In May, 2005, the New Jersey Highlands Council launched the first phase of a multilevel public participation program involving Municipal and County officials, as well as area residents, to ensure maximum public input in development of the Regional Master Plan. The meetings identified and prioritized issues to be addressed in the Regional Master Plan. The second round of Partnership meetings, continuing this effort, took place in October, 2005.
In addition to Partnership meetings, the Highlands Council created 18 Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) comprised of experts from an array of subject areas. The TACs, all of which met during August 2005, were formed to ensure a planning process based upon science and technical expertise. The TACs focused on elements to be contained within the Regional Master Plan, as outlined in the Highlands Act, including: Resource Assessment, Financial Assessment, Local Government and Public Input, Coordination and Consistency, Transportation, and Smart Growth among others.
Highlands Council staff developed materials to help educate citizens and business interests about the Highlands Act and NJDEP Highlands Rules, and to help guide them through the process of Regional Master Plan development. Staff attorneys held regularly scheduled meetings with private and public interests. The Council also created a “network” database of over 650 citizens who expressed interest in the process, and provided those individuals with regular updates and progress reports.
Through these efforts, the Highlands Council kept the public informed of the Regional Master Plan development process and provided for expert assistance on virtually all elements of the finally adopted Plan.