Serious flaws in a proposed rule that’s supposed to protect the most environmentally important streams in New Jersey could damage everything from economic development to affordable housing in some of the state’s poorest communities, according to an NJBIA analysis.

NJBIA has urged the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to withdraw its proposed C-1 designation of 749 miles of New Jersey streams so proper analysis and documentation can be done.

“This is not a balanced rule and will hurt the state’s economic future,” said NJBIA Vice President Ray Cantor in comments submitted to the department on June 3.

The DEP designates streams based on their environmental value.  Outstanding national resource waters, largely those in the Pinelands, make up about 15% of the state’s rivers and streams, while another 29% are category one (C-1) waters.  These are designated largely because of their exceptional environmental conditions or because they support a threatened and endangered species.

A C-1 designation comes with a 300-foot buffer on each side of the stream, meaning nothing can be built within 300 feet of the water’s edge, regardless of who owns the property.

“For those who have existing buildings or residences in the newly designated buffers, it may mean you cannot expand your building, put up a shed or fence, install a pool, or even remove vegetation,” Cantor explains. “For anyone looking to build in these buffers they will be denied except for things that cannot be avoided like a road or driveway that must go through an area.”

The proposal unveiled by DEP in March lacked significant documentation, including where the stream designations were located, discrepancies between different sets of maps, and discrepancies between data citations and the data provided. Additionally, some designations lack scientific analysis, relying instead on the observations of non-professional volunteers.

The potential impacts of the rule extend beyond the C-1 streams, impacting development along upstream tributaries as well. As a result, development in areas like the Cooper River in downtown Camden, a highly developed and industrialized area, would also be limited.

“These additional regulatory obligations can impact development and redevelopment, even in areas where the State Plan and other appropriate governmental entities believe development is appropriate and even where substantial infrastructure and other investments have been made, such as transit hubs and urban downtowns,” according to NJBIA’s comments.

“Only by engaging in a withdrawal and re-proposal will the department avoid the statutory and constitutional infirmities inherent in this proposal,” Cantor stated.