TRENTON – The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee passed a non-binding resolution Monday urging Gov. Chris Christie to authorize the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission (DRCC) to hire a new executive director and rehire full-time staff.
Members of the DRCC came before the committee Monday afternoon to express support for AR158, which passed 5-0 with two abstentions.
Other supporters said that not hiring replacement staff immediately is a way of undermining the commission.
John Loos, a commissioner, said it’s incumbent upon the authority to hire an executive director in order to enable the body to continue performing its operations, otherwise its puts applicants for permits in limbo.
“These are people who do their job,” N.J. Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.
The current executive director, Ernest Hahn, is leaving the position on Thursday after six years.
“If this is not resolved, we will have to lock all doors,” he said.
Loos said the DRCC helps provide clean drinking water to some 1.5 million people.
The Department of Environmental Protection indicated that the DRCC should be considered for elimination due to what it considers the duplicative nature of its permit granting functions.
The tasks of the DRCC, which was formed in 1974, include reviewing and approving projects around the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, rejecting or modifying any action by the state in that park or any permit for action in the park; undertake planning for the development of the park; and prepare and administer a land use regulatory program that will protect the park from the harmful impacts of new development in central New Jersey.
In recent months, the DRCC lost its two support staff, with only the executive director remaining. The director is set to retire at the end of May, leaving the commission, and all those who submit applications to it, with no staff.
Assemblyman Peter Barnes said the process is better served by the commission than by a department.
“We really do a disservice to people who’ve been there a long time,” he said about abolishing the commission, calling the idea a “big mistake.”