Water-use tax floated to
help stop Warren sprawl
Money would be for preservation purchases in Highlands
Thursday, August 04, 2005
By MICHAEL P. BUFFER
HARMONY TWP. -- An impromptu debate about last year's controversial Highlands legislation took place Wednesday at the Warren
County Farmers' Fair.
It was a few minutes after noon when Rick Cowell, of Harmony Township,
started listening to representatives of the Phillipsburg Riverview Organization
speak at their booth at the fair. The PRO representatives were endorsing
proposals to stop sprawl in Warren
They also endorsed legislation to create a water-use tax to raise money for
preservation purchases in the Highlands
region, which includes parts of Warren, Hunterdon and five other counties.
"So you still can't steal my property," Cowell interjected.
Cowell said land in the Highlands preservation
area is "basically useless" because development is limited and it
can't be sold to developers. Cowell doesn't own land in the Highlands
region, but he believes the legislation will hurt his excavating and septic
"The Highlands act is nothing more than a
land grab," Cowell said. "You tree huggers. You want to grab
everything We're leaving the state because this is
becoming a dictatorship."
State regulations for the Highlands
preservation area allow only one septic system on 88 acres in heavily forested
areas and on 25 acres in disturbed areas, such as farmland and areas previously
Reggie Regrut, executive director of the Phillipsburg Riverview Organization,
said land use regulations prevent Warren
County from looking like sprawl-ridden
"There are restrictions on everybody's property," Regrut added.
"I can't build a whorehouse on my property."
The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act divides
the Highlands region into a 415,574-acre
preservation area that limits development and a 443,449-acre planning area that
allows "appropriate" development. Critics of the legislation have
said the state isn't able to compensate landowners who agree to land
But critics, as well as supporters of the act, are backing a water-use tax to
help fund preservation efforts inside the Highlands
preservation area. They argue that a water-use tax is fair because the
Highlands region supplies water to 64 percent of New Jersey residents, about 5.4 million
"Water is not free," Regrut said.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, a sponsor of the Highlands
act, is sponsoring a measure that would establish a water-use tax to raise
funds to protect water supplies. The proposed legislation would cost most
households in the state about $3.20 a year, Regrut said.
Regrut also said he wants to see legislation that would stop small town planning
boards from allowing sprawl. He said local boards rely on volunteers who lack
the resources needed to stand up to developers.
The current planning system has resulted in plans for 7,549 new homes in Warren County,
Regrut said. Michael King, chairman of the Phillipsburg Riverview Organization,
said local municipalities often allow development by blaming state mandates to
build affordable housing, but he said those mandates are poor excuses that
King also criticized the Strategic Growth Plan proposed by the Warren County
Planning Department, saying it encourages development on the 2,000-acre
Pohatcong grasslands between Alpha and Interstate 78. Development on the
environmentally-sensitive area threatens the home of six bird species, King
The county should encourage redevelopment in Washington,
Phillipsburg and Belvidere, instead of encouraging new
development on open space, King said. County planning department Director David
Dech was not available for comment Wednesday.
King said the county shouldn't build a new library on Route 519 in White Township
and suggested relocating the library to an old warehouse building along the Pequest River
The new library could include a coffee shop to help pay operating costs, King
Reporter Michael P. Buffer can be reached at
610-258-7171 or by e-mail at email@example.com.