Permit Extension Bill Up for Vote in Both Houses
The NJ State Senate & Assembly will have an electronic voting session on Monday, April 13th. One of the bills up for a vote will be S2346 (Sarlo)/ A3139(Calabrese) that would extend certain State, regional, county, and municipal agency permit approvals for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. It would create a new extension period under the “Permit Extension Act of 2008″ that covers permits in existence during the period in which the COVID-19 public health emergency or state of emergency is in effect. Such approvals cannot be extended beyond six months after the conclusion of the extension period.
“The state legislature is pushing this bill through while the public is in a health emergency. People are quarantined and trying to take care of their family while holding on to a job. This legislation is a big giveaway to developers and what is even worse is that there was no public hearing on or even online. Instead it will be streamlined to a floor vote. The permit extension legislation covers a broad spectrum. It is every governmental agency, including DEP, Wetlands, Sewer Plans, Highlands, Pinelands, and every local building and zoning, and planning board approvals.,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Any time there is an emergency, this permit extension becomes an excuse to take care of developers and builders. This is one of those special interest bills they try to pass quietly in the middle of the night but it will have dire consequences for the state of New Jersey. It is government at its worst.”
This bill would toll the term of approvals during the course of the COVID-19 emergency in order to prevent the abandonment of approved projects, and the concomitant waste of public and private resources, as well as to be ready to quickly resume these projects when it is safe to restart normal levels of business and government activity. This act shall take effect immediately and shall be retroactive to March 9, 2020.
“It’s another bank check to developers and builders to keep extending projects and do whatever they want. With this bill we could see increased flooding, water pollution, and other environmental problems. A permit extension would result in more flooding, more people living on toxic sites, more sprawl, and more pollution in our environment. If passed, the extensions will be retroactive, leaving no room for the public to comment,” said Tittel. “The Dracula Clause would allow projects where permits or approvals have expired within the past two years to be brought back to life, even if those projects would cause environmental harm or damage to public health. Many of these projects were grandfathered through exemptions and now would come back to life. These projects will not only promote sprawl and overdevelopment in Highlands but will hurt water quality.”
The bill also would extend certain time frames by which planning and zoning boards have to grant or deny any applications pursuant to the “Municipal Land Use Law.”
“This bill is a double standard because the state is taking care of developers while leaving the public in the dark. The NJ Turnpike Authority and GSP is moving forward with highway widening projects that will cut through environmentally sensitive farm fields, promote sprawl, increase traffic, and destroy neighborhoods despite the pandemic. As we speak, DEP is proposing to put major loopholes for toxic cleanups standards without extending public comment or holding public hearings. The proposal allows for alternative remedies to be used and allow LSRP’s to pick what they want to do for soil and ground water cleanup and vapor intrusion getting into people’s homes,” said Tittel. “Meanwhile there is no extension for public comment on controversial projects like the Williams Transco NESE project.”
Throughout New Jersey, there are currently dozens of projects in front of local planning boards that would have detrimental impacts on water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and more if approved. For example, City of Lambertville is still moving forward with a controversial development project during the COVID-19 health emergency, there is a massive Jaindl Land Co. warehouse that has been proposed on environmentally sensitive farmland in White Township, and a similar project in Franklin Township in Hunterdon County.
“Throughout New Jersey on a state and local level, there are still major projects moving forward where the public does not have access to participate in. Local zoning and planning boards are going to be approving projects where the public has to watch online. Lambertville is using the coronavirus as a cover to push their controversial development project through without public participation. Development projects like the Jaindl Land Co. massive warehouse proposal in White Township and a similar project in Franklin Township are still moving forward. We are very concerned that these projects could be approved without public participation,” said Tittel.
The NJ State Senate Session starts at 10:00am and the
Assembly session will begin at 3:30pm on Monday, April 13th. The general public may listen to the voting session remotely at www.njleg.state.nj.us.
“This legislation is an attack on the environment, fair public process, good planning, and home rule. It will allow projects that were permitted many years ago to avoid changes in environmental law. It enables developers to ignore updated environmental laws, public health standards, building codes, and local zoning changes. This bill is not in the best interest of the people and the environment. It will allow bad projects to move forward even if they should not have been built in the first place,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.