Aug 95

Level of Govt: State

Function: GIS

Problem/situation: To preserve wetlands, regulatory agencies need to ascertain the location and extent of the protected areas.

Solution: GIS database accurate to within an acre.

Jurisdiction: New Jersey

Vendors: ESRI, Markhurd, Greenhorne & O'Mara.

By Bill McGarigle

Special to Government Technology

Few areas in the nation have lost more wetlands than the state of New Jersey. The major causes are a growing population, expanding development and, until recently, a lack of effective resource management tools.

The problem is compounded by New Jersey's geography. According to the state's Land Use Regulation Program administrator, Ernest Hahn, "If you get any size parcel in New Jersey, you'll probably have some wetlands associated with them - there are no vast areas of the state that do not have wetlands resources, even in the hilly country of North Jersey."

The state's first attempt to stem the loss of coastal wetlands was the Wetlands Act of 1970. "They passed that act," explained Hahn, "because we were having wholesale destruction of those areas as a result of houses built out on the marshes. [Developers] would just fill in the marsh and push out a new road. Everybody would get a lagoon and a waterfront lot." The Wetlands Act of 1970 required the state to completely map all coastal wetlands and create maps that could be used as a regulatory tool in screening applications.

However, wetlands and their associated wildlife habitats continued to disappear. Checking the decline required more personnel and state-of-the-art, resource-management tools than budget-strapped states and the federal government could provide. Despite the National Clean Water Act, cutbacks in the federal budget had left the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Fish and Wildlife (NF&WL;) Service with insufficient resources to adequately protect and enforce regulation of New Jersey's freshwater wetlands. In 1987, the only graphic resources available were the National Fish and Wildlife Service inventory (NWI) maps, at a scale of 1:24,000 - excellent for some applications, but not a large enough scale for regulatory purposes. For zoning, management and the protection of wildlife habitats, planning boards need maps with linear features down to an acre.


In 1986, the accelerating loss of wetlands prompted then-Gov. Thomas Kean to put a moratorium on building in the state's wetlands until the Legislature came up with a bill that gave New Jersey the resources and authority needed to regulate and protect its own wetlands resources. New Jersey lawmakers responded with the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act (FWWPA) of 1987.

Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government has the authority to regulate and permit wetlands throughout the nation. However, Section 404 of the act grants states with sufficient resources the right to assume these responsibilities. In view of the limited resources of the ACOE, EPA and USF&WL; services, New Jersey lawmakers felt the state could do a better job regulating and monitoring their own wetlands. By the mid-1980s, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) had an ArcInfo Geographic Information System (GIS) from Redlands, Calif.-based Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) in place, and strict regulations protecting and permitting wetlands. The state then assumed self-regulation of its wetlands under a mandate from the FWWPA, referred to as "Assumption 404."

Another mandate under the FWWPA charged NJDEP with developing a comprehensive inventory of the state's freshwater wetlands. The purpose: to provide agencies with a statewide planning tool for early detection and assessment of changes in wetlands. The project called for mapping and classifying over 620,00 acres in the state.

Begun in 1988 as a three-year project, state administrators and contractors struggled through delays caused by budget cutbacks, years of unstable funding and unusually