HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of County Commissioners gave approval to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference to update the signage along the Highlands Trail for safety and visibility in Hunterdon County Parks, including Jugtown Mountain Preserve, the Columbia Trail, the Musconetcong Gorge Preserve and Tower Hill Park.

The Highlands region in Hunterdon County covers primarily areas immediately adjacent to I-78, from Bethlehem Township to Lebanon and Tewksbury townships, northeast to the Town of Clinton and Clinton Township and Califon Borough, and into the western stretches of the county (Union Township, Alexandria Township, Holland Township and Milford Borough), direct to Warren County and areas along the Delaware River north of Frenchtown. Hunterdon contains 64,945 acres in the designated Preservation Area and 63,989 acres in the Planning Area of New Jersey’s Highlands Region.

When complete, the full Highlands Trail will connect from the Delaware River watershed near Riegelsville, Pennsylvania, through Hunterdon County, and diagonally across northwest New Jersey, up to its current Cornwall, New York, terminus at the Hudson River and across, continuing northeast to Connecticut.

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An important development for the Highlands region and Hunterdon County was noted during the April 1 county planning board meeting, as Hunterdon’s Planning and Land Use Department Director Carrie Fellows explained that the Highlands Region Master Plan Element and Highlands Plan Conformance Petition Package, approved by the Board of County Commissioners in February, was recently reviewed by the Highlands Council staff.

“They prepared a highly positive draft Consistency Review and Recommendations’ Report,” she said. “Their notes were quite positive and favorable, and said some very nice things about the county’s Master Plan Element. Three items were brought out in the review that are required for Highlands Plan Conformance by the Highlands Council, and those items were recommended for additional funding. These three items were recommended in the 2018 county board resolution to proceed with the county’s Highlands Conformance planning process.”

With the first review point – which Fellows described as a zero-cost item for the county – the Highlands Council staff said Hunterdon County should adopt administrative requirements “necessary to incorporate such items and Highlands Council notice requirements referrals, as required pursuant to the Highlands Act for certain types of development applications and county capital projects.” Fellows said this was an item previously discussed by the Department of Planning and Land Use and county officials, and it was proposed to take place as part of the Growth Management Plan and County Master Plan reviews and updates, which are on-schedule for 2021 funding.

“In fact, much is already in place with New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law and Hunterdon County’s Land Development Standards,” she said.

The second criteria pertains to professional assistance for a comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan, “for countywide application and use” as the planning aspect is required for Highlands Plan Conformance. Fellows noted this would be a step that is complementary to the work already taking place in Hunterdon municipalities as required by the NJDEP and by Hunterdon County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The Highlands Council, Fellows said, proposed to add $100,000 for the County to complete the comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan for FY 2022.

Finally, the review called for attention to a Water Use and Conservation Management Plan, and Fellows said that for this element, the Highlands proposed to add $100,000 for FY 2023.

“Hunterdon County should prepare a comprehensive Water Use and Conservation Management developed with professional assistance for countywide application and use,” she said. “This effort is also required for Highlands Plan Conformance and it’s mentioned in the county board’s 2018 resolution and it’s also complementary to the work taking place for municipal stormwater ordinances as well as in the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.”

The Highlands Council is going to post the draft Consistency Review and Recommendations’ Report on the Hunterdon County Plan Conformance Petition package to the website for a 30-day public review and comment period. Following that period and receipt of any comments, the Highlands Council will prepare a comments’ response section for the report and present the full report to the Highlands Council Plan Conformance Committee for consideration.

“On approval by that committee, the petition will be scheduled for a public hearing following a Highlands Council meeting,” she said. “All of the actions by the Highlands Council are subject to a 10-day review period by the governors’ office."

She said the momentum is good and the process appears to be moving forward productively since the comments really reflect items the Department of Planning and Land Use already “planned on doing.”

In his comments at the April 6 Board meeting commissioner J. Mattehew Holt, liaison to the Department of Planning and Land Use, noted the continued support the New Jersey Highlands Council has for Hunterdon County’s economic development initiatives, “and to assist us with major grant funding.”

A message of support for the county’s proposals was recently delivered by the New Jersey Business Action Center, part of the Department of State, which is a “business-first resource unit that helps guide through the regulatory system for those businesses looking to locate or do business in the state,” Holt said.

He said the NJBAC’s executive director offered an encouraging picture.

“She wrote that a successful partnership with the Highlands Council will provide the county with resources to continue providing responsible and sustainable economic development,” Holt said. “This drives home the point that economic development is really a very significant part of the Highlands agreement."