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Citizens Rally Against DEP Water Permit for Hovnanian Eagle Ridge Development
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February 01, 2005 (rt23 news) - Almost 225 concerned citizens, including state, county and local officials, crowded into the West Milford Town Hall for a rally opposing the Hovnanian Enterprises Eagle Ridge Development on January 29. The proposed 78 acre, 280 unit Eagle Ridge development is located near the intersection of Macopin Road and Cahill Cross Road in West Milford. Speakers reinforced what many attending already knew, that the water allocation permit should not be granted because resources in the area are inadequate. Grass roots environmentalist groups including Skylands Clean and the Pequannock River Coalition spoke of the negative impact the Hovnanian project would have on water resources, the environment and quality of life in the township. Three independent water studies concluded that the aquifer could not sustain more development in that section of the township. The studies highlighted misconceptions and mistakes in the Hovnanian water study report. West Milford Township is in the core of the Highlands preservation zone and projects like Eagle Ridge should be strictly prohibited. The state should protect the drinking water supply and not allow a project like this because of a technicality. The consensus was "how can they put our water supply at risk with this large project?"

Former West Milford Mayor Carl Richko addresses rally opposing Hovnanian Enterprises water permit for proposed 280 new townhouses

Although West Milford is entirely within the "core area" of the recently enacted Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, Hovnanian Enterprises was granted an exception by the DEP in October 2004 due to "inconsistency" with the legislation. The unpopular development plan has been in the permit stage for so long, it is exempt from new strict building limits on environmentally fragile land. The Highlands preservation law, which was signed into law in August, includes a grandfather provision exempting projects if they were granted at least one major permit before March 29. The Eagle Ridge exemption was awarded under that provision. The purpose of the Highlands Act is to protect a core area, consisting of 395,000 acres in the New Jersey Highlands region, from major development to ensure the water supply quality of more than 4 million people.

"Letís hope we get to build some homes," says Doug Fenichel, a spokesman for the Hovnanian Company. "Eagle Ridge is a perfect illustration of the type of growth that should be allowed to continue. Weíre in favor of Highlands preservation, but weíve been calling for balance. Eagle Ridge is a good example of the sort of growth that should be allowed to proceed. Itís in a town center, it has all its permits in place and itís an example of smart growth. So, that the sort of project that should be allowed to go ahead to provide desperately needed homes for the area." Founded in 1959, Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc. designs, constructs and markets a variety of for-sale housing in more than 275 residential communities in 15 states. Hovnanian ranks among the largest homebuilding companies in the U.S., with total revenues of $4.2 billion on 14,586 home deliveries in 2004. Hovnanian is the largest builder in New Jersey.

"Weíre hoping and praying the DEP does its job and does not grant the water-allocation," said Kathleen Caren, a West Milford resident and member of the Passaic County Open Space Committee. "People donít want this at all."

ííThis project is a nightmare we will never wake up from,íí said West Milford Councilman James Warden in a recent Bergen Record editorial. ííItís going to be a water disaster, a tax disaster and a school disaster. The council unanimously approved a resolution stressing all these points, but Hovnanian apparently doesnít get the message. Company spokesman Doug Fenichel called the project an example of smart growth, but how smart can the development be if the town does not want it? Good corporate neighbors know when to back off" says Councilman Warden.

Over 90 concerned citizens attended an earlier water allocation permit hearing in West Milford for the proposed Eagle Ridge development. Except for the developer and landowner, everyone testified in opposition. Skylands CLEAN hired a hydrologist and a planner to review the proposal and hydrological statistics. They provided a lengthy and compelling testimony, exposing flaw after flaw. West Milford residents spoke for almost three hours pointing out mistakes with the data. Contrary to a Hovnanian hydrologist report, four other hydrologists have provided clear evidence that the area likely does not have sufficient long-term sustainable ground water yield, even for the current residents in the area.

"This is a low blow to the Highlands," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "This is a bad project in an important location. Itís very dense. It sits on an aquifer recharge area. ... Itís shameful that the DEP is pushing this forward."

A New Jersey Sierra Club letter opposing the development states "This diversion will result in an over allocation of available groundwater. Several studies have shown groundwater supplies in West Milford to be extremely limited. This permit will exceed these supplies with severe impacts on existing private wells and adjacent natural features such as wetlands." The letter goes on to say "the 3 proposed Eagle Ridge wells are not viable, as shown by the recovery data, which was missing from the original MUA application. Essentially, during pumping the wells are dewatering a fracture system with no capacity for recharge. Based on this, well SE2 would have to pump 6 hours per day and recharge 18 hours per day. Regarding the Awosting system, in their application the MUA states, "The production of existing wells has fallen off..." Even to a layman it is obvious that well yields that have "fallen off" are indicative of an overtaxed supply. On this basis alone, the Department should reject the MUA proposal. A comprehensive water conservation plan and aggressive reduction in the loss of unaccounted-for-water (currently at 26% for the Awosting system) could eliminate the need for additional supply and better serve the public interest. Both the staff report and the MUA application fail to properly exploit these opportunities. In closing, this proposal is a disservice to West Milford residents, injurious to our natural resources and a detriment to the public at large. The application should be denied."

Posted by: Staff at
February 01, 2005

Citizens Rally Against DEP Water Permit for Hovnanian Eagle Ridge Development

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