1. CALL TO ORDER: 7:05 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) - Chairman - 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 Chairman Furrey and was seconded by Mrs. Kadish. All were in favor. Seeing no one from the public come forward, Chairman Furrey moved to close the meeting to the public, seconded by Mrs. Kadish. All were in favor.
6. LAND USE BOARD (LUB) LIAISON REPORT
Mr. Williams was not present to provide a liaison report.
7. OLD BUSINESS
A. LUB Applications Review - All
Chairman Furrey said that while Mr. Williams is not present to report from or to the LUB, there were two applications to discuss.
i. The Land Conservancy of New Jersey, Lot 2, Block 42, 41 Meadowburn Road
The owner is Tourina, LLC. Applicant is requesting a minor subdivision. Mrs. Kadish thought Meadowburn was a preserved farm. The land contains an environmentally constrained zone with significant environmental features. Mrs. Kadish pointed out wetlands, a stream, boulders, and steep slopes on the diagram and believed there were Indian sites in the area at one time. The application is not for lot development but rather for an open space acquisition of conservation land. Application states that after the subdivision and transfer, property will be held by the National Parks Service as an undeveloped buffer for the Appalachian Trail and that there is no impervious cover. EC did not express concerns or have any objections regarding this application.
ii. LU #11-18-9, Karen Benning, Lots 46 and 48, Block 103.25, Hickory Road, Highland Lakes
November 9 - applicant is requesting a minor subdivision of a vacant lot located between the two lots, giving each lot one half of the vacant lot. Chairman Furrey said this will split Lot 47 in half between Lot 46 and Lot 48, thereby essentially eliminating Lot 47. Mrs. Kadish wondered if the reason the two lots were being expanded was related to the small, vacant lot being substandard ; she did not see a building proposed. Ms. Erichsen remarked that the area is rocky. EC members identified existing wells on the diagram but did not see the location of any septic, and, therefore, stated a concern that wells could be located near a septic. Mrs. Kadish thought setbacks could be a concern if the new property line was too close, and Chairman Furrey replied that the diagram showed there being 47 feet to the proposed line on both sides. EC expressed no other concerns.
B. National Resources Inventory (NRI) - CW/All
Chairman Furrey said he worked on a small portion. He announced that the CDM Smith Net Water Availability study has been finalized, which he said, basically, shows there is still a water deficit but that it has diminished. He said the study included conservation methods to save water. He said he has not shared a copy of the study but plans to include it in the NRI as a collaborative effort between the Highlands Council and Vernon Township. Mr. Cheski said he will provide to Mr. Williams a clear digital format of data pertaining to the Climate section.
C. Sustainable Jersey
Chairman Furrey informed EC members that as a part of the Greenway Action Advisory Committee (GAAC), he received a notification email that the deadline for submitting the application for certification was Sunday, November 18. He said in order to maintain the certification, he spent the better part of yesterday updating and submitting action items, including the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) award that GAAC received as one of the innovative projects
D. 3 Silver Spruce Drive Soil Dumping - MF
Chairman Furrey asked if EC members had had a chance to read the email he sent them, a response letter from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP, also referred to as DEP) Commissioner Catherine McCabe to Representative Josh Gottheimer. Ms. Erichsen found the letter disheartening and wondered if there was a way to have an independent study conducted because she said she does not have faith in the samples that were originally taken by the DEP in January and that the DEP is saying that there is really nothing there that would be hazardous to go forward with any other course of action. She said she does not understand why the stop work order is not being abided by and the dumping continues. Mr. Cheski questioned why the stop work order sign is there (at the entrance of the road leading up to 3 Silver Spruce). Ms. Erichsen asked, if the dumping is continuing, will the DEP take testing periodically to determine what is happening. Chairman Furrey said that he took a sample of the water that was bubbling out of the ground on Eric Gorovoy’s property, which appeared to be coming out like a bubbling stream in an area that also had brick and concrete and explained that the DEP letter was referring to that sample. He said the DEP conveyed that the sample was not representative, that it was not taken properly according to the DEP’s standards or protocol, and that it did not show signs of anything that the DEP considered hazardous. Chairman Furrey said the DEP does not notify when its inspectors go out to the site. He said when Mr. Gorovoy pointed to where he thought Chairman Furrey did take the sample, the person from the DEP saw no evidence of water bubbling out of the ground. Chairman Furrey said they want the DEP to do additional testing. He said the letter mentioned the pending litigation. The Sussex County Soil Conservation District (SCSCD) handles soil erosion and sedimentation control measures and has a stop work order in place. Chairman Furrey said that Vernon Township has issued several zoning violations and is taking Joseph Wallace, owner of the property, to court.
Mayor Shortway sent an email to EC and GAAC regarding his meeting with the acting DEP assistant commissioner while attending the New Jersey State League of the Municipalities. Chairman Furrey said he found the DEP’s assertion that it did not have enough probable cause to do a site investigation rather ridiculous. The DEP refers to the pile as a “stockpile.” Ms. Erichsen questioned how excessive or high the pile has to get before it would be considered hazardous to the people living below it. Chairman Furrey said there is material, solid waste, and the question is whether the soil or the material is hazardous or if it presents an erosion problem. An erosion problem can be covered under the SCSCD measures, and Chairman Furrey said Mr. Wallace has to comply with the SCSCD stop work order and produce an erosion plan to prevent any kind of mudslides or any kind of dirt moving into other people’s property or going into a receiving stream. Chairman Furrey said he went out last Monday to Dan Gannon’s property at 24 Silver Fox Lane, which is south of Silver Spruce and at the end of the cul-de-sac. He estimated Mr. Gannon’s property to be approximately five hundred to a thousand feet from the stockpile. He said he walked Mr. Gannon’s property where he could see the dirt pile, and he took samples of the running stream for bacteria, metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Chairman Furrey said that the results do not show a lot of bacteria but that he has not yet seen the rest of the results because the samples were just taken. He said Mr. Gannon has water running through his property and is very unhappy and concerned about contaminants.
Chairman Furrey said Congressman Gottheimer is not giving up on the issue and is planning to meet with the commissioner to discuss the response letter. Chairman Furrey said he met with the commissioner himself and thought she was a reasonable person until he read the letter, which he believes was written by people in Enforcement and Solid Waste. He said he still finds it very disturbing that the DEP does not see any signs of solid waste and that it does not make any sense to him. He said the only way to determine if it is hazardous or not is to go on the property and test it. Ms. Erichsen asked about how to handle the destruction of the road with the amount of truck activity and all of the piping they are doing. Chairman Furrey said Mr. Wallace crushed a pipe, which Mr. Wallace ended up digging up. Chairman Furrey said a video on Facebook showed that Mr. Wallace came in with crushed brick and stone, dumped it, and went over it with some equipment. He said it is disturbing that the NJDEP and the County cannot do anything about it because it seems they have no enforcement authority over this problem. Ms. Erichsen said there have been instances in other areas where oversight has been ridiculous, where people have just wanted to move a shed, for example, and are required to go through hoops to get it done. She said the other extreme is this gentleman not abiding by the law, who has fines but is not paying them, and the stop work orders are not being enforced. She wanted to know why there are different standards for Mr. Wallace as opposed to anybody else, and Chairman Furrey answered that it is a mystery to him.
He said he thinks one of the things they will do is to try to meet with Congressman Gottheimer, Mayor Shortway, along with some experts to see if federal funding is available for site investigation. Chairman Furrey said there are some things that can be done without obtaining access to the Wallace property. Ms. Erichsen asked if Mr. Wallace can be required to fenced everything in. She presented a scenario in which children were playing nearby the mountainous pile and everything started to fall off the top of it, and Chairman Furrey replied that this would be addressed with the zoning violations. He said the current zoning violations will be addressed in court, and his understanding of the zoning violations court case is that it got moved from Sparta back to Vernon. He said the DEP has not shown interest in getting involved and has expressed that it is a local issue. Chairman Furrey said he gave information to the Star Ledger, and while the article has not been written yet, he believes the newspaper will be covering the issue soon. He said he does not think this will go away and that (investigative reporter) Eric Obernauer from the New Jersey Herald will continue to write about it. Chairman Furrey said they wrote a letter to the senator requesting tougher laws. He said the Mayor Shortway and Town Council will be looking into other ordinances surrounding movement of dirt material, stockpiling, to try to make it more strict, and that he thinks it points to the matter being taken over locally. Chairman Furrey said normally if there is a violation, there is an expectation and hope that if it was brought to the regulators that the issue would be addressed, which is not the case. He said it seems that something is not right but what they need to do is stay on top of it and continue to do what they are doing and asked EC members for feedback.
Mr. Cheski said he thinks Mr. Wallace is $50,000 behind in taxes and asked how long before the property is foreclosed. Chairman Furrey responded that the sticking point is if the township ends up owning the property, then the township becomes responsible for any kind of environmental cleanup, which is what everyone wants to avoid. He said Congressman Gottheimer, Mayor Shortway, and Town Council are not going anywhere, and he believes they will continue to fight it. Chairman Furrey said the first step would be to do a proper evaluation according to DEP protocol, a site investigation, by doing core sampling, which involves going down into the soil using Geoprobes and then going down into the aquifer to take water samples. He said this procedure is used by engineering firms and site remediation companies. He said that is what the DEP was expressing in the letter regarding the sampling he did and that he understood somewhat the point being made. He said, though, that they have some evidence of lead contamination and feel that it is sufficient probable cause to do some more site investigation. Mr. Cheski wondered if they could go to the federal government about what Mr. Wallace has done, and Chairman Furrey replied that Congressman Gottheimer might be able to help seek federal funding. Chairman Furrey answered Ms. Erichsen that bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food product but that the standards are not as strict as drinking water. Ms. Erichsen said as far as the dumping, she believes there are other avenues to take that have to be figured out. She said that perhaps with increasing press and more focus on the issue, they will be forced to do something. She said in this environment, people are not forced to do something until people rise up and say something about it. She believes some people in Vernon Township do not know as well as other people in the county do not know that this is happening all over New Jersey. She said she does not think they should just accept that the DEP decided that that was the outcome. Chairman Furrey revealed that Mayor Shortway said Assemblyman Hal Wirths is interested in co-sponsoring a law similar to Senator Smith’s bill and that the assemblyman is the only person from the county interested in doing something about the dumping.
E. Open Space Referendum - Greener by Design (GBD)
EC members agreed with Chairman Furrey that they were pleased that it passed. Chairman Furrey said a significant amount of people voted. Ms. Erichsen said maybe it should not sound so complicated, that people did not seem to understand what it was about, and that people were misinformed. Chairman Furrey agreed and wondered how it should have been worded and said one of the things that was confusing was the list of examples of possible uses, which people interpreted as something that was definitely going to happen. Also, there were people concerned about it falling on the taxpayer, to which Chairman Furrey said it would not because it is money that already exists in a fund. He said members of the public attended the last GAAC meeting, which he felt was rough but that there was a civil discussion about passive recreation, including horseback riding being considered along with hiking and biking. He said the concern was that there was no plan but rather just a wish list. He said they did have a plan that they had been working on for two years, which he said he shared with attendees. There was a map drawn out and a cleared-out path as well as a breakdown of costs, including Town Engineer Corey Stoner’s costs. Chairman Furrey said they explained that any kind of plan needs to go before the Open Space Committee, which is Town Council. He said GAAC members invited Mr. Dennis Miranda and anyone else to attend GAAC meetings to provide input on how money from the fund is used and to offer input about the plan. Chairman Furrey said they are going to be focusing on the Town Center Trail, which is between Town Center and Mountain Creek. He said some of the trail has already been cleared out and they are possibly looking to put together construction plans and perhaps move forward in the spring. Mr. Cheski pointed out there were opposition letters published in the local newspaper. Chairman Furrey said hopefully there will continue to be support, and the EC will have involvement in the efforts.
F. Resolution to Ban Balloons, Polystyrene, Plastic Bags, and Plastic Straws - MC
Chairman Furrey said he saw on CBS’s Sunday Morning that Seattle was the first large city to ban plastic straws. He said he thinks it is worth writing a resolution. Mr. Cheski asked members to take out their copies of documents about bans in Rahway, Maplewood, and Secaucus. He found the Rahway information to be reasonable in that it easily explained to the general public compared to Maplewood’s. He had some questions, created an outline, made some changes, and thought by now everyone would have had a chance to look at it. Chairman Furrey replied that he read it and agreed with Mr. Cheski that the Rahway one was better. Mrs. Kadish asked what was happening with the state legislation. Chairman Furrey responded that it is back in front of the Senate in a different form and is still being considered. Mrs. Kadish said she thinks she read that an area in the Hudson Valley just banned plastics. Chairman Furrey said there have been several towns doing it, including towns in southern New Jersey. He asked Mr. Cheski if he would like to write the resolution and then present it to Town Council. Mr. Cheski responded that when looking at the resolutions of other towns, there are certain terms that would need to be avoided because he said he does not have adequate knowledge about the subject. He said that ANJEC sent and approved the Rahway document. Mr. Cheski said he thinks the most important part is Section 217-6, “Findings and purpose.”
Mr. Cheski said after reading through, he does not think balloons could be included because it includes the release of balloons. He thought that balloons should be done but separate and said he has heard that wildlife die as a result of consuming balloons that have dropped. He agreed to send to the EC for review what he had prepared to discuss, and then they will draft a resolution. Mr. Cheski thought perhaps EC members should go through some of the items. Mrs. Kadish wondered if they wanted to deal with the farms immediately. Chairman Furrey said the purpose of the resolution is to educate, to bring awareness as an outreach. Mr. Cheski said he will type up the purpose without getting into violations, penalties or enforcement. He said he likes the definitions, which describe who is considered a retail food vendor.
Mr. Cheski pondered whether incineration should be mentioned in the document. Ms. Erichsen said that she is trying to get recycling back in Great Gorge Village where she resides and that Mr. Dan Kadish kindly spoke to a Comet representative. Ms. Erichsen said Mr. Kadish was going to find out from the freeholders but was told that the recycling is not necessary because there are people there who separate the garbage. Mrs. Kadish said that at the landfill there are huge mounds with tough plastic sheathing over it and that the methane is collected. Chairman Furrey offered to work on the balloon resolution, and the goal is to have both draft resolutions completed by the next meeting. Mrs. Kadish felt that there should be educational programs about trying to reduce the use of plastics.
G. Black Bear Hunt, Garbage Disposal Regulations - MC
Mr. Cheski stated he did not want to go into the reasons why he has still not received the information but thought they were good ones. He requested for it to be on the agenda for December’s meeting.
8. NEW BUSINESS
Chairman Furrey asked if EC members had any new business topics to be considered as an agenda item for the next meeting.
9. LUB APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW
LUB liaison Mr. Williams was not present for this agenda item.
10. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
A. October 15, 2018 - Regular Meeting Minutes
Motion to approve the minutes was made by Ms. Erichsen and seconded by Mrs. Kadish. All were in favor. (Note: Mr. Cheski had not read the minutes in completion.)
11. COMMISSIONERS’ COMMENTS
Chairman Furrey asked if there were any additional comments. The next EC meeting will be held on December 17. He said he has not checked the terms of members but asked them to let him know if they wanted to continue next year.
Chairman Furrey sent the letter from the DEP out to EC members and asked if members received the email (from the mayor) from the mayor which talks about the mayor, (township attorney) Mr. Zielinski, and Congressman Gottheimer spending “much time on this horrendous situation...some of you know that members of my administration, Council President, and I met with the acting DEP [deputy] commissioner...during the League of Municipalities...we did learn...a new standard of probable cause titled, ’techie probable cause’...has not been established at Silver Spruce. This was explained by...Mrs. Wormley. It is clearly evident that the DEP will reinvent legal standards and redefine the operations at Silver Spruce in order to not conduct a comprehensive investigation that includes bore testing. I can only conclude the DEP and our current governor consider the operator’s commercial interests more important than the safety and wellbeing of our residents and environment. Our plan of action...is...Congressman Gottheimer will meet with the commissioner...research into creating another ordinance that addresses the “movement” of soil, dirt, and other similar materials, continued interview with the press.” Chairman Furrey said that that is all they can really do.
Motion to adjourn was made by Mrs. Kadish and seconded by Chairman Furrey. All were in favor. Meeting adjourned: 8:06 p.m.
Minutes submitted by Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary