Trenton — Despite its own employees’ recommendations, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has abandoned specific plans to strengthen the stream encroachment permit program, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Under what is commonly known as the “stream encroachment permit” program, DEP regulates development proposed along stream corridors and within flood hazard areas in order to avoid and minimize flooding, erosion, sedimentation and adverse water quality impacts.
In October 2002, DEP staff responded to chronic statewide flooding, degraded water quality and serious weaknesses in the permit program by developing recommendations to strengthen the permit program. The recommended new restrictions included:
- Expanded stream buffers, from 25-50 feet-wide to 75-100 feet-wide, a change that would protect thousands of miles of NJ streams;
- Stricter limits on construction and fill in flood hazard areas;
- Eliminate loopholes in order to protect sensitive headwaters streams;
- Stricter protections for natural stream corridor vegetation; and
- Mandatory conservative flood hazard area mapping requirements.
Employee recommendations were subsequently presented to DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell for policy review. A draft rule proposal was finalized in mid-2003, which Campbell pledged to move forward. However, despite the established need to strengthen the permit program to address stream protections, this past Monday in the NJ Register, DEP published notice of its intent to readopt the existing rules without change.
“DEP has snubbed their nose in adopting stricter standards recommended by agency professionals to protect water quality and reduce flood risks,” stated Bill Wolfe, Director of NJ PEER. “More delay is simply unacceptable, given the huge economic and environmental costs of flooding across the state.”
* PEER, NJ Sierra Club, NJ Environmental Federation, NJPIRG will hold a press conference at NOON today in Room 109 of the Statehouse.*
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.