Despite an enormous outpouring of protest from the environmental community and others, Governor McGreevey signed the "fast track permitting" bill into law in July. Many WCAS members sent comments. We are still reeling from the implications of this law that would allow applications for development in designated growth areas to be approved in 45 days if no action is taken on the environmental permits that very often accompany such applications. Such permits include hazardous waste cleanups, flood control permits, water discharge permits to surface and ground water, underground storage tank permits, wetlands permits, stormwater permits, pesticide application permits and others. Many of these permit applications are copied to municipalities, where they are reviewed by the municipal environmental commissions and professionals, who know their own growth areas better than anyone else. Environmental Commissions usually meet one a month and this ridiculous time-frame will make it impossible for them to review the applications and get their comments to the appropriate state agencies in time for consideration to meet the deadline. There are deep concerns that this law will weaken the state's environmental and safety protections and lead to more sprawl.
The law also eliminates the opportunity for public comment on applications in these areas and creates the position of a politically appointed Smart Growth Ombudsman, who will have the power to veto or override environmental policy and agency decisions.
To make matters worse, proposed changes to the State Plan Map would create additional Smart Growth Areas that would be affected by this law.
The Save New Jersey Coalition, made up of dozens of environmental, civil rights, community, labor and religious groups, spear-headed the campaign to raise public awareness of the adverse impacts of the proposed law and the fight against its passage. The Coalition is challenging the bill legally (the bill itself was fast-tracked without opportunity for adequate review and public comment) and they are working for repeal of its worst provisions. At a July 28 public hearing, the group presented in writing a set of recommendations in 12 key policy areas that they hope will be adopted to mitigate the effects of the fast track law. They include, among others, adoption of standards, defining the authority of the ombudsman, redefining and clarifying appropriate Smart Growth Areas and public notice and participation.
If you would like to receive a copy of the Save NJ Coalition document that includes all 12 recommendations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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