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New State Regulations Improve Water Quality, But May Prove Costly

Matthew Hersh

Gov. James McGreevey enacted what is viewed by many as the most sweeping effort in 20 years to protect water quality and preserve drinking water supplies.

The regulations are seen as responsible, but potentially costly measures to clean stormwater run-off. The costs may prove a financial hardship for many municipalities, but the burden on the Princetons isn't anticipated to be onerous.

The regulations, enacted earlier this month, require municipalities to adopt and enforce stringent ordinances and stormwater management plans that will not only ensure an improvement in the quality of water, but will effectively curb development sprawl.

They update the state's original stormwater management rules of 1983.

Eric Wilkinson, policy director of New Jersey Future, the state's largest smart-growth advocacy group, said the rules will allow the state to control development by means other than buying large plots of open space.

"[The rules] will do a lot to preserve open space," he said.

However, like any investment, towns must be willing to shoulder some of the initial capital burden.

"There's no question this is going to cost money," said George Hawkins, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. "The rules themselves take some time to figure out how they work, when they apply, and who reviews them."

The major component of the regulations is to minimize the impact of new development projects by controlling development within a 300-foot buffer around more than 6,000 miles of high-quality waterways.

This applies only to areas that have what are called "C1" waterbodies – the highest form of water quality protection in the state. Since neither Princeton Borough or Township feature this classification of waterway, it will not immediately affect development.

However, some of the environmentally-friendly ordinances mandated by the regulations are already in place in the Township and Borough. For instance, feeding non-confined wildlife in public areas is already prohibited under Township code. Further, neither the Borough or Township has a C1-classified waterbody, thus causing no impact on that element of development restriction.

One of the mandates prohibits towns from washing municipal vehicles and allowing the water to discharge into storm drains. As a result, a washing facility that recycles the water is needed.

Township Engineer Robert Kiser said that preliminary talks between the two Princeton municipalities have begun for the purpose of possibly creating a joint facility. He said such a facility could cost anywhere between $30,000-50,000.

Other requirements in the state mandates include: the adoption and enforcement of an ordinance that prohibits non-containerized yard waste to be placed closer than 10 feet from a storm drain inlet.

The rules also require monthly sweeping of curbed streets with a speed limit equal to or less than 35 mph. In addition, towns must develop roadside erosion control maintenance programs to identify and stabilize roadside erosion.

Included in the cost, Mr. Kiser said, is training and educating municipal employees to execute the regulations on the local level.

The issue at hand is compliance, the Watershed's Mr. Hawkins said. He said towns like Princeton Borough and Township should be able to comply with the regulations rather easily. However, he expressed concern that municipalities will look at stormwater quality on a town-by-town basis, and not in a regional sense.

"A regional stormwater plan would make so much sense," he said. Without it, he added, "is like planning for the traffic in your town and not knowing where it's coming from."

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