FLEMINGTON, NJ – A coalition is quietly forming to oppose a state Department of Environmental Protection rule that critics say would, if enacted, close the borough and neighboring Raritan Township to development.

As TAPinto reported, Hunterdon Freeholders learned about the rule last week, and awarded a $15,000 contract to a consultant and lobbyist to oppose the DEP’s proposed rule change. It would expand protections to 749 miles of rivers and streams primarily located in the northwestern part of the state to so-called “C-1” status.

According to David Glass, a lobbyist with Trenton-based CLB Partners who has been retained by the county, the plan would require that any development provide a 300-foot buffer to the streams and “discharge must be maintained at existing levels.”

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At Monday’s Flemington Council meeting, Borough hydrogeologist Matt Mulhall said submitting comments to the DEP “gives you a seat at the table. In the long run, that’s the most important thing … the state will respond to your comments.”

The comment period ends June 3, according to a press release from the Freeholders. The state accepts comments from everyone, including the public, on its website.

Borough Council approved a resolution to submit its objections to the plan.

The new rule would “make it more costly” to expand the Raritan Township Municipal Utilities Authority treatment facility that processes borough sewage, the resolution states, “because the facility will have to satisfy the anti-degradation standard for Category One waters of no measurable or calculable change in water quality in order to expand, if technology exists to permit expansion of the facility.”

The stream reclassification would “detrimentally impact Flemington Borough, and its goal of fiscal sustainability, through limitations upon future growth,” the resolution claims. It would also “undermine Flemington’s efforts to achieve local environmental improvements and improvements to water quality.”

“It’s clear what our problems are,” said Borough Councilperson Jeff Doshna, “not with the preservation of the streams, but this particular impact on our ability to have appropriate development.”

Mayor Betsy Driver said Borough officials have been meeting with representatives from Raritan Township and the county, along with Warren and Sussex counties and other towns, to form a “pact to oppose this in a unified sense.”

County Economic Development Director Marc Saluk has said the rule would limit growth in Raritan, Readington, Clinton, Delaware and East Amwell townships; as well as in Flemington, Clinton and High Bridge.

In a press release, Freeholder Shaun Van Doren said, “The County has to fight these rule changes” and he called the proposal “surreal.”

Hunterdon has preserved more farms than any other county, Van Doren said, as well as more than 8,000 acres of open space.

Van Doren said the Freeholders support clean water, “but what concerns me is the lack of available data provided by NJDEP, which ultimately prevents us the opportunity to fully analyze their rule proposal.”