Conservation or Confiscation?

by | Apr 26, 2004

In April, the New Jersey Builders Association finally managed to muster an attack on legislation whose purpose it is said is to “conserve” a wide swath of northern New Jersey called the Highlands. In Congress, there’s also a Highlands Conservation Act (H.R. 1964 & S.999) that would give more than a $100 million to the […]

In April, the New Jersey Builders Association finally managed to muster an attack on legislation whose purpose it is said is to “conserve” a wide swath of northern New Jersey called the Highlands.

In Congress, there’s also a Highlands Conservation Act (H.R. 1964 & S.999) that would give more than a $100 million to the governors of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey for the same purpose. States are invited to identify land in the two million acre Highlands region that would be put under the control of government, thus effectively destroying the rights of private property owners in those States. This naked land grab hides behind claims of preserving clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, and endangered species.

There is a parallel piece of legislation in Congress designed to conserve and “protect” what are called “National Heritage Areas.” It would give the federal government, in cooperation with various environmental groups, power over privately owned lands by designating vaguely defined National Heritage Areas (NHA’s). Though the NPS denies it would affect the rights of the private property owners, at any time in the future they could find themselves subject to intense pressure to sell.

The New Jersey Highlands plan would create a “regional council” with veto power over large-scale development in about half the region that stretches across seven northwestern counties and contains the water supply for half the State’s residents. What no one will admit, however, is that the regional council will be composed of handpicked tree-huggers.

“From Day 1, this administration has had a policy of no growth, anti-housing and regulations intended to deny modest and middle-income families a place to live,” said Patrick O’Keefe, the builder’s chief executive office. This legislation will be the scene of a now-classic battle between environmentalists and many, if not, all of the mayors and other elected offices across the region. The latter will argue that, without development, their local economies will be affected, driving up their need to impose higher property taxes, and the former will say that the water supply must be protected.

O’Keefe answers the Greens, saying that water argument is specious because new environmental regulations already protect the water supply. Anyone who has ever tried to buy or sell a home in New Jersey knows that environmental regulations and concerns play a large role in that transaction.

In mid-April, alerted to the danger, more than six hundred people from Morris County, New Jersey, showed up at legislative hearing, some wearing t-shirts saying, “Don’t Steal My Land” and “Where Will The Families Live?” This is at the heart of what is happening. John Barba, president of the New Jersey Builders Association said, “There are 100,000 young adults living in the Highlands, the grown children of Highlands families. Where will they work and live? They’ll have two choices, live in their parent’s homes or leave the area.”

Governor James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, is already one of the least popular governors ever elected with the exception of James Florio, also a Democrat, who was voted out of office after one term for imposing a huge tax increase on everyone and embracing every environmental restriction imaginable.

At the federal level, the National Park Service, already acknowledged as doing a poor job managing vast tracks of federal land, is advocating the passage of the National Heritage Act that would partner the NPS with state and local entities. Already twenty-four NHA’s encompassing 160,000 square miles of mostly privately owned lands have been created since 1984.

As Cheryl Chumley of the American Policy Center, an activist think tank, points out, the entire State of Tennessee has been designated a NHA. “Since November 12, 1996, taxpayers from every other State help preserve the

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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