Vernon Township

21 Church Street, Vernon, NJ 07462
Phone: 973.764.4055

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Minutes: September 19, 2022

Vernon Township Environmental Commission

September 19, 2022 General Meeting Minutes

Vernon Township Municipal Building, 7 PM

The meeting was called to order at 7:05 PM by Chair Diane Wexler.

Diane read the Statement of Compliance. She then led the Commissioners in the pledge of allegiance and salute to the flag.

Roll call was taken for attendance – present were:

  • DIANE WEXLER, Chair
  • CATHERINA SAWOSZCZYK
  • CRAIG WILLIAMS, Vice Chair, Liaison to Land Use Board
  • MARGARET DISTASI

Absent was BONNIE TADRICK.

GENERAL MEETING:

Approval of Minutes, August 15, 2022 Meeting

The commissioners agreed to approve the August 15 meeting minutes via unanimous consent vote.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Agenda Items Only)

Diane Wexler opened the meeting to public comments on agenda items.

Glenwood resident and Vernon Township MUA representative Kristin Wheaton stepped forward to speak. She said that she was looking forward to working with the commissioners on a township septic hauling program, with the goals of reducing costs to taxpayers and making improvements that will benefit the local environment. Diane Wexler agreed to provide Ms. Wheaton with a copy of the research dossier that the commissioners have already put together on this topic.

Upon conclusion of Ms. Wheaton’s remarks, Diane closed the meeting to public comments. Ms. Wheaton, however, was given permission to participate in closed session as a special guest due to her relevant knowledge and expertise as a member of the MUA board.

LAND USE BOARD – LIAISON REPORT

Land Use Board Liaison Craig Williams reported that he was not in attendance at the August 24 meeting, but had been able to look over the minutes. He stated that, at this particular meeting, the board reviewed a recently commissioned redevelopment study, which concluded that Block 525, Lot 19 (161 New Jersey State Route 94) qualifies for inclusion in the township’s redevelopment area. Craig said that the Land Use Board then passed a motion to recommend to the township council that this land parcel be designated an area in need of redevelopment. Craig mentioned that the Land Use Board also passed a motion granting Andrew Pilgrim a variance to build a covered front porch at 5 Susan Valley Terrace, Vernon Township (Block 448, Lot 23) at this meeting, and discussed but took no action on a farmland preservation proposal made at this time by Board Planner Jessica Caldwell.

Craig next gave a report on the September 14 Land Use Board meeting, at which he was in attendance. He said that a major focus of this meeting was a presentation made by the Land Conservancy on the open space and recreation plan update. Craig then stated that an application from Veolia Water New Jersey that was scheduled to be reviewed at this meeting was rescheduled to be heard at the next one, on September 28, because the legal notice to the public was incorrect. He concluded his report by noting that the Land Use Board passed a resolution declaring Block 525, Lot 19 an area in need of redevelopment at this meeting.

OLD BUSINESS

August Transfer Station Meeting:  Diane Wexler stated that this meeting was primarily an introductory meeting to allow the participants to become acquainted, to discuss the backstory of how the transfer station and septic hauling project came into existence, and to outline some of the issues that need to be worked out before implementation—including how to make sure that collected waste is attributed properly; how to pay for the brochures that will educate the public about this initiative; how to get SCMUA, which may stand to lose considerable funds with this arrangement, to cooperate; and how to gain support from Vernon residents for this project.

Diane announced that the next transfer station meeting will take place September 27. She said that only two people from the Vernon Environmental Commission can attend these meetings at a time, so she asked Peg Distasi and Craig Williams to serve as permanent representatives, and offered to serve as an alternate and attend when one of them is not available. Peg and Craig agreed.

Septic System Disposal & Educational Materials:  Peg Distasi stated that the proposed town ordinance to mandate regular septic system maintenance and servicing should serve as a starting point for public outreach activities.

Kristin Wheaton pointed out that it is not necessary for municipalities to have their own transfer stations to institute a town-wide septic hauling program.

Peg mentioned that the Lake Wallkill lake community have already required property owners to undertake regular septic maintenance. Catherina Sawoszczyk inquired about the enforcement mechanisms involved; Diane said that the mandates were written into their association by-laws.

Catherina reminded the other commissioners that they had decided in the last VEC meeting to start the public education process; Diane remarked that they could certainly lay the groundwork for all other aspects of the project by educating residents about the importance of keeping their septics clean. Peg brought up the idea of suggesting that the town council form subcommittees to handle various aspects of the project, ensuring more ongoing dialogue and planning rather than just discussions at monthly meetings. Diane mentioned that ANJEC (Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions) may have a brochure on the environmental benefits of regular septic maintenance, which could help them get the ball rolling while simultaneously working out the nuts and bolts of the town initiative.

Peg questioned how the division of labor between the Commission and MUA would be worked out, with one scenario being that the commissioners would handle the public education piece and the MUA would oversee the technical implementation of the project. Diane suggested that these details would likely be fleshed out at the September 27 meeting.

The commissioners brainstormed on how best to disseminate educational materials to maximize awareness and understanding in the community. Ideas included placing educational links on the VEC website; sending brochures out with tax bill mailings; distributing brochures through realtors, inspectors, and other professionals involved in real estate transactions; doing a special mailing to owners of rental properties to educate them on the need to maintain the septic systems of their properties; holding a special workshop with real estate professionals to educate them about the importance of regular septic system care and maintenance; working through the Vernon women’s club to get the information out; and placing brochures in strategic town hall locations. Diane offered to contact ANJEC to see if she could secure their brochures on septic maintenance for free in bulk. Catherina suggested they work through local middle and high school science classes and environmental clubs to disseminate the information to students, which they could then bring home to their parents.

Kristin Wheaton mentioned that the MUA committee meeting that the commissioners attended in August was held by the transfer station subcommittee, adding that she is not part of that group and is looking primarily at the septic hauling aspect of the project. Diane proposed that she start sending Kristin copies of the monthly meeting agenda so that she knows when best to attend their meetings.

Craig Williams suggested that they start looking at sources of funding to help defray the costs associated with the educational outreach piece of this initiative.

Kristin asked that the commissioners send her more information on the potential ordinance and how might fit into the overall initiative. Craig agreed to do so.

Catherina asked if there is any way to get septic companies to focus just on collecting from Vernon at specific times, making it easier to credit the waste. Craig replied that he had sketched out an idea in which they would create septic financial districts, concentrating and rotating monthly services on one zone at a time. He reasoned that they might be able to offer discounts to homeowners through this mechanism by cutting back on the travel costs associated with each outing—a real selling point for the overall project.

Kristin maintained that if the township could do septage hauling without the major capital investment of installing a transfer station, it would be a win-win situation for everyone involved. Catherina said that, without the transfer station in place, it would just be matter of arranging the coordination of community services. Craig added that we have to ascertain whether or not these arrangements would be acceptable to SCMUA. Kristin stated that she needs to speak to the MUA chair, to her colleagues on the MUA board, and to Donelle Bright, the township’s chief financial officer, about how best to approach them; she offered to help bring the commissioners into these conversations once they are arranged.

The commissioners and special guest Kristin Wheaton concluded this part of the proceedings by discussing potential issues with attributing the waste and sketching out potential solutions, including a registry program for the servicers that would require them to document Vernon as the source. Kristin offered to review the chains of custody and tracking procedures of potential septic haulers, which could yield an effective mechanism for crediting the waste. Diane reiterated that there would likely be resistance from SCMUA due to the strong possibility that they would lose money in this equation. Peg agreed to work with Kristin on doing additional research into this topic.

Solar Panels/Grants:  Diane Wexler questioned how to move forward on anything requiring or employing solar power when there are so many prohibitive rules and requirements in place for solar power generation in their area. Craig Williams noted that other municipalities in the general vicinity have managed to install impressive amounts of solar arrays and facilities, wondering aloud why it is proving so difficult in Vernon. Diane reminded the other commissioners that the township, as an employer, is required to meet a mandatory state benchmark of 25% plug-in capacity by 2025, so something will be to be figured out in relatively short order. Craig suggested they go through the Board of Public Utilities to figure out how to make this happen, rather than going through JCP&L, which offered little assistance and presented nothing but roadblock after roadblock. He also said he needs to confirm JCP&L’s 40% solar carrying capacity regulation. Peg Distasi offered to research related grant programs.

At this point, the commissioners embarked on a side discussion of proposed capital projects in the township and their potential environmental implications.

NEW BUSINESS

Chemical Free Parks:  Peg Distasi mentioned that she previously distributed information via email about the possibility of the township committing to a chemical-free park program. Catherina Sawoszczyk inquired whether the township’s ongoing use of mosquito sprays would be prohibitive. Peg indicated yes, so the commissioners concluded that the township would not be able to participate.

EPA Grants:  Peg Distasi said she will continue her research into EPA grants for township environmental projects, including a “Septic Smart” program.

ANJEC Environmental Achievement & Municipal Leadership Awards: Diane Wexler indicated that the commissioners will have to begin the application process for this particular program much earlier if they hope to contend next year, as the 2022 awards were already given out. She suggested that they might be able to qualify as a result of the new septic improvement project, once fully thought through and implemented. Peg suggested that they do further research on the requirements and application timetables of next year’s awards, adding this item to VEC meeting agendas immediately going forward.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION—ANY VERNON ENVIRONMENTAL ITEM

Diane Wexler once again opened the meeting to public comments. No-one came forward to discuss any of the agenda items at this time, so Diane closed the meeting to the public.

COMMISSIONER COMMENTS

The commissioners embarked on a brief discussion of the nuts and bolts of installing a cannabis greenhouse, including issues with town light pollution prohibitions that could interfere with the cultivation of the plants. Peg Distasi suggested that Craig Williams, in his capacity as the Land Use Board liaison, bring up this possible stumbling block at the next Land Use Board meeting, where discussions of cannabis farm installation projects will take place.

Peg Distasi mentioned that the State of New Jersey has made chemical control treatment grants in the amount of $15,000 available to combat the spread of the spotted lanternfly, but said that they are unable to seek the award themselves; the county would have to apply. She also noted that Sussex County is not on the state spotted lanternfly quarantine list and therefore does not have priority status for assistance. Craig Williams indicated that they may be effectively disqualified from receiving these grant monies as a result. Peg maintained that it might still be worth sending an email to county officials, alerting them to the program and asking them to do some follow-up. The other commissioners concurred. Diane Wexler agreed to send the email.

Diane Wexler took the opportunity to discuss making some adjustments to the meeting calendar for the holiday season. She then asked Peg Distasi and Catherina Sawoszczyk, whose terms are up at the end of the year, to please fill out the paperwork that will be required for them to renew their VEC appointments.

Catherina Sawoszczyk asked who would be responsible for seeking state grants for the installation of electric charging stations. Diane Wexler replied that the township business administrator would be the person charged with that responsibility; she then offered to send the town council a letter reminding them about the township’s obligations to move towards alternative energy, along with a link to the application for the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s electric charging stations grant program.

ADJOURNMENT

Diane Wexler reminded the commissioners that the next meeting will be held on October 17, 2022. Craig Williams then made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Catherina Sawoszczyk seconded the motion. The commissioners then agreed to adjourn the meeting via unanimous consent.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:38 PM.

Respectfully submitted by Leslie Boen, Recording Secretary.

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Vernon Township

21 Church Street
Vernon, NJ 07462

Phone: 973.764.4055 

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