on August 10, 2004, provided that the lot upon which the home is situated has not been further subdivided;
  • Any activity that is part of an agricultural or horticultural development or agricultural or horticultural use;
  • Any activity conducted by a landowner in accordance with an approved woodland management plan issued pursuant to the Farmland Assessment Act, N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.3; or
  • The normal harvesting of forest products on public land in accordance with a forest management plan approved by the State Forester.

If your project meets one of the project types listed above or found at subchapter 2.4(b) of the rules, even if you need another DEP permit, an exemption letter is not required by the DEP.


Myth: The DEP can come to my property at any time to inspect it.

Fact : The DEP has authority to access a property anywhere in the State if:

  • There is a pending permit application or there is a valid permit for development on the site;
  • There are regulated activities taking place, whether or not a permit has been issued; or
  • There is an actual or suspected source of pollution.


Myth: The Highlands rules will apply in the Planning area.

Fact : The DEP Highlands rules do not apply to the Planning area, they only apply to the Preservation area.

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