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Welcome to the People's Republic of New Jersey
By Alan Caruba
If there is one thing politicians, whether it's in Congress or in the States, love to do these days is "conserve" land. This is a mere subterfuge for getting control over vast areas of land in the name of the environment when, in fact, the real purpose is to foreclose on any development or use of that land.
No building homes or apartments, no new corporate headquarters, no timber harvesting, no natural resources extraction, no camping, no hiking, no fishing, no hunting, no off-road vehicles, no nothing!
The Founding Fathers thought private ownership of land was so important they included protection of this fundamental right and necessary element of a capitalist economy in the Constitution. Environmentalists who are essentially Marxists want the government to own all the land.
In New Jersey, just such a land grab is in the making in the form of legislation to "protect" the Highlands, an area of some 800,000 acres that runs in a swath through the northern portion of the State. The reasons given for this are to control "urban sprawl" and to protect the area of mostly forests and farmland as a watershed. Never mind that existing laws have long protected the area as a watershed.
Some 145,000 acres of the Highlands will no longer be developed. The Governor, an ardent environmentalist, cannot wait to sign the legislation into law.
The support of developers was bought off with legislation that would institute fast track processing of environmental permits, but only in areas approved by the State for development. The EPA may not permit this, but the result would be a State government with an excuse to get even bigger by employing still more bureaucrats to process the permits. Moreover, it would gain still more control where housing and other development could occur, a prerogative that used to belong to city and town zoning commissions.
Making it a bit easier for developers to develop brought out a howl of protest from the Greens. "This is one of the most dangerous bills, because no one understands the level and depth of its impact," said Jeff Tittel of the state Sierra Club chapter. Indeed, the Sierra Club announced it was preparing to sue to stop the bill's implementation. Some environmentalists were cited as saying they regretted the passage of the Highlands bill if it meant making it easier for developers to build anything, even in those areas the State says it's okay.
Anyone who owns land in the designated "protected", i.e., "controlled", area will see it rendered essentially worthless. This doesn't mean they won't have to pay property taxes on it. They will, but they will also be unable to sell it for anything near its original value, nor will they be free to do anything to enhance their property's value.
A case in point is Ken Bigalow. His story was reported by Paul Mulshine, a columnist for the Star-Ledger, on June 10. Bigalow, a grandfather to 21 grandchildren built a playground structure some years ago, a large wooden locomotive about four foot high complete with a couple of cars and a caboose. On October 10, 2003 he received a letter from the State telling him that the little park he'd built in his backyard was a violation of the State Freshwater Wetlands Act and could subject him to a fine of $10,000 a day.
According to an interpretation of some arcane provision of the Act, Bigalow's backyard is a wetland. In time a bureaucrat showed up to tell him that the locomotive, the plastic heron, the concrete elf, and the tree fort he'd built had to be removed. "It's like living under communism," said Bigalow. He's right.
Like the Highlands Act, the Wetlands Act is one of those environmental laws passed to keep developers from building homes and apartment complexes where the growing population of New Jersey can live. The net effect of both laws is to put pressure on areas outside the Highlands to allow the building of more structures; pressure that often in the form of builder's lawsuits. It also drives up property taxes in long established towns where no further housing growth is possible.
This is the ultimate definition of "sustainable development", the lodestone of the nationwide environmental movement to restrict the use of both wildlands and privately held property of any description.
Many environmental organizations exist solely to force landowners to "voluntarily" sell their property after applying the various laws available to them to render those properties worthless. They then often sell the property to the State or federal government at a whopping profit.
Some 70,000 home and landowners in the Highlands area are about to discover they no longer have any say in whether they can put in a new driveway, add a patio or do much of anything with their property without first getting permission from the State. That permission will not be forthcoming.
This is taking place everywhere throughout the nation.
Under Communism, the State owns all property. Welcome to the Peoples Republic of New Jersey!
Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on www.anxietycenter.com, the web site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2004
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