As Eileen Swan moves on from her post as executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Council, Regional Plan Association and New Jersey Future would like to recognize her public service to the state.
The Highlands Council is charged with meeting the goals of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act: balancing growth and protection in the 1,343-square-mile Highlands region of the state, which serves as a source of drinking water for more than five million residents.
Since taking the helm of the Highlands Council staff in 2007, Ms. Swan's achievements - earned through superb negotiating and mediating skills - include:
• Seeing through the adoption of a Regional Master Plan that protects the region's critical resources while preserving economic vitality;
• Implementing the Regional Master Plan by working closely with local leaders and residents in 40 Highlands communities so that their master plans and ordinances are now "in conformance", with another 20 municipal petitions pending;
• Designating nine Highlands Centers for smart growth and approving nine redevelopment areas;
• Launching a Transfer of Development Rights program that has resulted in the preservation of almost 250 acres valued at nearly $8 million;
• Developing a proactive approach to help towns update wastewater plans drafted by Highlands Council staff;
• Cutting red tape through an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection to grant the authority to approve exemptions to local governments in municipalities where conformance has been approved.
Under her watch, the New Jersey Highlands Council has become a national model for balanced natural resource protection. Other state entities would be wise to look to the successes in the Highlands as they seek to implement the new State Strategic Plan.
We look forward to working with the Highlands Council and its staff to advance the tremendous progress made under Ms. Swan's leadership. New Jersey residents deserve no less. For now, we collectively raise a glass of clean New Jersey drinking water and toast Ms. Swan on a job well done.