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State of New Jersey-Department of Environmental Protection-DEP Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Guidance
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Information for Municipalities

  1. Which municipalities are in the Highlands Preservation Area and/or the Planning Area?
  2. How are municipalities in the Highlands Preservation Area affected by the Highlands Water Protection & Planning Act?
  3. How are municipalities in the Highlands Planning Area affected?
  4. How can I determine which portions of my municipality are in the Highlands Preservation Area or the Planning Area?
  5. What is the regional master plan?
  6. Does the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act provide exemptions for projects undertaken by local government?
  7. What is DEP's responsibility in implementing the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act?
  8. What is the Municipality’s role in implementing the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act?

1. Which municipalities are in the Highlands Preservation Area and/or the Planning Area?

Go to Department's interactive mapping tool or view list of municipalities

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2. How are municipalities in the Highlands Preservation Area affected by the Highlands Water Protection & Planning Act?

Within 9 to 15 months after the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Council) adopts a regional master plan, municipalities located wholly or partially in the Highlands Preservation Area must revise their local master plans and development regulations for those portions of their town that are in the Preservation Area to conform with the regional master plan.  The Council has developed a process and standards to guide municipalities in this effort.

For more information about the regional master plan or the Council, visit the Council's web site at http://www.highlands.state.nj.us/ or contact them at (908) 879-6737.

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3. How are municipalities in the Highlands Planning Area affected?

Municipalities located wholly or partially in the Highlands Planning Area may voluntarily enter the Council’s conformance process and revise their local master plans and development regulations consistent with the regional master plan.  Conformance may  qualify the municipality for financial assistance or other incentives offered by the Highlands Council.

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4. How can I determine which portions of my municipality are in the Highlands Preservation Area or the Planning Area?

Go to the Department’s interactive mapping tool  or review the legislative description (pdf). Please note that the depiction of the Highlands Region boundaries availabl e on the Department’s interactive mapping tool was developed to be a graphical interpretation of the legal, written description of the boundary within the Highlands Act. Should there be any discrepancies between the depiction on the Department’s interactive mapping tool and the boundary description in the Highlands Act, the language in the Highlands Act shall govern.

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5. What is the regional master plan?

The Highlands regional master plan includes a resource assessment that establishes sustainable development considering ecosystem resources, a financial element to determine cost of implementation, and assessment of smart growth opportunities. In addition, the master plan includes a land use capability map and comprehensive statement of policies for planning and managing the development and use of land in the Preservation Area, which is based upon, must comply with, and implement the environmental standards adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection. Preservation zones are identified in a preservation zone element where development shall not occur in order to protect water resources and environmentally sensitive lands and which are to be permanently preserved through use of a variety of tools, including but not limited to land acquisition and transfer of development rights. The master plan will also include minimum preservation area standards for municipalities and counties. For more information about the regional master plan or the Council, visit the Council's web site at http://www.highlands.state.nj.us/ or contact them at (908) 879-6737.

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6. Does the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act provide exemptions for projects undertaken by local government?

Yes, the Act provides for the following exemptions:

  • The routine maintenance and operations, rehabilitation, preservation, reconstruction, or repair of transportation or infrastructure systems by a State entity or local government unit, provided that the activity is consistent with the goals and purposes of the Highlands Act and does not result in the construction of any new through-capacity travel lanes;
  • The construction of transportation safety projects and bicycle and pedestrian facilities by a State entity or local government unit, provided that the activity does not result in the construction of any new through-capacity travel lanes;
  • The routine maintenance and operations, rehabilitation, preservation, reconstruction, repair, or upgrade of public utility lines, rights of way, or systems, by a public utility, provided that the activity is consistent with the goals and purposes of the Highlands Act; and
  • The construction of a public infrastructure project approved by public referendum prior to January 1, 2005 or a capital project approved by public referendum prior to January 1, 2005.

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7.What is DEP's responsibility in implementing the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act?

The Act established certain environmental standards that became effective immediately upon enactment and charged DEP with the implementation and enforcement of these standards. DEP was also required to adopt rules that would implement the Act.  Those rules were adopted in November, 2006.  

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8. What is the Municipality’s role in implementing the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act?

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