Tangible Progress on Long-Awaited Sewer Service Area Updates
May 31st, 2012 by Chris Sturm
Milestone #3 – Somerset County’s Proposal is Posted for Review
Somerset County’s proposed Future Wastewater Service Area (FWSA) maps were posted for public notice in the New Jersey Register on May 21, and on the DEP Water Quality Management Planning website, making Somerset the third county to near adoption of an updated sewer service area under the 2008 Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP) rule. Somerset joins Ocean and Camden counties in having an FWSA posted for public notice. New Jersey Future has prepared fact sheets on each county’s published Future Wastewater Service Area that include links to the public notice and to a map of the proposed sewer service area (SSA), a general description of the proposed SSA, future anticipated wastewater planning activities, and contacts for more information.
New Jersey Future has been actively engaged in researching, convening stakeholders and advising the wastewater planning process because of its impact on where and how growth occurs. The SSA updates will likely affect where state government directs development incentives, since it is expected that the State Strategic Plan will include access to sewer service as one of the essential criteria for identifying growth areas.
By this fall, the vast majority of the state should have updated sewer service areas. The counties of Burlington, Middlesex, and Morris, along with a handful of municipalities, have submitted their final proposed FWSA maps to DEP and should be posted for public notice soon. Submittals from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex (partial), Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Passaic (partial), Salem, Union (partial) and Warren (by municipality) are expected before a July 15,2012, deadline. A proposal for Ridgewood, Bergen County, has been adopted; proposals for Byram, Lopatcong, and Washington Township, Morris County, have gone through public comment and await adoption. Updates in other jurisdictions are proceeding under the 1989 WQMP rule, including Monmouth County (which had a full wastewater management plan posted for public notice in 2011 and awaits adoption by DEP), parts of Essex and Union counties (the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union), and parts of Bergen County. (Note that some areas are not submitting because they are covered under existing plans that have not expired.) The new proposals are being posted on the DEP Water Quality Management Planning website following their publication in the New Jersey Register.
By this fall, the vast majority of the state should have updated sewer service areas.
These milestones matter because sewer service areas (SSAs) delineate where sewers are in the ground or can be built, which in turn largely dictates where development occurs. (Outside the SSAs, reliance on septic systems allows only low-density development.)
The updates meet a primary requirement of the DEP’s 2008 WQMP rule that seeks to protect water quality. In addition to requiring the sewer service areas to exclude large environmentally sensitive areas, the rule limits development intensity to what sewer treatment plants and natural systems can handle. However, implementing all of the rule provisions has been difficult and controversial, and progress has been slow. This past winter, the governor signed legislation that required submission of the SSA updates within 180 days, but provided a two-year deadline extension to January 2014 for most other requirements. The DEP is grappling with how to update the rule, and a second round of stakeholder meetings is expected this summer.
Somerset County’s proposed sewer service areas cover 91,285 acres or 47 percent of the county’s land area. The proposed area is 12,422 acres smaller than the pre-existing SSAs; lands removed include environmentally sensitive areas (50 percent), preserved open space (67 percent), and land protected through other conservation mechanisms. The additions to the SSA are mostly technical in nature. The proposal is subject to public comment and review.
Intern Chris Caviola contributed to the preparation of New Jersey Future’s county wastewater fact sheets.