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TRENTON, NJ-In what is being described as the first application to law of his anti-sprawl agenda, Gov. James McGreevey yesterday signed rules assigning Category One status–the strictest level of environmental protection–to a total of 15 bodies of water within the Garden State. In essence, the rules provide protection against any measurable deterioration in existing water quality.

The bodies of water involved in the action include nine reservoirs that provide drinking water to an estimated 40% of the state’s population and a half-dozen streams. The latter are being protected as a resource and breeding ground for various wildlife, an effort that has been the thrust of past Category One designations within the state.

The protection of the nine reservoirs, on the other hand, marks the first time Category One has been applied for something other than wildlife protection. “For too long, we have failed to give our drinking water sources the right protection,” McGreevey said yesterday as he signed the rules into law. “We have failed to enact the necessary rules, and we have not properly managed the growth of our communities.”

In effect, according to observers, about the only thing that could be built along the 200 miles of waterways covered by the rules would be very small projects with very expensive water treatment facilities and lots of room to handle storm water runoff. The action immediately drew the ire of the development community, although few would comment on it publicly because it puts developers in a public relations bind. As one developer tells GlobeSt.com, “how does it make us look if we come out and openly criticize something that the Governor says is going to protect people’s drinking water?”

One who did make his point was Henry Hill, an attorney representing Pulte Homes, whose Windy Acres project in west central New Jersey is suddenly in a great deal of jeopardy. Calling it “a power grab” by the McGreevey administration in general and NJ DEP head Brad Campbell in particular, Hill told reporters that the matter will likely end up in court.

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