Smith, McKeon tout need for new preservation funding

TRENTON – Call it a sign of the times, the environmental times.

A billboard campaign features Democrats Sen. Bob Smith and Assemblyman John McKeon, two of the Legislature’s more well-known environmental advocates.

The purpose of the advertisement, seen near the Department of Environmental Protection building on East State Street in Trenton, is to tout the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act and the 1979 Pinelands Protection Act.

Smith and McKeon were key sponsors of the Highlands Act, which is designed to preserve fresh water resources in an 859,358-acre area of northern New Jersey.

The Pinelands Act seeks to preserve about 800,000 acres in southern New Jersey.

The campaign is tied in to the fact that the state needs a new source of open space preservation funding. The last round of funding under various programs such as the Green Acres Fund was signed into law late last month.

“The Highlands Act signed in 2004 and the Pinelands Protection Act of 1979 has successfully preserved the source of clean drinking water for nearly 75 percent of the state’s population,” Smith said in a release. 

“In order to continue this effort, it is critical for New Jersey citizens to support a new open space initiative, preferably in a sustainable manner with a stable source of funding for open space.”

Two Senate bills Smith sponsored – S2529 and S2530 – were introduced this month. McKeon is co-sponsor of a companion to S2530, A3663.

S2530/A3663 would authorize a $400 million bond act; S2529/A3824 would constitutionally dedicate some sales tax revenue toward open space, including flood-prone areas.

Assembly sponsors of A3824 include Democrats Grace Spencer and Reed Gusciora.

“The loss of environmentally sensitive land is permanent and irreversible,” McKeon said. “Preservation of the finite amount of freshwater sources in New Jersey is key to our survival, our economic viability and our quality of life. Any attempt to dismantle the Highlands Act, by weakening its well thought-out protections based on science and sound public policy, would be untenable.”

Some environmentalists have criticized some of the Christie administration’s recent appointments to the Highlands Council as an attempt to weaken the act.

The billboard campaign is sponsored by the New Jersey Highlands Coalition and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Smith, McKeon tout need for new preservation funding