PRESS RELEASE: Local Grassroots Groups Get Highlands Coalition Grants To Help Power Efforts to Preserve the Highlands Region
For Immediate Release: October 11, 2023
Julia Somers, Executive Director
BOONTON, N. J. – Seven local grassroots organizations protecting water and other environmental and cultural treasures in the New Jersey Highlands have been awarded grants up to $5,000 through the New Jersey Highlands Coalition’s 2023 Small Grants Program.
The announcement was made on October 11 at the N.J. Highlands Coalition’s Annual Meeting that was held at the new Community Center at Weequahic Park in Newark.
“The Highlands Coalition Small Grants program makes us unique among environmental groups,” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the Coalition. “We partner with other environmental groups on statewide issues, but we also operate from the ground up through the efforts of local residents who are on the front line as new issues arise. We give them financial assistance that primes the pump for their own fund-raising. And we also offer advice based on our hard-won experience.”
This year, seven local groups have been selected to receive grants that will help protect the manmade and natural assets of the Highlands Region, an area that provides drinking water for 70% of New Jersey residents.
Citizens for Sustainable Development – This group continues their now four-year battle to keep 600 acres of rich farmland in White Township (Warren County) from being turned into a six million square foot warehouse. The project is near the Delaware River and will fill County Route 519 with truck traffic. With the application still active before the Planning Board, the grant will be used to fund engineering and legal experts to represent citizens before local and state officials.
Phillipsburg Environmental Watch (PEW) – This organization is opposing plans to build a warehouse in downtown Phillipsburg, right next to the Delaware River. Back in 2021 and 2022, the property was rezoned from Riverside Residential to Heavy Industrial. PEW charges that there were multiple conflicts of interest in this re-zoning and that some members of the Town Council should have refrained from voting, as is required by law.
Protect Somerset Hills (PSH) – This group is dedicated to protecting the natural environment and the safety of residents in Bernards Township. They are currently opposing a plan to build two warehouse buildings on Allen Road in Basking Ridge. The application does not meet all Township ordinances, so the developer, Signature Acquisitions LLC, has applied for several waivers and variances. PSH will argue that the Board should enforce the current laws.
Puddingstone Community Club – This is a local homeowners association in Parsippany who have turned their energy toward opposing a two-house development around them. The developer has close ties to local politicians and proposes to clear cut 400 trees and move vast amounts of soil to build on land that is now a steeply-sloped forest. The site has all the resources that the Highlands Act was created to protect.
Save Our Bridge, LLC – This group is working to save The Footbridge at Cranberry Lake, located in Byrum Township. Built 92 years ago, this suspension bridge has long been neglected. The DEP rebuilt the bridge in the 1920s, but they have not had sufficient budget funds to maintain it. The group aims to get the bridge designated as having National and State historic significance. The state and local governments support the historic designation, but the citizens group will need to raise most of the costs.
Wallkill Headwaters Association – This group of residents of Franklin Borough (Sussex County) has spent more than six years fighting an inappropriate development called Milly’s Court. The land is largely made up of Critical Wildlife Habitat, its woodlands have the highest level of Forest Integrity, and its streams are already in deficit. The grant will be used to intervene at the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which must grant permits, such as one for expansion of the sewer service area.
Wild Woods Restoration Project – This all-volunteer organization proposes to build volunteer capacity to assist managers of public lands with natural resource restoration efforts in the Highlands Region. Given that deer have eaten most of the understory that would normally replace today’s forests, this effort will form a volunteer corps that will gather native seeds, grow the native plants at home, then replant them at the Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve in West Milford.
Grassroots organizations are defined as non-governmental organizations with a total annual operating budget of less than $200,000. Grants from the Highlands Coalition cannot be used for political purposes.
The Small Grants Program is funded by several foundations including Investors Foundation and F.M. Kirby Foundation in addition to funds from the Coalition’s general operating budget. The New Jersey Highlands Coalition is extremely grateful to the foundations and donors who make it possible for the Coalition to assist newly-fledged grassroots environmental and historic groups in the New Jersey Highlands by offering small grants to address issues that impact recreational, natural and cultural resources in the New Jersey Highlands.
The New Jersey Highlands Coalition represents a diverse network of organizations working to protect the Highlands, ranging from small citizens groups working in one community to large state-wide organizations. The Coalition works to protect, enhance and restore the New Jersey Highlands and to preserve the quality and quantity of the region’s drinking water. More information is available at www.njhighlandscoalition.org