The state is moving ahead with a much-litigated permit that would let developers discharge treated sewage into Rockaway Creek, a project the New Jersey Highlands Council says is incompatible with its regional master plan. The council oversees development in the region.
The project, involving a proposed office park in Tewksbury, has been kicking around in various iterations for more than two decades. It’s been given a modified-draft water permit for a new onsite sewage treatment plant by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The agency’s granting of the water permit earlier this year has incensed environmental groups who question how the state can move ahead with a permit for a project that fails to conform to the Highlands Council’s RMP and the township’s own Water Quality Management Plan.
The project by Bellemead Development Corp. near Route 78 would serve approximately 700,000 square feet of office space, according to the DEP. But the permit does not specify how much treated wastewater would be discharged into North Rockaway Creek or what contaminants might be part of that discharge.
No equal protection for H2O
The irony is the draft permit was issued shortly before the DEP took aggressive steps to upgrade protections for 749 miles of rivers and streams across New Jersey, actions that would prevent any water degradation in those waterways.
Some of North Rockaway Creek is already designated a category one (C1) stream, although the sewer pipe will be in a portion of the stream not in that category, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Parts of the waterway, however, are locations for major drinking-water supply intakes, he said.
“We just don’t know how much wastewater they are going to discharge or what they are going to discharge,’’ Tittel said. “This is just a permit to pollute without any standard.’’
The advocacy group the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, which along with the Sierra Club and others challenged a prior permit issued by the DEP, was perplexed by the agency’s latest action on the project. The court challenge led an appeals court to remand a prior permit issued by DEP.
“We are very disturbed that the DEP, which is required to consult with the Highlands Council, is completely ignoring it,’’ said Elliott Ruga, policy director for the coalition.
The DEP was more circumspect in its response. “The proposed permit is in the midst of a public comment period,’’ said spokesman Larry Hajna,. “The DEP will respond to questions raised by the public as part of its review,’’ he said. He declined to answer other questions about the permit.
Lisa Plevin, executive director of the Highlands Council, said last week the group will respond to the permit before the comment period ends later this month. “We have not changed our positions that it is inconsistent with the RMP,’’ she said at a conference at Centenary University in Hackettstown.