March 1, 2004
Touting preservation of Highlands
By Alex Nussbaum, Staff Writer
PARAMUS - The borough's concrete jumble of roads and malls is a long way from the quiet lakes and streams of New Jersey's Highlands region.
But much of Paramus depends on those lakes and streams, at least indirectly, for its water supply, Governor McGreevey told a crowd gathered Sunday at Saddle River County Park.
Playing up that connection and talking of responsibilities to future generations, McGreevey brought his fight to limit development in the Highlands to the highways of Bergen County.
"This is the essence of our life. This is the water we drink," McGreevey told the assembly of politicians, Girl and Boy Scout troops, and parents. "The time for debate has passed. We can't allow unfettered development to destroy the Highlands, to destroy our drinking water."
About 100 people gathered by the burbling Saddle River to hear McGreevey warn that New Jersey's drinking water was in peril and had to be saved to "bequeath to our children."
The governor is due to receive recommendations this month from the task force he created last fall to help preserve the Highlands. The 1,000-square-mile swath of lush forests, mountains, lakes, and streams stretches from Mahwah and Ringwood southwest to Warren County. Its rivers and reservoirs, including the Wanaque and Monksville in Passaic County, supply water for half the state.
After decades of battles, town-by-town, subdivision-by-subdivision, the task force may recommend a regional planning commission to coordinate building and preservation across the seven-county area. The idea worries some local officials, who want to keep control over what happens in their towns.
Asked if he supported a regional commission, McGreevey said he was waiting for the task force's report.
"The task force understands the importance of local community input and involvement," he said, promising a "thoughtful vision."
The Oradell Reservoir, the primary water source for most of Bergen County, is miles outside the Highlands. But the Oradell Reservoir is connected by a 17-mile pipeline to the Wanaque Reservoir, and the two systems often share water, especially during droughts. Other towns draw water from rivers such as the Saddle and Ramapo, whose headwaters are in the Highlands.
"Every drop of water that falls in the Highlands makes its way through the state of New Jersey," said Bill Sheehan, executive director of the Hackensack Riverkeeper. "It also is the sustenance for millions of people here in New Jersey, and if that water's not pure, if the water's not clean, then future generations of people in New Jersey are not going to be able to use it."
Developers, while working with the Highlands task force, have warned that McGreevey's efforts could make it impossible to build affordable homes in the state. Many in the audience Sunday took the governor's side.
"There's so few open areas," said Mark Cristaldi of Paramus, whose son, Mark Jr., was one of the Scouts on hand. "They need to have designated areas [for development and preservation.] You can't build everywhere. Our roads can't handle it."