DEP Sells Out Clean Water, Approves Tewksbury Sewer Plant

DEP Sells Out Clean Water, Approves Tewksbury Sewer Plant

The DEP recently granted a water pollution permit allowing the Bellemead Development Corporation to discharge treated wastewater into the Rockaway Creek in Tewksbury. The New Jersey Highlands Council had said the project violates the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP). The project’s old permit was set to expire at the end of July.

“DEP sold out clean water and the public by approving a new sewer plant on Rockaway Creek in Tewksbury. The Bellemead Corp. project is a dirty deal for dirty water. DEP ignored Highlands protections and the Highlands Council by approving the project. This plant will allow for the overdevelopment of an environmentally sensitive area and the discharge of treated wastewater into a high-quality stream. This will cause more sprawl and threaten the drinking water of millions of people,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “DEP has just ignored its own rules and laws, siding with polluters over the public. This thing smells worse than a sewer plant.”

The Appellate Court ruled in 2017 that DEP had not consulted with the Highlands Council before granting the new permit to proceed with the project. Under the Highlands Act, the Highlands Council must be consulted for any sewage treatment plan or sewage service area in the region. The granting of the permit late Friday means Bellemead Corp. can move forward on its sewer plant.

“DEP granted the permit in spite of public opposition and obvious environmental and public safety concerns. The court required DEP to consult and apply to the Highlands Council for consistency. The Council said the project violated the Highlands Act and Regional Management Plan because it was promoting overdevelopment and water pollution in an environmentally sensitive conservation area. DEP  ignored the Council. This is exactly the kind of the project the Highlands Act and Category 1 designation for rivers and streams was designed to prevent. This project goes against the Highlands Act, the Clean Water Act, good planning, and the environment. DEP sided with the developers over clean water,” said Tittel.

The Bellemead development project dates back more than 20 years. It began as an office park, then shifted to a housing development. It is unclear what the current project will be, but DEP still approved the sewer plant. Under the Highlands Act, the Highlands Council must be consulted for any sewage treatment plan or sewage service area in the region.

“DEP didn’t just ignore the Highlands Council in approving this project.  With this approval, DEP also violates Tewksbury’s Water Quality Management Act, Surface Water Quality Standards, and NJPDES rules, but that didn’t stop DEP. Readington also opposed the project. We believe the project would violate the Clean Water Act, but that didn’t stop DEP. This project will encourage overdevelopment, increase flooding and pollute our waters,” said Tittel.

Rockaway Creek is almost entirely a C1 stream, although the sewer pipe will be in a portion of the river not designated C1. The waterway is also the location of two major supply intakes. C1 waterways carry anti-degradation designation stating there should be no measurable or calculable change in water quality. The project violates NJPDES rules and Surface Water Quality Standards. DEP refused to hold a public hearing on the application.

“DEP’s job is to implement the Clean Water Act, protecting our drinking water and the public health and safety. By approving this project, they violated their core mission, siding with polluters and developers. They approved the permit without even knowing what’s in the project. Rockaway Creek is mostly a C1 stream, which is considered the highest quality. The entire stream should be C1. We do not believe discharge from this plant and increased stormwater runoff can meet Surface Water Quality Standards. The development itself would also roll back Highlands protections,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The public should be outraged at this project, and at DEP. The fact that DEP approved this pollution is shameful.”

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