You all know those 60-90 day promises? I think the ballot initiatives on the NJ state ballot are what stand in the way from us moving from that cespool Giants Stadium into our own digs. Public questions address sprawl Dam repair item meets opposition Tuesday, October 28, 2003 BY STEVE CHAMBERS Star-Ledger Staff Voters will be afforded an unusual opportunity on Election Day to receive a lot of something for nothing. Then there's the $200 million question. Every year, voters are asked to approve a variety of large-scale spending programs, usually supported by the sale of bonds. This year, two of the three ballot questions involve changes in existing programs, ones for which the funding already had been approved. Public Question 1 will, if approved, mean $150 million more for open-space preservation. Taking advantage of low interest rates, state officials say they will be able to borrow the extra money without state taxpayers spending a dime more than the $98 million a year they approved five years ago. The proposal is supported by a broad coalition of environmentalists, mayors, sportsmen and farmers. Question 2, the darling of the state's large-scale commercial developers, would allow the use of surpluses from an oil-tank cleanup fund to clean up polluted urban sites so they can be redeveloped. The McGreevey administration says, and environmentalists agree, that both questions would be big wins in the battle against sprawl. Activists like the brownfields bill, because it would encourage redevelopment of urban sites, theoretically taking pressure off the suburban edges. There is less agreement on Question 3, which would raise $150 million from the sale of bonds for dam repairs on hundreds of public and private man-made lakes that dot New Jersey and have long attracted resort development. Another $50 million would be raised to build sewer plants. The state argues that money for the dams is long overdue and the best solution for dealing with a vexing problem. There are 47 "high-hazard" dams in need of emergency repairs at a cost of $33 million and many more "significant hazard" dams in the same situation, state officials said. "There is a significant public safety issue, but there also is a significant issue concerning the character of our communities," said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Critics, chief among them the state Sierra Club chapter, argue that too much of the money will be spent at the behest of private homeowners and developers. They say many of the "emergency repairs" have been on lists for decades without ruinous consequences. The same critics point to real estate developments in line for funding and wonder why wealthy property owners and developers need a state bailout. "This is just a pork-barrel scam in an election year to get money for engineers and cement makers and to give public money to developers," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club. Campbell said only state and municipal-owned dams will receive grants; private dams will be fixed with low-interest loans. He defended the inclusion of privately owned dams in the program, noting that when DEP sought to force homeowners to fix their dams, their response often has been to drain the lakes. During Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and a severe thunderstorm in 2000, several dams broke, causing property damage but no loss of life. "I'm disappointed to see the Sierra Club oppose this measure," Campbell said. "In many cases, enforcement actions would end up depriving families other than lakefront owners of a pond or recreation area that has become an important place in the life of the community." McGreevey has pledged to use $50 million of the open-space money to save forest and farmland in the northern Highlands region and another $50 million to buy or fix parks in heavily populated areas. The latter is an effort to placate city Democrats, who have in recent years complained of being shortchanged by the state Green Acres land-acquisition program. "This is an unprecedented opportunity to get a whole lot more money without additional costs," said Michael Catania, chairman of the Coalition for Conservation, an umbrella group supporting Question 1. "That's doesn't happen very often." Ignoring the whole dam and sewage plant thing, I think that propositions 1 and 2 apply to Harrison. So it is up to us as a defined special interest group to support these referendums (or referendi, I dont know). It seems like if the land can get cleaned up, then the bonds will be safely levied and we are in business. Let's hope for the best. Every Jersey resident must vote yes on initiative #1 and #2. For the good of the Metro.