Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Highlands Bill Passed, But Where Is The Money?

   

 Snowy BarnBush budget omits Highlands funding
Friday, February 11, 2005
BY LAWRENCE RAGONESE
Star-Ledger Staff

President Bush's proposed 2006 budget does not include money for North Jersey Highlands preservation, despite passage of a bill last year to allocate up to $10 million in federal matching funds annually.

A New Jersey congressman who authored the Highlands bill said there is no cause for concern. Some New Jersey environmentalists, however, are upset and say the president's fiscal package is short on dollars for natural areas in several categories, including the Highlands.

"Without cash, the bill is just symbolic," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "Don't forget, New Jersey is a blue state. When it comes to getting money for the Highlands, it may not be easy
to get Congress to back it."

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R- 11th Dist.) strongly disputed that assertion, saying he is confident Congress will approve money for the Highlands. He said when President Bush signed the Highlands Conservation Act into law on Nov. 30, he elevated the region into "an area of national significance."

"We don't have to win that battle again, to prove the worthiness of the area for preservation funding. It shows this area and issue are elevated in the administration's eyes," said Frelinghuysen.

Congress passed the Highlands bill last fall, agreeing to allocate $110 million in federal funds for Highlands preservation over the next 10 years. Frelinghuysen said he will press the House Appropriations Committee, of which he is a member, to finance Highlands projects after preservation applications are submitted to the Department of the Interior by all four states in the Highlands region, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Tom Gilbert, former executive director of the Highlands Coalition and now an official with the Wilderness Society, said he hopes Frelinghuysen is successful. But he noted concern about proposed cuts in federal preservation dollars,
especially the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"There is cause to be alarmed," added Michele Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and New Jersey chair of the Highlands Coalition. "Money for land preservation looks like it's being zeroed out."

Lawrence Ragonese can be reached at lragonese@starledger.com or (973) 539-7910. Copyright 2005 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.

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