The passage of the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was a tremendous milestone for the long term protection of New Jersey’s valuable public trust resources in the Highlands region, including the drinking water resources that 70% of the State’s population depends on. It took the combined efforts of thousands of individuals, whether concerned citizens, environmental, planning and conservation professionals, elected officials at all levels of government, and the interests of many organizations represented through the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, over two decades, to advocate for the legislation.
But the Highlands Act alone cannot withstand the development pressures in the Highlands regions that only increase over time. In order to secure the Act’s passage, many compromises were made that softened intended prohibitions against certain developments and introduced exemptions. We have seen how many of the Act’s goals and objectives can be undermined by appointing pro development interests to the Highlands Council, by failing to enforce the NJDEP Highlands Rules, by signing Settlement Agreements that are contrary to the Act, and by proposing to weaken the Highlands Rules. Perennially, legislation intended to repeal aspects of the Act are introduced. It is largely because of our continued vigilance and that of our partners that they haven’t succeeded.
And even with the most durable legislation, it is only one of the necessary tools required to adequately protect the Highlands. The other tools include robust open space, farmland and historic preservation programs and outreach and education programs. Therefore, our goals and objectives are as follows:
- To protect the Highlands Act from repeal or weakening
- To promote a strong Highlands Council that prioritizes the protection of Highlands natural and cultural resources
- To advocate for a strong Highlands Regional Master Plan and to promote municipal conformance
- To advocate for faithful implementation of the Act by NJDEP with its Highlands Rules
- To advocate for continued open space acquisition in the Highlands and farmland and historic preservation
- To promote throughout the Highlands and throughout New Jersey a Highlands identity and an understanding of the natural and cultural resource values of the region and why they are important to protect
- Nurturing effective grassroots responses to local threats to Highlands resources
Many of the strategies we are employing to accomplish our goals can be found under the Programs section of the website.