The future of any new development or expansion now depends on whether your county Wastewater Management Plan (Plan): 1) has been updated within the past six years; and 2) includes wastewater service capacity for your project. While that does not sound like an insurmountable obstacle, as they say: “The devil is in the details.” If you have any potential plans to perform site development or expansion, you should start monitoring the Plan activities now, not only because the counties will evaluate wastewater capacities, but they also will “document” environmentally sensitive areas within the county. Once these areas are documented, your development must conform to the restrictions the DEP has established to protect these sensitive areas, e.g. buffers.
If your county Plan, or the Plan that currently affects you, has not been updated within the past six years, the county is required to determine whether a sewage treatment plant has capacity, inventory all environmental factors, and decide whether a development or expansion is appropriate, based on the answers to the following questions:
- Is this an environmentally sensitive area? – e.g. threatened and endangered species, wetlands, flood hazard area, riparian zone, stormwater management area.
- Does the local government support growth in this area?
> Is there an adequate water supply?
Further, if this new development or expansion will discharge wastewater to groundwater, an additional question will be asked:
- Can the discharge of wastewater meet a 2 mg/liter nitrate standard?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, then the new development or expansion is “inconsistent” with the Plan and it cannot be approved.
Under rules adopted in July, the DEP gave each county nine months to update its Plan or the current Plan will be revoked, unless the DEP grants an extension.1 To help counties with their Plans, the DEP is providing funding as well as technical and administrative assistance. For example, the DEP is sending counties GIS data layers with a model to perform environmental build-out analysis, a model Plan and a model local ordinance. We recommend that you review these GIS data layers and, if you have concerns, hold informal discussions with your municipality or county before the formal Plan is proposed.
The Department also expects the review and approval process of the Plans to move quickly, because it has adopted standards that “make clear the basis for review.” (N.J.A.C. 7:15-2.5). According to the DEP, once these Plans are completed, areas that are suitable for growth will be identified and sprawl will be discouraged.2
Many in the environmental community hailed the proposed rules because most Plans had never been changed since their adoption many years ago. The Department is equally pleased because it is using these rules holistically to “protect” current residents and make “sound permit decisions”. Based on the Department’s analysis, of the almost 2 million acres currently slated for development within sewer service areas, almost 316,000 acres are unsuitable for development due to other environmental features, endangered or threatened species, or Category One waters.
These rules will “correct” that situation. To make sure that the “corrections” are accurate, your involvement while the Plan evolves may be more productive than formal comments during the public comment period. If your proposed development or expansion is located in an area where waters are impaired because of existing discharges or land use practices, total maximum daily limits or watershed restoration plans will be required to improve water quality. In these cases, you may need to invest in water quality improvements in order to obtain approval.
The rule adoption contains over 200 pages of comments and the DEP responses are very useful to help understand how the DEP envisions these rules will apply.