Attached is a list of questions and answers from the State Site. However, since many of the answers are incomplete, I have protected clarification in Italics.
1. What is the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act?
The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act is a law signed in August 2004 that preserves open space and protects the State’s greatest diversity of natural resources including the precious water resources that supply drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s families. The Highlands Act documents the geographical boundary of the Highlands Region and establishes the Highlands Preservation Area and the Highlands Planning Area. It required the Department to establish regulations in the Highlands Preservation Area and that the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council develop a regional master plan for the entire Highlands Region.
2. Why is protecting the Highlands Region important?
The Highlands Region is a vital source of drinking water for more than half of New Jersey’s families, yielding approximately 379 million gallons of water daily. In addition to water resources, the Highlands Region contains exceptional natural resources such as contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds and plant and wildlife species habitats. The region contains many sites of historic significance and provides abundant recreational opportunities. Approximately 110,000 acres of agricultural lands are in active production in the Highlands region.
There is nothing wrong with protecting water equifers and promoting wildlife are open spaces. However, if the owner’s land is being taken for public purposes or substantially limited, he should be entitled to compensation which is not happening in many instances.
3. How did this legislation come about?
On September 19, 2003, the Highlands Task Force was created through Executive Order. The Governor charged the Task Force to provide recommendations within six months on how best to advance conservation efforts, smart growth, regional planning and water resource protections in the region. The task force called for the identification of a Preservation Area in the Highlands to protect a core area of the most sensitive land, which the Legislature should then officially designate by statute. The Act was signed into law on August 10, 2004.
While the legislation made sense, it has not been properly funded since its conception, imposing the burden of open spaces upon the owner rather than public which benefits.
3. What activities are regulated in the Highlands Preservation Area?
All “major Highlands development,” as defined by the Highlands Act, in the Preservation Area is regulated and will require DEP approval, unless otherwise exempted by the Act.
5. Do the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act or Highlands rules have an impact on my property?
To determine if the law affects your property, you can enter the property location into DEP’s interactive mapping system to determine if the property is in the Highlands Preservation Area or Planning Area or you may submit an application for a Highlands Jurisdictional Determination. If your property is located within the Highlands Planning Area, then the DEP Highlands rules do not apply to your project.
If your property is located within the Highlands Preservation Area and your proposed project does not meet the definition of major Highlands development, then your project is not subject to the DEP Highlands rules.
If your property is located within the Highlands Preservation Area and your proposed project meets the definition of major Highlands development, then your project may be regulated. Some activities and projects, however, may be exempt. Click here to see a list of exemptions. To apply for an exemption, known as a Highlands Applicability Determination from the DEP, click here (pdf)
6. What standards does DEP use to review regulated activities?
The DEP standards for review of regulated activities (i.e., major Highlands development) in the Highlands Preservation Area are known as the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act rules (Highlands rules).
7. How can I determine if my project is exempt?
The Highlands Act set forth provisions for exemptions which are found in subchapter 2.3 of the Highlands rules . Certain activities, such as the construction of a single family home, may be exempt.
To apply for an exemption, known as a Highlands Applicability Determination, from the DEP, click here (pdf), for a copy of the Highlands Applicability Application Form. If you have questions about the prior approval exemptions, please contact the Division of Watershed Management, at (609) 984-6888.
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