To the Editor:
Once again, Freeholder director Shaun Van Doren and former director Matt Holt are doing an end-run around the county's municipalities on a state-level plan that will adversely affect our quality of life, raise our taxes and lower our water quality.
The freeholders are preparing our county's Highlands Regional Plan Conformance plan. That means every town's plan for the foreseeable future relating to land, water quality and environmental regulations. There is no mention of towns being involved in this process because they're not.
Oh, the freeholders mention "a public meeting to come," but in today's COVID-19 world, we all know what that means. There is no "public" in meetings anymore. This is nothing but a chance for the freeholders to check off a box without any troublesome participation of the public or the 26 municipalities.
Holt is an old hand at cutting the public out of key policy-making. He was involved in the State Development & Redevelopment Plan Cross Acceptance process many years ago and knows how easy it is for the county to commandeer important policy making. More recently, under the guise of "economic development," the freeholders produced CEDS, the County Economic Development Strategy. This plan was greased, fudged and squeezed past the public in 2016, while municipal officials and residents complained that it was a trojan horse designed to facilitate sprawl and sidestep environmental regulations. Then, too, we were told there would be "more time for public review" -- but Holt crammed CEDS through without it. Today, CEDS is used to justify every special-interest project the freeholders decide to ram through.
During Cross Acceptance, we organized a group of seven towns, and we took control of the planning process away from the county. Local officials laid out the maps and looked at how connected all our towns are, and we worked directly with state agencies to discuss how to protect our entire region from sprawl, over-development, higher taxes, congestion and pollution. We figured out how to take control away from county politicians and their developer buddies who wanted carte blanche to build utility infrastructure (200-foot water towers, massive new sewer plants, "park & rides" to service thousands of Pennsylvania commuters) that would support decades worth of new housing and retail and turn all of Hunterdon into Raritan Township.
For about a decade, we kept control of our land-use planning and policy-making. It's why Hunterdon was recently named "the best county to raise kids" in the nation. That's all about to change. And as the economy improves, you're going to see your taxes go up, your house values go down, your drive time go up, and your wells compromised and your quality of life destroyed.
Reports about this Highlands Conformance project avoid any mention of opposition by residents and towns. Yet in 2019 the freeholder chambers were crammed with people who opposed yet another brazen attempt by the freeholders' to lower water quality in the county. https://www.tapinto.net/towns/flemington-slash-raritan/sections/business-and-finance/articles/protect-environment-over-development-public-tells-hunterdon-freeholders
What is it with these freeholders and water quality? The county's Economic Development Czar, Mark Saluk, keeps threatening that protecting water quality will be bad for towns.
Today, the freeholders are at it again. In another recent TAPInto story https://www.tapinto.net/towns/flemington-slash-raritan/sections/government/articles/hunterdon-county-raritan-township-pursue-legal-case-against-njdep-stream-protection-rule we learned the freeholders and Raritan Township are using our tax dollars to sue the New Jersey DEP, which is trying to protect our water quality from degradation. Not to improve the water quality. Just to maintain the status quo. Does every town around here really aspire to have Raritan Township's mega-housing developments, strip malls, congestion and ugly roads? That's the only thing this lawsuit is good for.
Who in Hunterdon County is "for" pollution of our drinking water supplies? Matt Holt and the freeholders. Shaun Van Doren is so brazen as to refer to his former record as an "environment advocate" and to proclaim he is now pro-development and against protection of all our streams by the DEP.
The Highlands Regional Conformance Plan adoption must directly involve the participation of every one of Hunterdon's 26 towns, officials and residents. The freeholders -- Holt and Van Doren in particular -- are doing all they can to prevent that. They don't want local input. Like their CEDS plan, they want to cram long-term policy decisions down our throats, so they can turn the entire county into Bridgewater and Woodbridge.
Due to COVID-19, people don't attend meetings anymore. The freeholders know that a few token words picked up by the press get the job done. They make it look like there is no opposition and no alternative to destroying our quality of life to promote phony "economic development." For years, the freeholders and their Economic Development Czar Mark Saluk have been promising "great ratables" that will reduce our taxes and a "booming local economy" and that will keep young people here. Do you see any results? It's pure politics and self-dealing. Pure water is still a rare resource on earth. Hunterdon has loads of it -- and we should tell our politicians to keep their dirty hands off of it.
There is no reason we can't keep our clean water and promote a better economy. No reason except lousy freeholders and an Economic Development Czar who's being paid big bucks to tell us we have to choose one or the other. All we really need is for the public to show up and vote them all out. All we really need is for Hunterdon residents to demand a real say in what our future is going to look like.
Are you for lower quality of water in an age where we already have to buy it by the bottle?
Ex Mayor, Clinton Township