One unfortunate consequence of the effort to shrink the state budget deficit is an apparent postponement of funding for New Jersey Smart Growth projects statewide. That includes the $150,000 grant awarded last fall for development of a Smart Growth Management Plan for the Sourland Mountains. The grant would be used to characterize the unique resources of the area, assess future impacts of development, and recommend policies that promote sustainable development.
Washington Crossing Audubon vigorously supported the grant application in a letter to the Dept. of Community Affairs. Our field volunteers have logged countless hours surveying the flora and fauna of the Sourlands and know as well as anyone the fragility of this precious ecosystem. Smart Growth planning is an important tool that works hand-in-hand with open space preservation to control the sprawl that could-and will-decimate the Sourlands without a solid plan that limits growth to the least sensitive areas.
We are especially dismayed that this particular Smart Growth project has been sidetracked. The project is unique in that it is a regional effort, rather than just a municipal one. Its greatest strength is that its area is defined by geological and ecological boundaries rather than artificial political ones. The grant was awarded to an extraordinary coalition of five townships (East Amwell, Hopewell, West Amwell, Montgomery and Hillsborough), three counties (Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer) and three non-profit organizations (Sourlands Planning Council, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and the D&R Greenway). The SPC and East Amwell Township are the lead agencies. All of these bodies are represented on a Steering Committee which is now seeking to have the funding restored so that the project can move forward without delay. With development pressures clawing at the very slopes of the Sourlands, time is running out.
The Steering Committee learned in late February that timely receipt of the money may be in jeopardy. Regional planning for the Sourlands has been a dream for many years and it is close to reality. We need to convince Gov. McGreevey and DCA Commissioner Susan Bass Levin to release the money.
The Sourlands are ecologically important because they contain the largest contiguous forest in central New Jersey. They provide vital breeding and overwintering habitat for numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, some of which are endangered or threatened. They also harbor a number of rare plant species. The Sourlands also contain the headwaters for several streams. Without proper planning, development would impose stresses upon the limited groundwater as well as the surface water and would fragment the habitat. The unique historical background of the Sourlands is also a consideration. A regional planning approach would be the best way to protect these resources.
What you can do: Write to the Governor and ask that the Smart Growth grants be funded without delay. Refer to the paragraphs above for talking points. Send a copy of your letter to the Commissioner.Governor James E. McGreevey
State of New Jersey
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625-0001
Ms. Susan Bass Levin, Commissioner
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