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The State Of The Garden State

Why it is Necessary to Protect the GARDEN through Open Space Preservation

In Governor McGreevey’s State of the State Address, he recognized one of the key problems affecting the lives of many New Jerseyans: excessive sprawl. According to the Governor, the state loses 50 acres of land a day to uncontrolled development. That is a loss in land that New Jersey’s citizens cannot afford.

As a representative of one of the most developed areas in the State, I can attest to the problems of overdevelopment firsthand. All one has to do is travel on Route 17 near the intersection of Route 4 in Paramus at rush hour on any given weekday to see what sprawl can do. That person would see unending lines of cars at a complete standstill. These roadways cannot handle the number of commuters brought into the area as a result of sprawl.

However, the problems caused by overdevelopment do not end with bottlenecking on our State’s highways.

Due to development near waterways, a number of harmful chemicals and automobile discharges like antifreeze, gasoline, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, are being collected in rainfall runoff and deposited into the State’s water sources. Many of these chemicals contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), a known carcinogen.

Covering New Jersey’s open space with impermeable asphalt will impact underground aquifers. These aquifers will be cut off from the rainfall needed to recharge them and will directly impact South Jersey’s drinking supply and New Jersey’s agricultural irrigation system. As was evident during the recent 15-month drought, aquifer recharging is necessary for the economic success of New Jersey’s farms and for the maintenance of New Jersey’s premier status in the agricultural market.

Overdevelopment is also a key factor in health issues facing New Jersey’s citizens. According to the Association for Children in New Jersey (ACNJ), from 1998 to 1999, the number of children in the State admitted to a hospital with a diagnosis of asthma jumped from 4,991 to 6,052, a 21 percent jump.

The American Lung Association has indicated that air pollution triggers many asthma attacks and much of that air pollution is caused by an increased number of automobiles on the roads as a result of overdevelopment. According to the Lung Association, children who live in urban areas are also at greater risk of developing asthma.

Add to that the reduction in potential parkland and the destruction of recreational areas enjoyed by many of New Jersey’s families, and you have a substantial threat to the quality of life of the people of New Jersey.

The threat posed by overdevelopment becomes painfully obvious when you consider the plight of the New Jersey Highlands, in the northwestern part of the State. More than 11 million people in the Northeastern United States depend on Highlands water resources, and it is home to 1.4 million people and 240 plus species of animals.

Since 1990, the Highlands region has experienced an 11.5 percent population increase, putting the natural resources and open space in the region at risk. A recent federal study found that 40 percent of the Highlands is worthy of protection from overdevelopment. Currently, less than half of that area receives such protection.

The Highlands is only one of many vulnerable lands in New Jersey which deserves protection from overdevelopment. Open space preservation is a key weapon in fighting the war on sprawl.

We must provide as much economic support to New Jersey’s Green Acres program and the Garden State Preservation Trust Program as fiscally possible. These are two state programs which cannot be viewed as a pork-barrel perk to be doled out only when the economy is good, but rather as a necessity to preserve the quality of life of all New Jerseyans.

We need to preserve open space in New Jersey to combat the threat overdevelopment poses to our natural resources.

That is why I’ve sponsored legislation urging Congress to protect the Highlands through the federal “Highlands Stewardship Act.” I will also be introducing legislation which raises the cap on borrowing and spending for the Open Space Preservation Program, and another bill which will exclude from taxation income generated from the sale of land to the Open Space Preservation Program. These initiatives will allow our State greater ability to protect its open space.

As we’ve had to learn in regards to New Jersey’s fiscal crisis, surpluses do run out. While I do not mean to undercut the seriousness of our current budget deficit, a deficit in natural resources is not one that can be as easily rectified. An economic turnaround could pull New Jersey out of the current deficit. However, Mother Nature is not as forgiving as the stock market.

Senator Coniglio represents the 38th legislative district, which includes parts of Bergen County. The Senator is a member of the Senate State Government Committee and the Senate Labor Committee.