Monday, June 24, 2013

DeCroce-Webber-Schepisi Bill Exempting Local Government from Highlands Act Approved by Assembly

A bill sponsored by Assembly Republicans BettyLou DeCroce, Jay Webber and Holly Schepisi that would provide an exemption to local governments from certain provisions of the Highlands Act when deciding to install synthetic turf fields was approved by the General Assembly today. At present, the 2004 law only provides public or private schools the exemption.

“This legislation represents an opportunity to level the playing field for municipalities that are restricted by the Highlands Act from installing synthetic turf for their residents,” said DeCroce, who noted there are 88 municipalities and portions of seven counties in the Highlands Region. “The conditions of the municipal fields in some towns in the preservation area are deteriorating and often unusable and unsafe.  “It is ironic that the schools can install the turf or make field improvements, but the towns can’t,” explained DeCroce. “If the residents want to upgrade their municipal fields to a more durable surface they should be allowed to do so. Affording municipalities the same exemption that schools already enjoy is common sense and something property taxpayers deserve.”

The bill, A-3541, would exempt towns from the lengthy, costly and arduous process of obtaining a permit under the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

“The Highlands Act remains a model of unfairness and arbitrariness, and represents the worst government land grab against our communities in New Jersey history,” said Webber. “This legislation injects a bit of reasonableness into otherwise bad policy. It offers our local communities a fair opportunity to provide safe and durable ball fields on open space, and puts local property taxpayers back in charge of a decision that affects their own welfare.”

“This bill affords local governments the same chance to upgrade their facilities and provide the same safe environment for recreational use as given to schools in the Highlands Region that were grandfathered in when the Highlands Act was passed,” said Schepisi. “Providing this exemption to another entity at the local level is fair and will save the burdensome application-related costs borne by taxpayers. All parents want their children to play on safe fields, not ones that could potentially put them in harms’ way and cause serious injury.”

The bill is also sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, and was released with unanimous approval from the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on June 10.

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