On January 17, 2012, Governor Christie signed into law Senate Bill No. 3156 (S3156), which extends the effective period of existing sewer service areas. This should provide some relief to developers concerned about the possible withdrawal of sewer service areas in places where wastewater management planning agencies have failed to comply with the deadline to submit wastewater management plans (WMPs) to the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The bill also allows for site specific amendments and revisions to WMPs and Water Quality Management Plans pending DEP approval of new WMPs.
Wastewater Management Plans govern where new sanitary sewer lines can be built. For a sewer line to be extended to a particular property, the property must be included within the sewer service area in the WMP. Properties that fall outside the sewer service area can only be served by septic systems.
In July 2008, DEP adopted new Water Quality Management Planning Rules, N.J.A.C. 7:15-1.1 et seq (WQMP Rules). The WQMP Rules require updated WMPs, including sewer service areas. The original submission deadline for the revised WMPs was April 7, 2009, but the deadline was extended to April 7, 2011 by Administrative Order 2010-03, 42 N.J.R. 1252(b). The WQMP Rules mandate that failure to timely submit an updated WMP will result in the withdrawal of sewer service area designations within the subject planning area. N.J.A.C. 7:15-8.1. Where sewer service areas are withdrawn, no new public sewer infrastructure can be constructed. New development in these locations would be limited to septic systems, which can severely constrain new development.
Despite these significant ramifications, only a few wastewater management plans were submitted as required, and most remain months away from completion. DEP did not, however, enforce the requirement to withdraw sewer service areas. Although existing sewer service areas remained in place, developers were faced with the uncertainty of not knowing how DEP would choose to enforce the WQMP Rules in the future. Furthermore, in locations where WMPs have not been adopted in compliance with the deadline set forth in the WQMP Rules, DEP is not processing applications to expand sewer service areas to include new projects.
S3156 addresses this uncertainty by providing that sewer service areas shall remain in effect for 180 days after the date of enactment of the bill, or such longer time as the DEP Commissioner may determine. S3156, at §3. Additional extensions by the Commissioner are, however, subject to the expiration of S3156 two (2) years after the date of enactment. S3156, at §11.
Furthermore, S3156 requires each wastewater management planning agency to submit only the portion of the WMP designating sewer service areas within this 180 day period. S5156, at §4. DEP can approve the portion of the plan submitted or wait until submittal of the entire plan, but existing sewer service areas will remain in effect while DEP approval of the new WMP, or portion thereof, is pending. S5156, at §4.
Finally, S3156 allows for site specific WMP amendments and revisions once the portion of a WMP designating sewer service areas has been submitted. S3156, at §6. The bill also streamlines the process and the timeframes for obtaining site specific amendments and revisions. For example, the bill establishes a presumption that applicants for site specific amendments and revisions will not be required to submit engineered subdivision or site plans as part of amendment or revision applications. In addition, the bill requires specific time frames for DEP to complete its review of, and render decisions on, amendment applications and certain revision applications. S3156, at §7 and §8.