1. CALL TO ORDER: 7:10 p.m.
2. STATEMENT OF COMPLIANCE
Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 213, PL 1975, adequate notice as defined in Section 3D of Chapter 231, PL 1975 of this regular meeting has been provided to the public and the press on January 22, 2018 by delivering to the press such notice and posting same at the municipal building and filed with the office of the township clerk as well as posted on the township website.
3. SALUTE TO THE FLAG
4. ROLL CALL
Michael Furrey (MF) - Chair - P
Carol Kadish (CK) - P
Michael Cheski (MC) - P
Angela Erichsen (AE) - P
Craig Williams (CW) - A
ALSO PRESENT - Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary
5. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Mrs. Kadish and was seconded by Mr. Furrey. All were in favor. Seeing no one from the public come forward, motion to close the meeting to the public was made by Mr. Furrey and was seconded by Mr. Cheski. All were in favor.
6. LAND USE BOARD (LUB) LIAISON REPORT
Mr. Williams was not in attendance to report.
7. OLD BUSINESS
a. LUB Application Review
Ms. Erichsen, who is an alternate member of the LUB, said she received an email today informing her that the LUB is cancelling their meeting next week due to having no pending applications.
b. Review of Railroad Issue - Vernon Crossing to Sand Hill - MF
The cleanup is continuing, and the health department is reporting regularly back to the mayor. Mr. Furrey described the sequence of events: Last year, all along the railroad tracks, there was a significant amount of dumping of railroad ties and other railroad debris. Mr. Furrey and Mr. Williams walked the railroad tracks, took pictures and sent them to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP did not do anything but referred the matter to the health department. The issue then went back to the DEP. Then Mayor Shortway got people involved at a higher level, which resulted in it getting referred once again back to the health department. At that point, Mr. Furrey and Mayor Shortway along with the representatives from the health department went to inspect the site. The health department then warned the railroad company that it needed to clean up the site or it would be issued violations. No violations had to be issued because the railroad company brought in numerous dumpsters and began the cleanup process and made a considerable effort. The area is along the railroad from the Hardyston border all the way up to New York State in Warwick. The area the EC was particularly focused on was the Vernon Crossing area to Sand Hill because of the wetlands. Railroad ties were literally being thrown into the wetlands. The EC gave to the health department Jamie Rickey’s complaint about the area heading north going into Warwick. The health department followed up with the railroad company, which then began cleaning that area. Mr. Furrey is not aware of what the company has done, though, north of Vernon Crossing going up to the New York State line. Mr. Furrey answered Ms. Erichsen that the name of the railroad company is Susquehanna. Mr. Cheski and Mr. Furrey said that there are piles of railroad ties on the right-hand side along 515 when turning right from Route 23 by the now-closed restaurant, Jorgensen. Mr. Cheski made the analogy of stripping tar shingles off a roof, replacing the roof, and then leaving shingles on the ground everywhere to what the railroad had been doing with their materials. Mrs. Kadish said the cleanup would be good publicity for the railroad and Mr. Furrey responded yes to Mrs. Kadish’s inquiry that the EC should contact the NJ Herald when the job is completed to the EC’s satisfaction.
Ms. Erichsen asked if we partner with Hardyston and Warwick in the cleanup effort. Mr. Furrey responded that he is amenable to Ms. Erichsen’s contacting Hardyston, and Mrs. Kadish said she is not sure whether or not Hardyston has an environmental commission. Ms. Erichsen would ascertain if such a commission exists. Mr. Furrey said the EC can only control what is within its borders, and while its members might care about the surrounding towns, the main focus of this EC is the Township of Vernon. However, he said that contacting the authorities of the neighboring town to inform them of how Vernon started its cleanup process could be helpful. He said Mrs. Erichsen could share at the next EC meeting what she found out after contacing Hardyston. Mr. Furrey said that Mayor Shortway had been quite clear with the health department that this cleanup needed to happen. Mrs. Kadish said that the railroad project worked and that the company could have played hardball where it ended up in court. Mr. Furrey added that the railroad company could have just said no and been issued violations, but instead they did the right thing. Mr. Furrey said the EC could confirm the project’s completion in the spring by walking the site, taking pictures, and then approaching the NJ Herald for some positive publicity. The health department and the railroad company were concerned about safety and took the issue seriously. He said this item will remain on the agenda until its completion.
c. Open Space - The Land Conservancy and Greener By Design (GBD) Proposal
Mr. Furrey said Greener By Design submitted an updated proposal. He said the EC members feel that open space should be within the purview of the EC. He explained that a couple of years ago, the EC entered yearly contracts with The Land Conservancy in order to review and to facilitate the process of open space purchases. The EC was not satisfied with the way The Land Conservancy handled matters, so the EC approached a company called Greener By Design (GBD), which does work similar to the Land Conservancy. The EC had a proposal from The Land Conservancy and got an alternate proposal last year from GBD. Mr. Furrey said that after GBD did a presentation for the town council and did not get a great reception, the company rescinded the proposal. Mr. Furrey said the EC approached GBD to request another proposal, which the company did submit. Mr. Furrey said Mayor Shortway met with GBD to go over the scope of work, including open space purchases, assisting with Green Acres, and helping the Greenway Committee with the trailway system. Mr. Furrey said the proposal was slightly different but is basically the same proposal that was submitted last year. Mr. Cheski asked if the EC or the GAAC would review the proposal prior to it being presented at the town council meeting, and Mr. Furrey answered that he would check with the mayor. Mrs. Kadish stated that GBD is contracted by the Township, and Mr. Furrey said they are contracted with the town council. Mrs. Kadish said that GBD provides their services to GAAC and to the EC. Mr. Furrey added that GBD is the mayor’s designee and that, if hired, GBD would work with the Greenway Committee and the EC.
Mr. Furrey said that the open space fund is the fund that Vernon Township has collected over the years that currently has nearly a million dollars. Mrs. Kadish said the town had a two cent tax years ago, and Mr. Furrey added that the tax stopped at least ten years ago. Mr. Furrey said he believes there was an open space tax for five years. He said the money in the open space fund is earmarked only for purchases of open space. Mrs. Kadish said that GBD might have knowledge of other funding sources. Mr. Furrey agreed and said that the company is good at leveraging money. He said the open space purchase process allows for leveraging the use of township funds against county open space funding, Green Acres funding from the state, and that this is GBD’s area of expertise. Mr. Furrey said that GBD also did a presentation a long time ago to the Greenway Committee. He stated that Bob Canace, who is now with GBD, used to work with The Land Conservancy. Mr. Furrey thinks GBD is knowledgeable and very good.
Mr. Furrey responded to Ms. Erichsen’s question about areas being considered for open space purchases. He said the last property that was looked at was last year, the Masker property, and the open space purchase never materialized. He said there were some issues with the land use as well as issues during Phase One when soil samples showed high levels of mercury and arsenic. Mrs. Kadish said there is an ongoing proposal to have a greenway down the center of Vernon from Warwick to Crystal and that there are a couple of pieces missing. Mr. Furrey said the Masker property is in between Canal Road and Maple Grange Park, and that was a connector that the EC wanted to purchase. He said that in addition to the soil problems, some properties had encroachment issues on the Masker property where oil tanks had been dumped. Mr. Cheski said the bank did not want to clean it up. Mr. Furrey elaborated and said that Sussex Bank owned the property and that the township decided it did not want to pay for the cleanup and take on any liability. Mr. Furrey said there were other properties that were looked at for open space purchase, such as the horse farm above Masker property, which is for sale. He said there is a “for sale” sign on the Masker property, but he believes the sign is for the track. He said it is not clear if the Masker property was bought from the bank. Mr. Furrey said GBD sent information about the horse farm property to determine if the township had an interest in purchasing the property. Mr. Cheski asked what could be done with it and that a right-of-way would be needed. Mr. Furrey said there are two other properties that are of interest. One is located across from the Tracks Deli, which is a concrete structure that was the old creamery and is a connector piece for the greenway from the township down to Vernon Crossing. The other property of interest is the Baldwin property, which is along the greenway. Ms. Erichsen asked why GBD felt they received such resistance, and Mr. Furrey answered that the feedback he received was that when GBD did the presentation for the town council, GBD did not feel that the town council seemed receptive to pursuing open space and so GBD rescinded the proposal. Mr. Furrey said the town council did not even get to vote on the proposal. He said that now there is a new town council, GBD will present again. He said if the town council approves the proposal, then the EC will work directly with GBD if the EC pursues open space. EC members agreed that contracting with GBD would be a good idea, and GBD will be presenting to the town council at a future town council meeting.
Mr. Furrey said there is also a possible non-binding referendum in November to change the use of the open space funds. It would not be final but would allow the public input about the possibility of using a percentage of the township’s open space fund for maintenance of the paths or recreation. He said that right now the fund only allows for purchases of open space but that there is a movement towards changing that so a certain percentage of the fund could be used for recreation, such as building paths or maintenance. He said most towns have an open space fund that allow for such use. Mrs. Kadish said it can get contentious because people have different ideas of how the funds should be used. For example, some people want a new ball field or a trail while others want to protect an endangered animal habitat. Mr. Furrey added that the use of the funds is probably not as defined as it should be. He said the county changed the way the open space fund could be used—he thinks it passed in November—so the money could be used for that purpose. Mrs. Kadish said one year many years ago the county put the open space fund into the general fund, to which EC members agreed was wrong.
Mr. Furrey said if they contract with GBD, GBD’s expertise could help sell the concept of broadening the use of the open space fund to the public. In addition, GBD has access to a lot of money. Mr. Cheski added that GBD works for various townships so they understand the ins and outs and strategies of securing grant money and land acquisition. Mr. Cheski said GBD knows the mission of the EC, what its members are trying to accomplish with the greenway, and that GBD would work towards fulfilling those goals. Mr. Furrey said GBD’s proposal and presentation will be on the next town council meeting agenda.
d. Tree Grant - MC/MF
Mr. Furrey said a decision was made to discontinue the grant because of many difficulties. He said there was only a certain amount of money in the grant to pay for tree planting, and the bidding process resulted in prices that were too high. Mr. Cheski explained that the prices were too high for the amount that could be used. Mr. Furrey said there was a problem because one of the requirements of getting the grant was having a tree management plan and that they did not have one. Mr. Cheski said that the forester pretty much failed them. Mr. Furrey said that while the forester was not contracted to do a tree management plan, he was contracted to help with the tree grant and did not do a good job. Mr. Furrey explained that the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGPL) project resulted in a tree grant, which allotted a certain amount of money for planting trees. Mr. Cheski had the figures available. The town’s budget was $280 per tree, but the three requests for proposal were all too high and came in at $300 per tree, $400 per tree, and $625 per tree. Mr. Furrey said there was a possibility in the next phase of purchasing more trees to get the price down (price per tree would drop because of increased number of trees purchased), but that did not work out. Mr. Furrey believes one of the main reasons the tree grant did not occur was because the state came back and stated that there was no tree management plan, which was required. Mr. Furrey said his understanding was that the DEP was supposed to advise that this tree management plan was mandatory before it even issued the grant. Mr. Cheski asked what would happen to the grant money. Ms. Erichsen asked if it was possible to use the grant with fewer trees, but Mr. Furrey replied that the only way to do it was to have more trees to lower the cost per tree. Mrs. Kadish said the trees had to go on only township property and that it was hard finding enough sites. Mr. Cheski said the forester from the state attended the Vernon EC meeting when the grant was initially being discussed. He said the forester stated they had to sue (Governor) Christie’s administration to get back the grant money that TGPL had given to the state. He said this grant money had been allotted for various towns to buy more trees, but Christie’s administration took these grants and re-appropriated them elsewhere. Mr. Cheski said that is why they were in a rush to get this grant through. Mr. Cheski said TGPL removed more trees than they should have removed, and he was one of the volunteers who watched what the people from TGPL were doing. He said that is what pushed TGPL to move ahead with the grant, and he was involved with the grant process. Mr. Furrey said that this is a new state forester and a new DEP that said that legally the grant should never even have started without a tree management plan. Mr. Furrey had mentioned this information to Ron Farr. Mr. Furrey questioned whether some of the money from the grant could be used to have forester Ron Farr do a tree management plan, but he does not think that was ever done. Mr. Furrey said the original forester lost his job. Mrs. Kadish said that if the trees did not grow, then the town was required to pay for the trees that died. Mr. Cheski said he put a lot of time and effort into the grant and is disappointed with the outcome. Mr. Furrey agreed.
8. NEW BUSINESS
a. GAAC Trail Clearing
Mr. Furrey said they cleared the trail in the Town Center, which went well and will continue. He said the Greenway Committee is having a Trail Day on Sunday, March 4. He said the meeting place will be in the parking lot situated near the solar panels, down Black Creek Drive, past where Master’s Plumbing had been located.
b. Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) - CW/MF
Mr. Furrey said that Mr. Williams had previously emailed all the documents pertaining to the previous NRI. Mr. Williams had also compiled data and created a detailed spreadsheet containing clickable references and the areas of the entire NRI, which was emailed to EC members. Mr. Furrey said the spreadsheet will be used to track the EC’s progress on the NRI. One of the EC’s responsibilities is being tasked with updating the NRI, which is required every ten years. Mr. Furrey said the EC will also update other documents pertaining to the NRI with the purpose of having the NRI updated to 2018. The spreadsheet has different sections. Mr. Furrey said as a water expert he would take the water section. He asked the members to review the spreadsheet to determine their areas of interest or expertise. Some of the areas are water, natural heritage program, wildlife, soils, vegetation, climate, and air quality, among other sections. At the next EC meeting, members will be assigned sections of the NRI to update. Ms. Erichsen asked if it would be set up so that one area would be done and then overlaid with another section. Mr. Furrey said that layering and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping is actually the big goal, but there would have to be an engineering department. He said the county has the ability to do it, but he does not believe the township has this ability. Mrs. Kadish said that layering would be wonderful, and ideally the overlay would be available at the LUB during the application process.
Mrs. Kadish asked if there had been a budget hearing for the EC, and Mr. Furrey said the budget is low, which essentially allows for not much more than a recording secretary. Mr. Furrey, however, had asked for the mapping to be in the budget. Mrs. Kadish suggested grant funding. Mr. Furrey said he thinks the source of the grant for mapping may come from the Highlands Council. He said the water study being conducted came from a Highlands Council grant. Mr. Furrey said that he went on the Highlands Council website. He saw many grants available to Vernon. He found the grant for $80,000. He said pursuing it was as simple as making a phone call and going down to the Highlands Council office. Then $57,000 of the $80,000 went to the township. Mr. Furrey said there are other grants that are available through the Highlands Council, and grants were available in previous years. He said Sustainable Jersey(r) will award points towards certification for completing an NRI. Mr. Furrey explained that Sustainable Jersey is a sustainability program that the Greenway Committee went through and received a bronze level of certification, which recognized the township as a sustainable community. Mr. Furrey said the NRI is under the purview of the EC and is one of the main functions of the EC. He said the purpose of the NRI is for the LUB’s use as a guide during the application process. Mr. Furrey said it is a big project that will take a long time. The spreadsheet will have another column added, and the recording secretary will track the members’ progress on the NRI updates.
c. Vernon Gas Station Review
Mr. Williams was not in attendance to discuss and the item was carried to the next meeting. Mr. Furrey explained that Mr. Williams wanted to review gas stations of the entire township to deal with potential contamination issues.
9. LUB APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW
There were no LUB applications to review.
10. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
a. August 21, 2017
Mrs. Kadish made a motion to approve the minutes seconded by Mr. Cheski.
Mr. Furrey-abstained, Mrs. Kadish-aye, Ms. Erichsen-abstained, Mr. Cheski- aye. Minutes were approved.
b. November 20, 2017
Mr. Furrey made a motion to approve the minutes seconded by Mrs. Kadish.
Mr. Furrey-aye, Mrs. Kadish-aye, Ms. Erichsen-abstained, Mr. Cheski-aye. Minutes were approved.
Mr. Furrey asked the recording secretary to send the minutes to the township so the minutes could get posted as soon as possible.
Ms. Erichsen had asked Mr. Williams in the beginning at the first meeting about whether overlay was done in the township. Mr. Williams had told her that that there were thousands of parcels and to distill the information down was probably not worth the cost. She felt it would be more useful to overlay the tax map sheets to be able to call up any of the plates on a sheet-by-sheet basis to get a reasonable idea what is present in any particular lot and block and its surrounding environs. She said the question of where to start depends upon its topographical areas of contamination, wildlife protection, etc. Ms. Erichsen said then we should pick an area and do it. Mr. Furrey said no matter what it is, it is going to cost money.
11. COMMISSIONERS’ COMMENTS
a. Water Testing
Mr. Furrey would like to add water testing as an agenda item for the next meeting. He went to a statewide presentation where he learned that the Township of Vernon has the highest level of radioactive contamination in private wells in the entire state, which include uranium, radon, and radium. He said the radon is air testing, and the water testing is all of it. Mr. Furrey said the state ran a grant program for the Township of Vernon and offered private well testing for a lot of people in the township. Public well testing was not available in this program. Mr. Furrey said he has concerns about how the state is administering the program. He said he thinks that testing is important and wants to make it a topic of discussion what the EC can do to bring public awareness to this issue. Mr. Furrey said his water company’s laboratory does not do this particular type of very specialized testing. He said there is only one lab in New Jersey that does this type of testing. He said he learned that the state has funding sources for water treatment if needed for the township. He said that the DEP selected Vernon because of the high levels of radioactive contamination. Mrs. Kadish said it is definitely something the EC should discuss but be careful not to scare the public. Mr. Cheski asked if it could be in our water and we are not aware of it. Mr. Furrey said there are different ways to test and explained that a gross alpha test could test for all of them, and then other tests could be done for follow up. He said that they did a lot of well testing when they did the pipeline testing. He said at that time they tested for gross alpha, and a lot of samples were positive for uranium. Mr. Furrey said the “Radon Belt” goes up Hunterdon County, through Morris County, parts of Sussex County, and into Bergen County. Mrs. Kadish asked if this information should be in the geology section of the NRI, and Mr. Furrey said it probably should be. Ms. Erichsen asked if there is a high concentration of cancer in this area. Mr. Furrey was not aware of whether or not the state had plans to do studies on cancer clusters. He said he is in contact with the state because a couple of people asked him to look at the test results, and he is learning as much as he possibly can about it. He said he is particularly interested in the EC looking into it, collecting facts, and then ultimately bringing public awareness about this important issue. Mr. Furrey said he does not think the state handled the water testing program properly and that some of the people in the program had a bad experience because he said they did not feel as if they knew what steps to take next after the state provided them with the testing results. Mr. Furrey said that public water is required to be tested as a matter of their routine. Ms. Erichsen said that all of the water comes from the aquifer in the valley, so it does not matter if it is public or private. Mr. Furrey said the testing results were random in that two neighboring wells could have very different results.
b. Secaucus Resolution to Ban Polystyrene
Mr. Cheski brought in information about the Secaucus resolution to ban polystyrene (trade mark name Styrofoam) from the town. He shared a document regarding ANJEC and Sustainable Jersey and reports of what occurred after the ban was instituted. Mr. Cheski said he noticed that it is a category with Sustainable Jersey which is worth quite a lot of points (towards certification). Mr. Furrey said we should pursue it. Mrs. Kadish and Ms. Erichsen said there could be pros and cons to it. Mr. Cheski did not see a down side to the ban. Mr. Furrey said this topic will be added as a new business agenda item for the next meeting.
Motion to adjourn was made by Mrs. Kadish and seconded by Mr. Cheski. All were in favor. Meeting adjourned: 8:16 p.m.
Minutes submitted by Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary