Tag Archive: HIghlands

Chris Christie’s Legacy

It’s the time of year when pundits ponder about the past and contemplate the future. So what’s the early line on the legacy of Chris Christie as he wraps up his first term as the Ruler of New Jersey?

Christie entered the scene as a relatively unknown minion of the ethically-challenged Alberto Gonzalez U.S. Justice Department. He stretched the limits of his powers by ignoring the best interests of the middle class by cancelling much-needed projects like the ARC tunnel and by throwing precedent down the toilet by politicizing the state Supreme Court.

But over time, these misdeeds are addressable in the near term and won’t be a major factor in Christie’s first-term legacy. Marriage Equality, which I believe Christie fought on ideological and not personal conviction, is here to stay. Vital infrastructure projects will suffer for the next four years, but our senators at the federal level are addressing some of these projects. So far, the State Senate is holding firm on keeping the Supreme Court as even-handed as it can.

There is one area, however, that will be with us long after 2016 that will define Christie’s first term legacy.

New Jersey’s environment is as fragile as it is vital. Keeping our water pure and our air clean is not a one-term initiative, but must be a sustained effort over the long run. And like herding cats that escape from an enclosure, fixing problems that we create takes much more time than it did to create them.

Clean air and water know no geographical boundaries. Cooperation with adjacent states is essential. Yet, Christie has been in the pocket of his dirty energy barons from Day One. He was behind the firing of the executive director of the Highlands Commission and refused to allow the head of the Pinelands Commission to get involved in the deliberations on a gas pipeline through that protected region. Christie’s refusal to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will be a factor in the increased severity of future hurricanes. His refusal to ban fracking waste will invariably leave a legacy of cleanup costs and pollution for future generations. Christie has put roadblocks in front of the development of clean wind energy, and so wind-friendly states like Maryland will reap the benefits of more jobs and less pollution.

Sadly, the more we ignore the environment, the longer it will take to fix the problems that are being compounded by Christie’s policies. Even if the next governor is more environmentally-friendly, he or she will face the ever deepening hole being dug by Christie’s policies.

Regardless of Christie’s second-term performance, his disdain for our air and water and his genuflecting at the feet of the Koch Brothers and their ilk will be the legacy that New Jerseyans will have to live with for a long time.

Remembering Ella Filippone

“…the river is a toxic disgrace that needs to be cleaned up. ‘It’s government at its worst,’ she said.”New York Times, July 12, 2009

I’m going to get right to the point here. That’s how Ella would have wanted it.

Ella Filippone was one tough broad, not afraid to take on anyone. You either loved her, or hated her. It’s that simple. And Ella honestly didn’t care.

Love her or hate her, there are few people who would argue the fact that New Jersey’s environmental community lost a bold, brash, and tireless advocate with her death on Friday, June 21, 2013.

Ella was a friend and a mentor to me, as she was for so many others during her 43 years as the Passaic River Coalition’s Executive Director.

My relationship with Ella didn’t start that way. We’re both very headstrong and opinionated people, and when we first met, I’m not sure she knew what to think of me. But over time, as we worked side by side on Highlands issues and projects and she cautiously assessed my character and motives, Ella took a liking to me. If you gained acceptance into her circle of trusted associates, you had no greater friend than Ella.

There’s a New Sign in Trenton

No, despite the Governor’s assertion of bipartisanship, that’s not what the new sign is. Rather, it’s a billboard just outside of the Department of Environmental Protection featuring images of two of the state’s prominent environmental legislators, Senator Bob Smith and Assemblyman John F. McKeon. It’s sponsored by the New Jersey Highlands Coalition and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance through an organization SaveH2ONJ.org

While Governor Christie has kowtowed to his anti-environmental benefactors and the anti-science right wing of his party, legislators like Smith and McKeon have been undeterred and continue to work on bills to preserve our land, air, and water for the next generations.

I spoke with Smith and McKeon about the environment this afternoon as they unveiled the new billboard.

Matzah and the Environment

What does environmental protection have to do with matzah? Plenty – but you’ll have to watch my interview with Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, to find out.

On a more serious note, following today’s press conference (What the Frack?) Jeff talked about the record of the governor and the legislature as it relates to the environment, how some of the rollbacks hurt not just our air and water, but the economy as well, and the future of solar energy in the state. He concludes with what citizens and businesses can do to improve the quality of life in the Garden State.

Quote of the Day

The quote of the day is from Loretta Weinberg:

“In an effort to overturn one of the biggest environmental accomplishments in New Jersey in the last decade, Governor Christie has stepped outside the bounds of statute and ignored residency rules and political party requirements which were intended to give balanced representation to the entire Highlands region. If the Governor disagrees with the purpose and intention of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, he and his allies in the Legislature can follow the appropriate steps to abolish it through the legislative process.  But he’s outside of his rights to stack the council with Morris County cronies who will do his bidding and dismantle the council from the inside-out.”

DFA Tea Parties in Anna Little’s backyard

Good catch – and hat/tip – Ed Zipprich.

Mayor Anna Little may be “Tea Party approved” but it looks like the bridge over the Shrewsbury River leading from the Mayor’s home town of Highlands to Sea Bright was approved by Democrats in Washington and is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Something she would have voted “No” on – had she been in the seat she’s running for now, Frank Pallone’s in NJ-6.

DFA at the Beach, crane sneaking up on Will Rosenthal
DFA-NJ’s Will Rosenthal poses by a stimulus project

On Saturday, Democracy for America (DFA) national Chair Jim Dean and DFA-NJ met up in Monmouth County for their 6th Annual DFA at the Beach event at Moby’s in Highlands. Great deck bar, by the way.

Monmouth County DFA Chair, Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich casually mentioned to me that the bridge construction in the background of the DFA group photo is ironic because Tea Party candidate Little has benefitted from yet another Democratic chunk of ARRA stimulus money right in her own back yard.

At least the crane in the background is painted red!

Now, speaking of beach + fun, Dems 2000’s having their Beach Bash tonight, by the way – have a blast, Dems 2000!

More pictures from DFA at the Beach, after the jump (thanks, Joe Osborne & Ed Zipprich, for the pix).

Christie Giving Away NJ’s Assets to Big Corps

In these budgetary-challenged times, why is Gov. Christie giving away the right to build a gas line through the Highlands for $2,000 a year?  

The cost for Tennessee Gas to lease land to build a gas line anywhere else through the state of New Jersey would be much, much higher.   Probably several million a year, if not more.   Tennessee Gas should pay market rates, just like everyone else needs to.   There should be no sweetheart deals as NJ needs the money.  One has to wonder if someone is getting paid off here.

There are 10 days until the commission votes again.   Kudos go to Assm. Cryan for making a stand on this issue.  Let’s see the rest of the NJ Democratic delegation take a stand.   There are lots of needy people who would benefit from a realistic, market rate leasing deal.

Christie will get to choose 12 of 15 members for the Highlands Council

Just another example of how elections matter:

The man who has led the New Jersey Highlands Council through the long, arduous job of completing a regional master plan is planning to leave.

Nearly the entire 15-member council could be new next year after Chris Christie takes office as governor because of 12 vacancies and expired terms.

John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, announced at Thursday’s council meeting that he told the governor he did not wish to be reappointed.

Weingart said he initially told Corzine he wanted to leave last summer, but the Governor asked him not to step down yet. And now, because of the delays, it’s unlikely Corzine or the Democrats could have their choice before the end of his term:

Although Corzine has another two months as governor, it’s unlikely he will make any appointments to the council, or that any appointments would be approved. He took years, in at least one case, to nominate members and four of seven people he attempted to put on the council early this year were rejected by the state senator in their district through a process known as senatorial courtesy. Republicans hold nearly all of the state Senate seats in the Highlands, and most are unhappy with the law.

So add this to the list of issues awaiting the new Governor when he takes office. We’ll see if environmental groups are happy with the positions they took during the election once Christie is all done.

COAH eases rules with amendments

Trying to find a happy medium for everyone from environmentalists, to builders and municipalities, the Council on Affordable Housing adopted some new rules and amendments yesterday in an attempt to ease the burden:

Under the rules, one-fifth of new development would be set aside as affordable housing.

The amendments approved by COAH yesterday would relax the one-in-five requirement under certain circumstances, taking into account the amount of environmentally sensitive land and vacant land within municipalities.

Still, COAH and the Highlands Council have yet to reach a formal agreement about how to reconcile their mandates, with the council dedicated to restraining development and COAH devoted to ensuring that every municipality build its share of affordable housing.

The Council also took aim at another regulation that has come under scrutiny:

The Council on Affordable Housing proposed an exemption for homeowners rebuilding their homes due to fires, floods or natural disasters. The change is a response to outrage over regulations approved June 2 that consider a burned-down home a demolition that, if rebuilt, would trigger a fee paid to the agency.

These are just the latest steps in what is a very long process.  We still have to see what happens when it goes through the courts.  Stay tuned.

Corzine approves Highlands Master Plan

Governor Corzine today approved the minutes of the recent Highlands Council Meeting where they adopted a new Master Plan:

“Today is a day that we should celebrate New Jersey’s strong history of protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health of our communities,” said Governor Corzine. “New Jersey is blessed with the unique and irreplaceable Highlands region – physically beautiful, historically significant and ecologically important.”

Not only did he approve the master plan, he issued a 5 point executive order to “strengthen implementation”:

  • The reauthorization of the Garden State Preservation Trust to ensure an

    ample supply of funds for purchasing open spaces;
  • The earmarking of $10 million to begin the process of purchasing development credits from those who want to remain on farmland in the Highlands;
  • Directing the state Department of Environmental Protection to restrict permits for new development that drains water from undeveloped regions in the Highlands Planning Area where water is deficient
  • Directing the Council on Affordable Housing to work with the Highlands Council to ensure that nothing – not even affordable housing needs – impedes the protection of Highlands water; and,
  • Directing the Highlands Council to ensure that all future planning decisions be done in an open and transparent manner, and open to public comment.
  • The approval and executive order are sure to make environmentalists happy, however will probably leave developers scratching their head.   I have no doubt that the section regarding affordable housing will be a point of contention.