With sewer capacity come growth and revenue.
For five towns in the Pinelands - including sprawling Winslow Township - a 25-mile sewer pipeline is nearing completion to provide much-needed ratables.
The $50 million project by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) is funded by the New Jersey Infrastructure Trust with a $48 million low-interest loan and a $2 million grant.
"This project is terrific for South Jersey because it improves water quality in the Pinelands, and also opens up economic development opportunities for several towns in southern Camden County," said CCMUA's executive director, Andy Kricun.
For the towns, including Berlin Borough, Berlin Township, Chesilhurst, Pine Hill, and Waterford Township, the pipeline represents a path to economic development that a nearly decade-old sewer moratorium restricted.
None will benefit more than Winslow, the largest municipality in Camden County but still sparsely populated.
"Without sewer capacity, we're stuck," said Mayor Barry Wright. "We turned down a ton of residential and commercial development."
The 58-square-mile township has been under the 2004 moratorium. It received interim permission to increase sewer capacity last summer in anticipation of the pipeline's spring 2014 completion.
Wright said having full sewer capacity would mean between $1 million and $1.5 million annually from construction permits. The township made about a fifth of that last year.
Winslow administrator Joe Gallagher said: "We had nine years of the moratorium during a very difficult economic downturn where we were really just trying to survive. This is certainly going to open growth so Winslow can grow and try to catch up. It's a tremendous opportunity for us."
The CCMUA runs the regional wastewater treatment plant for Camden County and operates an 80 million-gallon-per-day sewage treatment plant in Camden that opened in 1990.
But the southernmost part of the county has only partial sewer service because much of it is in the Pinelands.
The $50 million sewer project began in the summer of 2012, and 25 miles of underground pipeline have been completed. A pumping station to transport sewage from the affected towns through Gloucester Township to the treatment plant in Camden is being built on the campus of Camden County Technical School.
Of 37 towns in Camden County, 32 are outside the Pinelands. Of the six towns to be affected by the sewer project, five are the ones entirely or partly in the sensitive area. Their sewer service requires approval from the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.
The six towns "all want to grow," said Larry Liggett, director of land use and planning at the New Jersey Pinelands Commission. "One of our concerns was that they were taking water from the Atlantic Basin and pumping it to the Delaware Basin. We required that instead they seek a Delaware River water source to not deplete the Mullica River or Great Egg Harbor River.
"It's a win-win for everybody."
Winslow agreed to the trade-off. Instead of getting its water from wells in the Pinelands, it would import it from the Delaware River under a contract with New Jersey American Water. The CCMUA would export its sewage to the treatment plant in Camden City.
Winslow Township and Berlin Township and Borough will benefit immediately from the new sewer.
Waterford, Chesilhurst, and Pine Hill - the last the only one of the six towns not in the Pinelands - may benefit in the future, since the pipeline runs by them. Waterford and Chesilhurst would have to enter into a drinking water arrangement similar to Winslow's to join, and Pine Hill would need a connecting line.
Most of Winslow Township's population lives in Sicklerville, just outside the Pinelands.
Gallagher said the township had lost "millions" in connection fees since the 2004 sewer moratorium. A sewer charge connection fee costs $3,140, and a water connection fee is $2,155.
"When you're working with a smaller budget every year . . . and to keep on an even playing field with Gloucester Township to attract other businesses and residential development is virtually impossible because you don't have the sewer lines," he said.
He said Cross Keys Road in Sicklerville, the dividing line between Winslow and Gloucester Townships, underscored the disparity. The Gloucester side was fully developed, while the Winslow side remained underdeveloped.
But developers are lining up for Winslow because of its new sewer capacity. Wendy's and Panera Bread applied for construction permits earlier this month. CarMax, the nation's largest retailer of used cars, will open its first New Jersey facility in Winslow next to 30,000 square feet of retail. The Fortune 500 company will break ground Jan. 6.
A slew of residential projects have received planning board approvals, including Taylor Woods, a 275-unit apartment complex on Route 73, and a pair of townhouse developments in Sicklerville.
"You need the rooftops to support the commercial, especially around the Route 73 corridor," Wright said. "All this is necessary to stabilize our tax base. Now we have sewer, Winslow is open for business."
That pro-growth, business-friendly attitude is what attracted Carlino Commercial Development of Wyomissing, Pa., to Winslow, said president Peter Miller. The company owns the 26-acre lot on the northeast corner of Berlin-Cross Keys Road and the Atlantic City Expressway that CarMax and a retailer will build on.
Township leaders "are after tax revenue, jobs, and infrastructure improvements, and our development is producing those," Miller said.
Gloucester Township will also benefit from the newer and bigger sewer pipes running through it.
"That means they don't have to be replaced next year," Mayor David Mayer said. "The longer we can make our sewer infrastructure last, the better it is for everyone."