25 July 2008

Bill Wolfe and John Weingart

After leaving a brief comment on Spaces and Places this morning. Bill Wolfe has posted a more complete response to John Weingart's Highlands Opinion piece. But I cannot find Weingart's piece; I don't know whether it got pulled back, or if the links have gone bad or what.

The point is, the Highlands Council has moved the plan to the Governor and the decision is in his hands. Multiple groups oppose the plan from both sides, but the politically conceived Council - designed in theory to try to find some larger common ground - reached a point of compromise leading to a 9-5 vote. I will probably have to stop noting the opinions that will keep flying about this, but a central question is going to be whether a flawed plan is better than nothing and maybe even whether this plan helps or hurts Corzine as he looks ahead to the 2009 reelection campaign.


Anonymous said...

The Star Ledger pulled down Weingart's Op-Ed - apparently it was posted in error and will run in the paper on Monday. The Ledger editorial page editor has declined requests for equal time to rebut.


Here is what the OpEd piece said:

Environmentalists and the Highlands plan

Posted by John Weingart July 24, 2008 2:53PM

There was a time when environmental groups in New Jersey were relatively powerless. Generally overwhelmed by the money and political influence of developers and construction unions who were often allied with local government officials, their views only occasionally had influence. Perhaps partly as a result, many parts of the state today are bedeviled by dysfunctional land use patterns and serious threats to water quality and other environmental resources.

But the political equation has evolved. Although their financial resources may still be limited, the state's environmental organizations are no longer David fighting Goliath. Rather, they are a well-organized force ready to rapidly respond with concerted campaigns to any action their leaders conclude might have an impact on an environmental resource, law or regulation.

I believe New Jersey often benefits from the advocacy of these groups, but agree with their positions or not, one has to admit environmental groups now have the ability to help shape public debate and to influence and sometimes determine outcomes.

Consider the Highlands Council which this month adopted the most environmentally-protective, comprehensive regional master plan in the state's history. It is a model for the rest of the nation.

Yet almost all the news coverage surrounding this accomplishment has focused on whether the plan should have been even more restrictive. This despite that almost every policy in the Highlands Plan is already more protective than the requirements of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and sister agencies in other states. And that municipal officials complained the plan will allow little, if any, additional building while farmers argued the plan will severely limit their ability to sell their farms to housing developers.

But, when we met earlier this month to consider adopting the plan after three-and-a-half years of meetings and public hearings, all but one of the 11 proposed amendments introduced by council members were designed to further limit the development the plan might allow.

Some of us on the council felt the plan already met the mandates of the Highlands Act and that these amendments were unnecessary and, in some cases, undesirable.

Nevertheless, during the course of our eight-hour meeting, members of the public and several council members put forward convincing arguments for further strengthening the policies so that all or part of seven of the 11 proposed amendments were passed and incorporated into the final plan, which we then adopted by a 9-5 vote. Two of those voting "no" found the plan too restrictive, while three felt it didn't go far enough.

The response of most environmental leaders has been over-wrought criticism of the entire plan. Their comments to the media -- perhaps cleverly but certainly irresponsibly -- suggest that the Highlands Council "would have homeowners drink their own septic," and that "the governor better tell people to buy bottled water."

They demand that Gov. Corzine take action to prevent this plan from taking effect.

Former Gov. Brendan Byrne, today universally acknowledged as an environmental hero, has observed that when he was in office environmental activists were the only constituency to whom you could grant 97 percent of what they wanted and then hear only about the other 3 percent. That seems to remain the case today.

Interest groups of all kinds need to take strong positions and often push for more than may seem possible in order to be effective. That type of advocacy from New Jersey environmental groups has produced significant benefits for the state, not least among them passage of the Pinelands Act in 1979 and the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act in 2004.

Unfortunately, though, their leaders not only continue to focus on the 3 percent they didn't get, they also seem to assume that anyone who disagrees with their positions is, as the NJ Environmental Federation said of the majority of the Highlands Council, "more concerned about parochial, special and their own re-election interests than they are the public's interest." Apparently, none of us can possibly be as publicly-spirited as they are unless we agree with their every position.

I am an environmentalist. I believe that strong government action at the state and national level is necessary to assure that air and water quality improves, that natural resources are protected and that we move toward land use decision-making that protects open space and dramatically reduces energy usage and traffic congestion while helping people of all incomes to have good homes and good jobs.

And as an environmentalist, I believe that the Regional Master Plan approved by the Highlands Council, while far from perfect, provides a very strong framework for protecting the Highlands.

John Weingart is chairman of the New Jersey Highlands Council and associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.

Bill Wolfe said...

Sorry - that annonymous post was mine.

Anonymous said...

David - two observations on your post:

1) the Council misconstrued its legislative mandate and role. The COuncil is not a legislative body that makes policy. They all had their local government hats on. This led to fundamental mistakes as to mission and client et al. Equally, this ld to deep confusion about the idea of "balance". The Highalnds Act is NOT a balacning statue like the MLUL and state planning Act are. The HL Act clrearly elecvates prese4rvation adn water resource protection above development interests. In fact, envrionmetnal conditons contrain any development.

2) You frame this as a choice between a flawed plan and no plan. That is a false choice - we are not in an either/or situation. The Gov. can veto the plan that was adopted with specific directions to the Council to remedy flaws via the amendments that were rejected, plus a few additional issues from DEP Commissioner Jackson. Also, the Plan must anticiapte and backstop againt an adverse court decsion in the Farm Bureau litigation of the DEP septic density standards (88 acre/25 acres zones).
If those standards are rejected by the courts, the RMP is DOA

Bill Wolfe said...

For your readers, from today's Star Ledger. Written by a member of the Highlands Council:


Turned to mush
Thursday, August 07, 2008

The beauty of the Highlands plan is that it was developed based on a policy of analyzing what's needed for water resources and developing a plan to responsibly safeguard, restore and use what we have.

But then the data showed most of the Highlands was already built out beyond sustainability. There was little room for development. A fatal assumption took hold -- that to win over towns to the plan, compromises were needed. The science-based policies unraveled.

The 10 amendments council members offered would have allowed us to remain true to our vision of a plan firmly embedded in what the science required -- stopping growth where there isn't enough water and no longer paving over streamsides, polluting groundwater and streams or allowing politics to define where development can go. These concepts have been hopelessly loopholed to mush.

Chairman John Weingart asks why a pitched battle? It's not that environmental groups are too powerful, as he claims, or "petulant." It's that we have already lost far more than we can ever know, and providing water for half the people of New Jersey requires firecely fighting for all that's left.

-- Tracy Carluccio, East Amwell Township

The writer is a Highlands Council member.