Date: 040323
From: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/

By Meredith D'Agnolo and Pete McAleer
Press of Atlantic City, March 23, 2004

Trenton - The state's blueprint to preserve the Highlands recommends
more school aid for fast-growing districts, protection against
declining real-estate values and no mandated growth zones.

All good ideas that should have been thought of for the Pinelands 25
years ago, state Sen. Bill Gormley, R-Atlantic, said. Testifying
before two Assembly committees Monday, Gormley said the Highlands
report includes all the safeguards that were forgotten when the state
mandated development in areas such as Egg Harbor, Galloway and
Hamilton townships in order to preserve the Pinelands.

The mandate led to overcrowded schools and skyrocketing property
taxes in the three Atlantic County municipalities, a mistake the state
does not want to repeat.

"They learned by experimenting in my district," Gormley said, pushing
the committee to include funds to help the Atlantic County region
"catch up."

The Highlands is a fast-growing region in Monmouth County that
provides much of the water supply for the northern and central areas
of the state. Gov. James E. McGreevey set up a task force to make
recommendations for preserving the area. The group recommended the
preservation of as much as 390,000 acres of land and tougher
regulatory standards for developers in the region.

The report calls for "bold and immediate action." The Legislature is
expected to introduce many of the recommendations by the end of the

"We've called for immediate action for 25 years," Gormley said. "We
begged for bold and immediate action."

Any legislation, Gormley said, should include incentives for the
Pinelands, such as money to redirect growth from overcrowded townships
to Pleasantville and Atlantic City.

Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said Gormley's goal is a worthy one
that should be dealt with separately. Combining the two issues would
open the door for other legislators to push for their priorities, he
said. The Highlands should be top priority right now.

"This is our last chance to save the Highlands," Tittel said.

He and Gormley agreed, however, that the report shows that the
original plan to preserve the Pinelands was ill-conceived.

"What it established is that growth areas are not a good idea,"
Gormley said. "This report is better than anything that could have
been written by Atlantic County."

The state senator charged that the Highlands get higher priority
because the northern end of the state holds more political clout.
Gormley suggested the environmental committees hold the next hearing
at the trailers where students attend class in Egg Harbor Township.

"We have some of those same trailers in North Jersey," said
Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex. "This is not a north or south issue.
It's a New Jersey issue."

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To email Pete McAleer at The Press: PMcAleer@pressofac.com