Officials assessing impact of Highlands legislation

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Byram-Two days prior to announcing his resignation last Thursday, Governor James E. McGreevey signed a historical piece of legislation into place that will affect Byram residents for years to come. Known as the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the legislation places building limitations that will affect a large chunk of land spanning across the northern portion of the state. Byram Mayor Eskil Danielson, and Township Councilman Earl Riley both attended last week's signing of the bill in Ringwood Borough of Passaic County. Approximately 95 percent of Byram lies within the affected Highlands region, which will directly impact the amount of development the township will be allowed to conduct in the future. "We've been in favor of the Highlands from the get go," said Danielson earlier this week. "We want to save our lakes for generations to come." Danielson added that before the bill was signed into law, it was difficult for anyone to follow it because it was constantly changing. However, he maintained that the intent of the legislation was "excellent", and that he was "satisfied" with the end result. In the neighboring township of Sparta where 45 percent of which falls within the highlands, township officials have openly expressed concern over the issue of fair compensation for affected land owners. "I feel that it is very important to have open space to protect waterways," said Sparta Mayor Scott Seelagy in an interview before the bill was signed last week. "But it must also have balance when it comes to property rights." Seelagy said that people who will be unable to develop their property because of the new legislation should be compensated in some way for the loss of their once developable land. When asked about the same concern, Byram Councilman Earl Riley said that if the Highlands bill is implemented correctly, it will be possible to have both fair compensation to land owners, while preserving natural resources. "The most important thing right now is the selection of the Highlands council," said Riley. "Those 18 people will determine the effectiveness and equity in the application of the Highlands legislation." For now, the state has 18 months to draft a master plan for the Highlands region. Only once that master plan is developed, will municipalities like Byram and Sparta see the full impact the Highlands project will have on their land.