The Highlands Council has scheduled six public hearings to solicit comment on the draft Procedure for Considering Proposals to Amend the Highlands Regional Master Plan (“Procedure”). The Highlands Council has directed that public hearings be conducted before it considers adoption of the Procedure as an addendum to the Highlands Regional Master Plan (“RMP”).
The Council is required to pass this new procedure for amending the RMP before it can consider and adopt any other amendments to the RMP. While the new procedure has many facets there are only two messages the Highlands Coalition wants to send to the Council:
Point 1. The public comment period of 30 days on future RMP amendments is far too short and should be extended to 90 days. The average individual and even organizations will not have nearly enough time and resources to reference and review the entirety of the Highlands Regional Master Plan, or the likely number of potential amendments, if the period is only 30 days.
Point 2. The 6 public hearings do not adequately include stakeholders/water users outside of the Highlands Region. The one meeting proposed for Trenton is in a location far from some of the largest population centers that rely on Highlands water, including Newark, Jersey City and Bayonne. It would be more acceptable if there were 7 hearings, with the additional meeting held in a location accessible to populations near Newark and Jersey City.
Point 3. The RMP Committee must allow public comments before it can “take action” by making a recommendation to the Highlands Council for final adoption of an RMP amendment. RMP Committee meetings are intended to be public, but if there are significant objections, or support, by members of the public, for a proposed RMP amendment, the Committee must consider the public’s concern before the Committee prepares its final recommendation to the Council.