Gov. Chris Christie has nixed a state Senate bill that would have required the Ocean County Planning Board and Ocean County towns to develop a fee system for new development in the Barnegat Bay watershed.
The restoration of water quality in the bay is one of his adminstration's "top priorities," the governor said.
"Despite my commitment to restoring the water quality of Barnegat Bay, I am unable to sign this bill," Christie said.
Raising taxes and establishing new fees is not the way to go for already overburdened residents and business owners, he said.
"Unfortunately, raising taxes and imposing new fees is the way the Legislature most commonly seeks to address our state's issues," Christie said. "This approach has resulted in extraordinary financial burdens on the state's citizens and business and property owners, and has often not resulted in a solution to the underlying problem."
Christie's veto of Senate bill 1856 was good news for the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, who opposed the bill because it singled out Ocean County.
"We commend Chris Christie for supporting the Ocean County Board of Freeholders in not creating a new tax on the residents of Ocean County," Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said today.
The Barnegat Bay watershed is a national estuary, and any programs aimed at stormwater management and reducing pollution should be paid for with state and federal funds, not by Ocean County residents, he said.
"It's a national estuary," Vicari said. "It's a treasure. We want to protect it."
Ocean County received an environmental excellence award from the state in 2008, during Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration. Roughly 1,600 storm drains around the county were retrofitted, he said.
The Ocean County Utilities Authority has met and exceeded state Department of Environmental Protection stormwater regulations, Vicari said.
The county recently sought $12 million from the state Environmental Infrastructure Trust to upgrade 25 basins in major watersheds thought to be contributing to nitrogen pollution of the bay. That nutrient is blamed for the surge in stinging nettles in the bay, and shrinking submerged vegetation beds that are a crucial part of the marine nursery in the waterway.
Ocean County Engineer Frank Scarantino recently said he expects $3 million will be approved by the state to upgrade four of those basins, each serving a watershed ranging from 80 to 100 acres in area. Those were the ones ranked highest among the 25 for which the county sought state funds, he said.
Christie said in his veto statement that there is funding available in the State Revolving Fund and Environmental Infrastructure Trust to improve stormwater infrastructures throughout the state. Christie also signed legislation to establish "restrictive" standards for nitrogen content in fertilizer and application rates.
There are already local municipal ordinances "on the books" to address stormwater pollution. The DEP also has extensive stormwater regulatory and permitting programs already in place, the governor said in his statement.