The Highlands Council has developed policy to guide its review of Future Wastewater Service Areas in accordance with Executive Order 114, Governor Corzine’s order that required coordination of administration of the Highlands Act, wastewater management planning, and affordable housing development.
For municipalities in the Preservation Area and those that have opted to conform to the Highlands Act and have received Highlands Council approval of their Petition for Plan Conformance, the Council uses a template to develop a draft Wastewater Management Plan with the municipality. Once drafted, the Wastewater Management Plan is then to the NJDEP for review and adoption. There are currently thirty-nine draft Wastewater Management Plans and two have been adopted (Byram and Washington Township (Morris County)).
For municipalities with Planning Area lands that have not elected to conform to the Highlands Act, the Highlands Council has implemented a procedure, pursuant to its interpretation of Executive Order 114, wherein it still reviews the municipal Wastewater Management Plan. If a municipality proposes a Wastewater Management Plan that extends sewer service outside the Existing Community Zone of the Highlands mapping of the municipality, the Highlands Council is now requiring a municipality to adopt a “Water Conservation Management Plan.” This Water Conservation Management Plan is meant to address water supply concerns from the source side. As of now, Mount Olive is the only Highlands municipality that has a Water Conservation Management Plan in place. Once a full Wastewater Management Plan has been adopted, or a site specific ordinance for a site outside the Existing Community Zone has been adopted, the municipality is then required to adopt three model ordinances designed to promote water conservation: (1) on Outdoor Landscaping to provide for recharge, etc.; (2) on Low Flow/High Efficiency Appliances, and (3) Stormwater Management (Low Impact Developments).
This procedure, adopted by the Highlands Council is not codified in any statutes or regulations, and is likely still unknown to many municipal planning departments and property owners. There is the potential that this policy will result in delays to developments, as municipalities struggle to comply with the various planning and legislative requirements imposed by the Highlands Council. To the extent developers or municipal planners are aware of projects that will require sewer service outside of the Existing Community Zone, even in nonconforming Highlands municipalities, they should budget significant time to satisfy the Highlands Council requirements.