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    GHC Alert: Legislature Takes Final Action On Water Quality Management Plan Legislation

    January 12, 2012


    January 12, 2012 - On January 9, 2012 the Legislature gave final approval to a bill amending the Water Quality Planning Act that will avoid the automatic withdrawal of sewer service areas. The legislation also includes other reforms to the water quality management planning process. The bill now awaits Governor Christie's signature.

    Under rules adopted by DEP during the Corzine administration, counties (or in some cases municipalities) are required to adopt new or updated wastewater management plans. As an "incentive" to compel the counties to act, the rules required DEP to withdraw wastewater service area designations in counties that did not submit new or updated plans to DEP by April 7, 2009. This deadline was subsequently extended until April 7, 2010. Where these deadlines were not met, the rules provide that sewer service area designations would be withdrawn in areas where sewers are not already in the ground, except in limited situations such as infill development where sewer lines in place, projects for which sewer permits have been issued, or for site specific amendments less than six years old.

    While DEP has delayed withdrawing sewer service areas, enforcement of the rule would have catastrophic consequences by precluding much new development, including development in many areas long planned for growth and that meet all environmental criteria. The legislation that awaits the Governor's signature precludes withdrawal of sewer service area designations for at least 180 days while counties prepare new or updated wastewater management plans. The DEP Commissioner may further extend this grace period up to a total of at least two years. Moreover, counties need not submit complete wastewater management plans in order to avoid the withdrawal of wastewater service areas, so long as they submit the portion of a wastewater management plan designating a sewer service area. Once the new or updated plan is submitted to DEP, any previous sewer service area designation remains in effect until the new plan is adopted.

    The legislation has other significant provisions as well.

    • Since 2009 DEP has refused to consider new applications for site specific plan amendments that would allow a particular project to be added to a sewer service area. Now, as soon as the county submits a partial wastewater management plan, DEP must review of applications for site specific amendments, and must act within a designated time frame.
    • The legislation establishes an expedited process for site specific amendments for septic disposal areas, which have to meet NJDES standards (6 ppm nitrate/nitrogen) as opposed to 2 ppm under the current DEP regulations.
    • Existing law is clarified to make clear that land may be included in a sewer service area notwithstanding that there may not be guaranteed capacity to treat the wastewater without infrastructure improvements or permit modifications.

    Finally, it is important to note that the new statute does not modify any provision of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, nor does it apply to sewer service areas in the Highlands Preservation Area withdrawn pursuant to the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.
     
    Tags: Michael J. Gross, Paul H. Schneider, Environmental

    Posted in: Environmental - Land Use