Chairperson Beverly Budz called the meeting to order at 7 p.m.
Statement of Compliance
Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 231 PL 1975, adequate notice of this regular meeting has been provided to the public and the press on January 12, 2016 by delivering to the press such notice and posting same at the municipal building and filed with the office of the Township Clerk.
Salute to the Flag
|Edward Nitch (Working late and unable to attend)||A|
Jessi Paladini, Recording Secretary
1. Open Meeting to the Public
Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Doreen Edwards.
Seconded by Richard Carson
All were in favor.
2. Close Meeting to the Public
Seeing no one come forward, Richard Carson moved to close the meeting to the public.
Dale Disney seconded the motion.
All were in favor.
3. Land Use Liaison Report
In Diane Wexler’s absence, recording secretary Jessi Paladini gave the land use board report. The satellite facility on Edsall Drive came before the land use board and got final approval for additional antennas. They satisfied all of the engineer’s and planner’s criteria. There were no other applications. She also reported that Andrew Borisuk’s application for a subdivision was approved with waivers from all of the required environmental studies.
4. Applications Under Review
No applications at this time.
5. Old Business
A. Gypsy Moth Spraying
Beverly Budz said the spraying was conducted and completed. She said the plane was flying very low. Richard Carson said it was necessary for the plane to fly low for the bacteria to localize on the trees.
B. National Winter Activity Center
Members of the environmental commission did independent site inspections at National Winter Activity Center. They reported still seeing a significant amount of silty runoff from the mountain into the brook. Parts of the brook were brown and silty with sedimentation. Beverly Budz showed the commissioners a slide presentation of the photos and videos she took about a week ago when she did a site inspection at NWAC. There was silty runoff at numerous points. The hay bales are not stopping the water from coming through. There was water all over the parking lot, running down to Breakneck Road. Silt fences were down again in numerous locations, and despite much effort to control the runoff and sediment, the hay bales and silt fences are not effective to keep the water back.
Richard Carson said that at the crest of the mountain leading to the condos, the sewage grate is undermined, and at the intersection where the runoff drain is the road is buckled under and collapsing. The water was draining in an uncontrolled fashion when he was there, he said.
Beverly Budz showed close-up photos from where the runoff problems are originating.
Dale Disney said he looked into back meeting minutes where he said NWAC said they would replace the trees they took down, but Schone Malliet gave no information on how many trees were removed from the slope or from the entire resort. A condition of approval for NWAC was to work this out with the environmental commission, but NWAC has not resolved that issue.
The environmental commission scheduled a site inspection at NWAC on June 4, which is the commission’s regularly schedule site inspection date, but Mr. Malliet refused to allow the commission to come to do the site inspection. Correspondence sent to the commission on May 26 by NWAC attorney Debra Nicholson stated, “There is to be NO site inspection on June 4th.”
C. Sewer Expansion Study
Beverly Budz said she put this matter again on the agenda to clarify an apparent miscommunication about the environmental commission’s role and recommendation for a sewer expansion study. She said the commission’s only role was to adopt a resolution to support the VTMUA doing a sewer expansion study. She said some people are implying the EC saw a map that showed sewers on top of Hamburg Mountain and endorsed it. She wants it made clear and put on the record that the EC never endorsed such a proposal. No maps were presented to the environmental commission at any time and that the assertion was for a sewer expansion study for expanding the wastewater area along Route 94 from the town center to McAfee to the township line. The allegation and miscommunicating that the EC saw a map that showed sewers proposed for the top of the mountain is false and the contention that the EC endorses sewers on top of Hamburg Mountain is false, she said.
All of the commissioners agreed those assertions were false and the commission was never shown a map of the proposed sewer area but was given a description that the expansion would be along Route 94. Recording secretary Jessi Paladini also confirmed the commission was not told about sewers on top of Hamburg Mountain, nor was the commission shown a map. She said there is nothing in the commission’s minutes or in the meeting recordings indicating a map or sewers on top of Hamburg Mountain. Ms. Budz wanted to affirm the commission’s recommendation was for the support of a sewer expansion study only.
6. New Business
A. Citizen Service Act
The commission agreed for the secretary to forward a letter to the township clerk and to the mayor indicating that Alyssa Portaro is no longer a member of the Vernon Township Environmental Commission as a result of her failure to attend commission meetings since January 12, 2016 and failure to notify the commission of her absences and failure to respond to numerous correspondence and phone calls by the commission secretary or chairperson. Ms. Portaro has missed five months of consecutive meetings of the commission. Recording Secretary Jessi Paladini informed the township clerk and the mayor and council about Ms. Portaro’s absences on numerous occasions, but she has never received a response from anyone on the matter. Pursuant to Citizen Service Act NJSA 40A: 9-12.1, Ms. Portaro is no longer a member of the commission and her seat is deemed to be vacant.
40A: 9-12.1 Vacancy deemed on resignation, incapacity, death, residence, absence, or removal; filling unexpired term.
1. The office of any person appointed to a specified term, with or without compensation, by the governing body or chief executive of any local unit, including persons appointed to any board, committee, commission, authority or other agency of one or more local units, shall be deemed vacant:
g. In the case of a member of a board, committee, commission, authority or other agency, whenever the member, without being excused by a majority of the authorized members of such body, fails to attend and participate at meetings of such body for a period of 8 consecutive weeks, or for four consecutive regular meetings, whichever shall be of longer duration, at the conclusion of such period, provided that such body shall notify the appointing authority in writing of such determination; provided, further, that such board, committee, commission, authority or other agency may refuse to excuse only with respect to those failures to attend and participate which are not due to legitimate illness; provided, however, that nothing in this subsection shall preclude a municipal appointing authority from adopting by ordinance a policy establishing a lower absentee threshold, provided that the ordinance shall not permit the removal of the member if the member has been absent for less than six consecutive weeks, or three consecutive meetings, whichever shall be of longer duration, without being excused, within the term of office for the position held by the individual
Doreen Edwards moved to deem Alyssa Portaro’s seat on the environmental commission vacant due to her lack of participation and chronic absence from meetings pursuant to NJSA 40:9-12.1, citing the commission’s need to have a full membership present to act on commissions matters. Ms. Edwards stated Ms. Portaro was a good member while she was active on the commission but it was important to follow state law regarding volunteers on boards.
Dale Disney seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Doreen Edwards, Dale Disney, Richard Carson, Angi Metler, and Beverly Budz
B. Environmental Commission Accomplishments
Contrary to Mayor Harry Shortway’s erroneous statement to the township council and to the public at a council meeting during which he cited his reasons for abolishing the Environmental Commission, which included to save money and because the commission had not fulfilled its responsibilities, the commission discussed the fact that it has met every single one of its statutory responsibilities according to state law and the municipal land use laws. The accomplishments of the Vernon Township Environmental Commission are the following.
Applications Under Review
The commission reviewed and/or made recommendations on all applications received from the township land use board, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and any other applicable agencies. This is its main function under the MLUL, and the EC fulfilled this role with regard to every application before the LUB. The commission’s liaison to the LUB consistently reported back all EC concerns to the LUB.
The commission applied for and received a grant for $367,000 from the New Jersey Department of Parks and Forestry. This grant is solely used to purchase and plant trees within the township in lieu of (not in place of) trees that were removed or destroyed from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project. Phase One of this grant has been completed and all trees were planted and are being maintained by the township department of public works. This is the second free tree grant the commission obtained during Ms. Budz’s tenure as chairperson.
As always, the commission participates in the annual Earthfest celebrations. At this event, the commission hands out pamphlets on environmental protection, municipal garbage ordinances, bear safety, and other environmental issues facing the township. The commission has created bat houses for children to design and paint and learn about bats and over the years has created many hands-on projects for children’s participation.
Township Garbage Ordinances
The commission reviewed the municipality’s ordinances for garbage disposal and worked with the township chief of police in understanding and reviewing those ordinances for better disposal of waste and enforcement of the ordinances.
The commission renewed its membership with the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC), obtained all ANJEC materials, and when possible attended ANJEC conferences and workshops.
Open Space Meeting with County Open Space Department
Commission members attended the meeting scheduled in Vernon Township by the county office on open space and participated in the discussion on open space issues and concerns regarding Vernon Township. On several occasions, the commission discussed open space within Vernon Township and reviewed the open space ROSI.
New Members to the Environmental Commission
During 2015, the commission welcomed new members Dale Disney, Angi Metler, Richard Carson, and Edward Nitch.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline
The commission reviewed new plans for TGP to expand in the township and also regularly monitors the work the company has done and will do within the municipality. As a result of the many trees lost by TGP construction, the commission applied for and received a $367,000 grant from the NJ Department of Forestry. This is the second grant in two years the commission has received for the same purpose. The commission also invited to one of its meetings Mike Lennon, a representative of TGP to answers commissioners’ questions and to discuss the project. Mr. Lennon was very forthcoming about discussing the TGP project. He also questioned on the record commission member Michael Furrey’s potential conflict of interest speaking on behalf of the environmental commission when he is also employed as a consultant for the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, which the commissioners were not aware of.
Water Use and Conservation Management
The commission reviewed and discussed water usage and conservation management and ways to minimize or conserve water usage when necessary or applicable.
The commission discussed its concerns regarding mosquito spraying within the township and specifically the short notification given to the township by Sussex County Mosquito Control. The commission sent a letter to Sussex County Mosquito Control, asking for its notification to be done earlier so that residents could better prepare in the event of aerial spraying.
Three-Minute Idle Law
The commission drafted a resolution and forwarded it to the Vernon Township Council, recommending educating the public of New Jersey’s Three-Minute Idle Law. The governing body approved the resolution, and in conjunction with Chief Randy Mills and the Vernon Township police department, signs educating the public on the Three-Minute Idle Law were erected in Maple Grange Community Park to create greater awareness of the state law. The commission continues to provide signage for other areas in the community.
Open Space Review
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:56A-2 and 40:56A-3, Powers of Commission and Acquisitions by Commission, the Vernon Township Environmental Commission extensively researched open space parcels in the municipality and prospective open space purchases. This responsibility is solely the statutory of the municipal environmental commission, pursuant to N.J.S.A 40:56A-2:
“It [statutorily appointed municipal environmental commission] shall keep an index of all open areas, publicly or privately owned, including open marshland, swamps and other wetlands, in order to obtain information on the proper use of such areas, and may from time to time recommend to the planning board or, if none, to the mayor and governing body of the municipality plans and programs for inclusion in a municipal master plan and the development and use of such areas.”
Camp Sussex Purchase Recommendation
After much research and deliberation, the commission made the recommendation to the Vernon Township Council to purchase the Camp Sussex property on Route 565. This property, which is environmentally sensitive as well as historic to the township, was extremely suitable for passive recreation, tree planting, and a host of activities, including arts and culture for residents of all ages. The property also consists of a theater, which would have been very useful to promote art and culture within the community.
Land Use Board Liaison
The land use board liaison to the commission reported to the commission and vice versa to the land use board all activities between the two statutory bodies.
Review of Revised Highlands Ordinance
The commission reviewed the revised Highland Ordinance and discussed recommendations for same and forwarded them to the land use board.
Review and Discussion of Township Environmental Resource Inventory
The commission held a public workshop on the review and discussion of the current township ERI, educating members of the commission and the public of same and of all the environmentally sensitive zones and areas of the township, including steep slopes, wetlands, headwaters, and so on.
Mountain Creek Indoor Water Park Proposal
The commission held a public meeting with Andrew Mulvihill, owner of Mountain Creek, to discuss the resort’s proposal for an indoor water park. This was a public education outreach meeting, as well as an educational forum for the commissioners and a question-and-answer period with the developer.
Pochuck Mine Discussion and Review
The commission discussed the concerns of the Pleasant Valley Lake community regarding residential units that are under construction atop a sensitive former mine area in the community.
Work with the Vernon Township Historical Society
A. Scenic Byway—The commission worked with the Vernon Township Historical Society on the implementation of a management plan for the Western Highlands Scenic Byway, New Jersey’s eighth officially designated scenic byway by the state department of transportation and the federal government. The scenic byway is within Vernon Township borders, from Route 515 at the Hardyston line to Route 94 at the New York border, and also along Vernon Crossing and Sandhill roads. The commission has representation on the scenic byway management plan committee and will continue to assist with the management plan.
B. Interpretive Signage for the Black Creek Site—The commission is working with the historical society to create a garden for indigenous and medicinal plants at the Black Creek Site. The interpretive signage and the garden are being created through grants the historical society received from two legislative bodies appointed by the state government, the New Jersey Historical Commission and the New Jersey Historic Trust.
Special Presentation and Discussion on the Pilgrim Pipeline
The commission held a public session for a question-and-answer segment with an expert on pipelines who came to speak about the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline that will be constructed in neighboring New York communities and in Bergen County and other areas of the state that intersect with Vernon Township.
VTMUA Proposal to Amend WWMP
The commission held a public meeting with the chairman of the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority and with Mayor Victor Marotta to learn more about the VTMUA’s proposal to study expansion of the sewer area and amendment to the township’s Wastewater Management Plan (WWMP). After lengthy discussion and understanding of the township needs for sewer expansion and concerns about environmental issues that could result from a majority of failing septic systems along Route 94 and into McAfee and its impact on our aquifer, streams and other bodies of water, and groundwater systems, the commission adopted a resolution, recommending to the Vernon Township Council approval of the VTMUA’s proposal to study the issue.
Resolution to Oppose Logging on Public Lands
The environmental commission adopted a resolution opposing commercial logging on state and municipal owned public lands. The resolution was read in person at the Sussex County Freeholder board meeting and at the Vernon Township council meeting. The initial resolution addressed the proposed logging on public lands on Sparta Mountain, but the commission also amended and adopted a subsequent resolution to address public lands in Vernon Township as well. This resolution was forwarded to the Vernon mayor and Vernon Township Council.
Environmental Commissioners’ Terms
At public council meetings and in written correspondence, members of the commission and the commission’s recording secretary addressed the mayor and council regarding the inaccuracies posted on the township website regarding the terms of the environmental commission members. The website continues to contain inaccurate information, and neither the mayor nor the members of the council have addressed these inaccuracies.
Bear Baiting Resolution
The commission adopted a resolution to oppose bear baiting in Vernon Township, citing the many problems associated with bear baiting. Prohibiting bear baiting in the township would keep bears away from unnatural food sources, restore the natural foraging behavior of bears, eliminate the negative impacts to other species, and prevent forest degeneration. The commission forwarded the resolution to the mayor and township council for its consideration.
National Winter Activity Center
On a regular basis since the land use board approved the application, the commission monitored the construction at National Winter Activity Center and did regular site inspections, reporting to the land use board, the township council, the mayor, and the NJDEP massive runoff from the resort, lack of proper or adequate soil retention measures, and siltation and runoff into a trout maintenance stream. The massive runoff from the mountain at NWAC and the removal of hundreds of trees from the property were in violation of the township’s shade tree ordinance, Sussex County Soil Conservation District regulations, NJDEP regulations, and the resolution of approval from the Vernon Township Land Use Board. The matter is currently pending as NWAC has prohibited the Vernon Environmental Commission from conducting its regularly scheduled and duly advertised site inspection meeting at the resort.
7. Approval of Minutes
May 10, 2016 Regular Meeting Minutes
The May meeting minutes were tabled until the July 12, 2016 meeting.
8. Commissioners’ Comments
Dale Disney said it has been a pleasure working with such a passionate, dedicated commission and he was proud to work with everyone and hopes to continue to work with everyone as an environmental commission.
Beverly Budz said the current environmental commission has done great work for the township and has much to be very proud of. She has no intention of turning her back on Vernon Township, on the Vernon Environmental Commission, or on the township’s environment. She said they must go on and not give up, and she believes the township needs an environmental commission, particularly a dedicated one such as the current group of people, and they are not finished in their work to the township.
Richard Carson said the environmental commission provides an essential service to the Township of Vernon. He said the commission provides a layer of protection between the council and the community in terms of being proactive and identifying problem areas and providing documentation to protect the resources of the township. He said it is very ironic that the commission has been the “baby thrown out with the bathwater.” He said he would be remiss if he did not give a tremendous credit to Beverly Budz for all of the work she has done while on the environmental commission and has dedicated her time and her life to the well being of the town. Mr. Carson said it has been his pleasure working with and also making friends with al of the other commission members.
Angi Metler said when Beverly Budz first asked her if she would be willing to serve on the EC, she did not know entirely what it would entail, but it has been a pleasure serving on the commission. She said she has been an environmentalist since the first Earth Day was created, and she is not going to stop being an environmentalist regardless of what this town council and mayor has done. She said she is so impressed by everyone on the commission, and particularly by Beverly Budz, and all that the commission does. She does not want anything to happen to Vernon, but she fears the town’s environment is not going to be in such good hands should the commission be abolished.
Doreen Edwards said she thanks Jessi Paladini for being an awesome secretary and Beverly Budz for being a great leader and environmentalist with so much passion for everything that she does. She said she knows Beverly will never stop caring for the environment. She is very disappointed with the town council for this outcome. She thanked councilmen Dick Wetzel and Patrick Rizzuto for their support at the council meeting and voting against the abolishing of the environmental commission and she said she needs to make a point at future council meetings to tell them their support is noted and thank them for all they do. She said it made her very sad and angry at the same time when she read Mayor Shortway’s Facebook page saying the commission did not do what it was supposed to do. It is very sad that he puts out false information, she said. It is really disturbing to her that he said the commission members did not do their jobs when that is not the truth.
Doreen Edwards moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:07 p.m. Richard Carson seconded the motion. All were in favor.
The next meeting of the Environmental Commission is on July 12, 2016.
Transcribed by Jessica Paladini
Adopted July 26, 2016