Highlands Preservation

ESKIL S. DANIELSON, MA CEM
18 Hunter Lane
Byram Township, New Jersey 07821
973-347-6676

August 6, 2008

Editor – Daily Record
800 Jefferson Road
P.O. Box 217
Parsippany, NJ 07054

Re: “Voices” Page – Highlands Master Plan – August 3, 2008

Editor

Byram Township, the Township of Lakes, has always been protective of the some seventeen lakes, rivers and streams in our picturesque municipality. Our environmental people were ahead of the curve in identifying the need to limit disturbance of steep slopes, wetlands and rock outcroppings. Protective ordinances were passed and have been scrupulously followed by our planning board.

In 2004, as Mayor of Byram Township, I went to Trenton in support of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act and was at the bill signing on the Wanaque Reservoir Dam. I unequivocally supported the Highlands Act based on assurances made by the sponsors of the legislation.

As Jack Schrier of the Highlands Council wrote, “The Devil is in the details.” In this case, the details are in the Highlands Regional Master Plan and the extent to which it both over-steps the Act and doesn’t meet requirements of the Act, especially with regard to land-takings.

Byram Township is now 98% in the highly regulated, no/low growth Preservation Area and 2% in the growth-allowed Planning Area, our Route #206 corridor that includes our state-approved Village Center. Part of the logic for needing the Preservation Area is based on the alleged pollution caused by septic systems. It reminds me of when I called the DEP during a drought in the late 1980’s when the DEP advised everyone in the state to limit their showers, laundry use and toilet flushing or the police departments would issue summonses. I explained to a DEP representative that if my family and my neighbors stopped using water from our wells with the waste-water being recycled through our septics, our wells would not be replenished and could go dry. “You are wrong. You would be sick if the septic water was recycling into your or your neighbors’ wells,” the DEP person stated. How ill informed! In my sixty five years I have almost always lived in areas with wells and septics (Union Hill in Denville and Byram) and have been healthy and well-hydrated by recycled septic water.  Mr. Schrier, it is neither ‘malevolent’ nor ’criminal’ to drink septic water. It is Nature’s way provided both wells and septic systems are built to codes.

Well beyond the scope of the Highlands Act, even our Village Center has now been labeled a Protection Area since it is wooded. How many hoops will we have to go through to be able to see our state-approved Village Center become a reality since we will have to cut down trees?

The Byram Village Center represents a large part, but far from all, of our ability to meet the Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) low and moderate income housing requirement of about 130 units. COAH has apportioned some of our obligation on lands now preserved by the Highlands Act. In other municipalities, COAH has determined housing can be built on runways at airports and along the Garden State Parkway.

I now read that COAH and the Highlands Council are going to sit down and hammer out the conflicts. A little late isn’t it?  It should be very interesting since there is passionate, well- entrenched, posturing on both sides. I hope there is going to be a neutral referee, maybe a retired judge (?).

I have been a per diem employee (Forest Fire Service) of the now DEP for fifty years. When I started, I worked for the New Jersey Department of Conservation and Economic Development. What a concept, Conservation and Economic Development together!

Just some thoughts!

Eskil S. Danielson, MA CEM, Mayor

photo by Joyce Bambach

photo by Joyce Bambach