Editor's Note: This was released by the NJ Audubon Society back in 2003, but we feel it stands the test of time and deserves to be included on our website.
by Eric Stiles, New Jersey Audubon Society
Don Freiday, Sanctuary Director- Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary
Brian Vernachio, Sanctuary Director - Plainsboro Preserve
Note: NJ Audubon does not assert that all development is bad. By "bad" we wish to connote development activities which degrade or otherwise impair our natural heritage.
1) Determine where the project is in the municipal permit process. The project cannot proceed if it does not have approval from the local governing body, and citizens can provide information to local governing committees that can help these committees make the right decisions. The municipal clerk or town planner should be able to answer the following questions.
- Does it have preliminary approval?
- Does it have final approval?
- Are planning or zoning variances required? Have these been granted?
2) Contact your town's Environmental Commission. The commission allows citizens’ groups to have input into the planning process. 357 of NJ’s 567 municipalities have an Environmental Commission. Your township clerk should be able to provide local contact information.
3) Determine if there are wetlands in site. Wetlands are protected by statute. The applicant for development should be required to obtain a Letter of Interpretation (LOI) from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection regarding the presence/absence and extent of wetlands, as well as a Freshwater Wetlands Permit if any wetlands or buffer areas are to be impacted. The NJ Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act of 1988 protects wetlands with endangered or threatened species present by adding a 150-foot buffer, so make sure that the site has been adequately surveyed for Endangered and Threatened species.
4) Respond to the adjacent landowner notification by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) of wetlands project within 15 days to the address on the notification.
5) Determine which state permits and regulations may apply to the development. Citizens may be able to provide information that can help NJDEP make the correct decisions about permits. NJDEP’s switchboard phone number is (609) - 777 - DEP3. In addition to Freshwater Wetlands LOI'S and permits, the following items (and perhaps others) may be required by NJDEP:
- Category I Stream Anti-degradation permit
- Coastal Zone Management rules (CAFRA) permit
- Sewer Service Extension
- Stream Encroachment Permit
- Wastewater Management Plans
- Stormwater Management Permits
- Groundwater Permits
6) Assemble a citizens group to spearhead and monitor the issue. There is strength in numbers. The citizens group is an incredibly effective mechanism for working with your local political leaders, media and planning and zoning board, as well as with the state DEP.
7) Depending on where the project is in the local and state permitting process, determine with the citizen's group if you need an attorney. A good attorney can level the playing field between the citizens and the developer.
8) Determine with the citizen's group and attorney if you need an environmental consultant. Consultants can be hired to examine the property and can become expert witnesses when the project is contested in front of the township committee, planning board, board of adjustment, and/or zoning boards. Environmental consultants can help determine the following:
- Presence of endangered species and critical habitat.
- Presence and delineation of wetlands.
- Water quality, quantity and treatment.
- Steep slopes.
- Presence of limestone geology, or other subsurface conditions unsuitable for development.
9) Information on known local animals and plants can be obtained from the following sources:
- NJ Audubon Society's Research Department (609-861 -0700) for birds found through the Breeding Bird Atlas.
- The NJ Natural Heritage Program (609-984-0463) for endangered species sightings.
- The NJ Endangered Species Program (609-292-9400) for endangered species critical habitat mapped through the Landscape Project.
10) Make your voice be heard.
- Inform and educate reporters about the issue.
- Mount a "Letter to the Editor" Campaign in the local newspaper to express citizen concerns and raise public awareness.
- Share copies of this press with your local elected officials.
- Orchestrate a local petition campaign.
- If state permits are required, organize a writing campaign to the Governor, NJ DEP
- Commissioner and state legislators to oppose the granting of these permits.
- Contact relevant conservation organizations in NJ.
What then? A possible 11th step: When a bad development has been defeated, the question remains as to what happens to the land. One possibility is purchase by the town, county, state, private conservation organization, or some combination of these entities, for protected open space. This option can be raised as a win-win alternative for the would-be developer and the citizens: The developer receives some remuneration for the land, and the land is protected.