A state Senate committee on Monday approved a bill that could make it easier to build in areas near the fragile Barnegat Bay and elsewhere in the state. The measure would keep sewer service approvals in place for as long as the next two years and prohibits governments from protecting land already eligible for development by removing it from the areas approved for sewer service.
The sewer boundaries are important because they determine where large-scale development can take place.
Proponents want the bill to extend the time existing sewer boundaries can stay in effect in an effort to help the state come out of a sluggish economy by creating construction jobs. But opponents say it could make it easier for developers to build on land near the fragile Barnegat Bay, where pollution would make its way into the water.
Dena Mottola Jaborska of Environment New Jersey said 300,000 acres in New Jersey are particularly environmentally threatened but still eligible for development.
"Once they're gone, they're gone for good," she said.
David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation noted that Ocean County, home to Barnegat Bay, has proposed protecting 35,000 acres near the bay.
"That wouldn't happen under this bill," he said.
Barnegat Bay is one of the most stressed coastal waterways in the country. Republican Gov. Chris Christie unveiled a plan a year ago to halt the degradation of the bay and improve its water quality. Key aspects included the early closure of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, whose warm water discharges are suspected of contributing to algae blooms and an increase in stinging jellyfish.
The state also adopted the nation's toughest restrictions on the amount of nitrogen allowed in fertilizer applied to lawns or crops.