Minutes: April 19, 2021

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

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

Roll call was taken for attendance - present were:
DIANE WEXLER, CHAIR
CATHERINA SAWOSZCZY -- ATTENDED @ 7:19 P.M.
CRAIG WILLIAMS, VICE CHAIR, LIAISON TO LAND USE BOARD
MARGARET DISTASI

ABSENT: BONNIE TADRICK

Approval of March 15, 2021 Minutes:

The original draft of the minutes was amended by Diane Wexler and the corrected version was sent out in .pdf format for review earlier that day. Edits included several key clarifications on guest speaker Silvia Solaun’s slideshow presentation covering the State of New Jersey’s plans for deforestation and logging initiatives on Sparta Mountain. Diane also submitted as a correction to the spelling of Catherina Sawoszczyk’s name, added a few details that helped shed light on a question from Catherina to Silvia about National Level and the Wildlife Management Institute, and moved a couple of paragraphs in the original text to flow chronologically.

Craig Williams asked if the four pro-logging bills referenced in the minutes are just New Jersey State Assembly bills and not Senate bills. Diane Wexler confirmed both that there are four such bills and that they are indeed the Assembly’s.

Diane Wexler began the roll call to approve the amended minutes. All three members present-Peg Distasi, Craig Williams, and Diane Wexler-approved the minutes with the submitted changes.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION:

Diane Wexler next opened up the meeting to public participation on agenda items only. No-one came forward at this time to comment, so the meeting was then closed to the public.

LIAISON REPORT:

Craig Williams said that the primary topic of discussion at the March 24 Land Use Board meeting was the Farm 94 improvement and enhancement project, which was ultimately reviewed and approved at this time by the board. Craig said that the proposed upgrades appeared to be well received by the community.

Peg Distasi added that the owner of Farm 94 LLC, William Brown, seemed to be very accommodating to the homeowner who would be most affected by the project, offering to help her with privacy concerns.

Craig expressed his belief that the project would be a really good thing for Vernon, opening up more space for the arts and leisure in the community and expanding opportunities for Mr. Brown to get more exposure and sell more products.

Peg suggested that advertising support for Farm 94 should be incorporated into Vernon Township’s marketing plan.

Craig noted that once Mr. Brown comes on board with the project, there will be three farm markets operating on a continuing basis in the township-an excellent development.

APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW:

SNOWSHOE HOMES LLC:

Craig Williams said the developer still needs to address issues with topography, sewer line and well installation, and potential runoff and erosion concerns before the land can be made into habitable space. Craig stated that the plans do not sufficiently show how runoff will be contained on the property itself. Peg Distasi said issues with stormwater also will need to be closely reviewed, given the new ordinances recently put into place. Craig mentioned that Board Engineer Corey Stoner is also looking for more information on-and better delineation of-the project’s percentage of slope.

THAI RESTAURANT:

Craig Williams said that there is not much yet on the Thai Restaurant application. He said that he believed that they would be required to tie into the sewer, and that they would merely be adding to an already established site, with possible minor upgrades to pavement and parking lot facilities. Peg Distasi asked if the board engineer had requested more information on this project. Both Craig and Diane Wexler said they expected questions to be forthcoming at the end of April.

At 7:19 PM Catherina Sawoszczyk joined the meeting.

BOSCHERT MINOR SUBDIVISION:

Craig Williams said he did not have much information on the Boschert Minor Subdivision application. Diane Wexler reviewed the description of the project and determined it involved the combination of two lots, elimination of an existing lot line, and extension of the property to make it a little bit wider. Diane said there are no environmental concerns with the project, and the group agreed that no comment would be needed.

OLD BUSINESS:

POLLINATOR GARDEN:

Diane Wexler mentioned that the township wants to move the town garden from its current location. Discussion about building the bed and then having to move it would be a waste time and money, therefore the pollinator garden project will be delayed by a year. Diane said that this gives them more time to research, price out, and get together all of the garden materials that are stipulated by the grant application.

TROUT STREAM CLEAN-UP:

Peg Distasi gave an overview of developments with the trout stream clean-up. She said that she met with the manager and the owner of the bordering Acme property, the Eagles group, and a landscaper. She stated that the landscaper and owner are designing a landscape proposal to submit to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), allowing the stream to come back to its more natural state. She mentioned that they plan to remove any overgrowth, clean it out, and install gardens and trees nearby. The owner and landscaper promised to keep everybody informed on the status of the project once the plan gets DEP approval.

PUSH FOR GREEN ENERGY:

Craig Williams spoke about a possible push for green energy in the township and specifically in township facilities. He said that it turns out that green energy companies are unfortunately no less expensive than traditional energy providers in the area. Peg Distasi proposed that they go back to their earlier idea of potentially covering the municipal complex and parking area with solar panels. The Sussex Borough elementary school parking lot, now covered with solar panels, was offered up as a model and prototype that Vernon Township could emulate for its parking facilities. Diane Wexler suggested that perhaps Mayor Burrell could present the solar paneling idea to the town council. The group agreed to carry the agenda item over for the next meeting, giving them more time to gather information about possibilities for energy auditing and solar panel installation, and concurred that they need to continue pursuing these types of initiatives in the township (with Craig specifically mentioning the need for more charging stations in the area).

DPW LAYDOWN AREA:

Diane Wexler asked about developments with the DPW laydown area. Peg Distasi said that it doesn’t appear there has been any progress on that front. She mentioned that the DPW wa. waiting for the spring melt to commence clean-up, and that the DEP still has the area as an open item for remediation. Peg suggested that a letter of inquiry to the DPW would be warranted. Catherina Sawoszczyk proposed that the commission start asking for and then receiving monthly or quarterly progress reports on the matter as well.

TGP COMPRESSOR EXPANSION:

Diane Wexler spoke about TGP. She said that there was no additional progress since the last meeting in getting the Vernon or West Milford town councils to issue resolutions against the project. Diane mentioned that a rally was scheduled to take place in West Milford on Saturday, April 24.

Peg Distasi argued that the commission needed to start pushing Vernon’s town council to adopt a resolution in opposition to the pipeline expansion. Craig Williams said that he didn’t think the council saw the urgency of the situation.

Diane Wexler expressed her deep concern that compressor flare-ups could lead to forest fires; blowdowns could potentially leave the low-lying valley areas of Vernon (representing the majority of the town) vulnerable to its impacts. She also said that a concerned Vernon citizen was working with a group of doctors in the area to produce informational materials and fact sheets on the potential health consequences of this project for the community.

Peg Distasi said that we need to be more assertive with the town council and speak them personally and directly about the critical need for a resolution.

NEW BUSINESS:

SPOTTED LANTERN FLY:

Diane Wexler said that she had reviewed materials Peg Distasi sent her about the spotted lanternfly issue. Peg suggested that the group post public notice on their website about the need to remove the eggs this month, along with a series of public service announcements and informational videos about this invasive species of insect and how to facilitate egg removal. Diane agreed and said she would make sure these materials were posted on the site.

HYBRID CARS - LEASING/PURCHASING

Peg Distasi commented that there is a lot of grant money available to help the township switch their fleet of vehicles over to hybrids and install charging stations in the area. Craig Williams suggested that the town should consider hiring a grant writer - or identify someone from within - who could capably handle securing some of this grant money. Peg pointed out that Governor Murphy is making a big push to green government fleets and has flooded the marketplace with grant opportunities. She said that now is the time to start the transition, little by little, to greener vehicles as cars come up for leasing renewal.

Craig Williams stated that hybrids are an economical way for the town to go as well. Peg Distasi mentioned that switching a fleet of five traditional cars to hybrids could save the town $100,000 a year per car in gas and maintenance costs. Craig said these cars could become even more cost-effective and efficient with improvements in technology that extend the life of the vehicle.

Diane Wexler agreed to go through some materials on hybrids that Peg Distasi sent over earlier, and promised to find out to whom they would need to speak about getting the town to switch over from traditional to hybrid in its vehicle purchasing/leasing decisions. Peg said the town is at present paying an average of $35,000 for lease agreements on cars the town doesn’t own that turn over in three years, while Ford sells a specialized hybrid police SUV for $32,000 that the town could own outright.

Diane Wexler offered to gather more information on cost outlays for maintenance and gas usage on its current fleet of cars and report back next month.

TOWNSHIP COALITION BETWEEN: EC/GREENWAY & BEAUTIFICATION:

Concluding the commission’s new business, Diane Wexler brought up Peg Distasi’s idea from the last meeting of forging coalitions between the Environmental Commission and other town committees, such as the Greenway Committee and the Beautification Committee. Peg suggested that it would be a good idea for representatives from the different town committees to come together, keep each other informed, and form partnerships and collaborations on mutually beneficial projects. She suggested building these larger coalitions would allow the committees to cast a wider net and get more people from town involved. Craig Williams, also the chair of the Greenway Committee, gave a brief update on that group’s activities and immediate plans. Diane promised to reach out to other committees to see what kinds of partnerships could be forged.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION (Any Environmental Item Concerning Vernon):

Jessi Palladini expressed her dismay that tons of asphalt have been stored at the DPW laydown area for five months. Materials can only be legally kept there for six months, so the DPW only has one more month to clean up piles and piles of asphalt. She also mentioned that materials are supposed to be stored in containers and that is not currently the case at the laydown area, despite the DPW being notified of this requirement two years ago. Jessi said that she thinks the idea of the commission receiving regular reports from the DPW is an excellent one. She also strongly suggested that if they plan on constructing anything in the laydown area, they will need to do soil borings and deep ground testing, as she believes is requested and mandated by the DEP.

No-one else came forward at this time to comment, so the meeting was then closed to the public.

COMMISSIONER COMMENTS:

Craig Williams stated that he really wants to continue his push to open up community choice opportunities for the purchase of green energy in Vernon. Diane Wexler said that she would keep a lookout for any relevant materials that could help inform Craig’s efforts.

Peg Distasi mentioned that she had seen a lot of negative comments on social media about the poor unkempt state of Vernon’s roads. She suggested they organize an annual town street cleanup day in the community. People would be responsible primarily for cleaning up the road - and, this year, disposing of the garbage - right in front of their yards, but eventually it could be worked out to have the DPW come around and offer garbage removal assistance after street cleanup. People could also offer assistance to their friends and neighbors who would not be able to participate due to health or physical limitations. Suggestions were made to time the event to coincide with May Day this year and either Earth Day or May Day in succeeding years. Catherina Sawoszczyk proposed that they publicize this and other environmental commission priorities at an upcoming Earth Day event in the community.

Craig Williams mentioned a unique composting service in the area that was founded and established by a young Vernon High School graduate, Adam Driscoll. Peg Distasi said that the young man’s venture was something that the commission should actively work to support.

Peg Distasi made a motion to establish an annual street cleanup day in the community. Craig Williams seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously via roll call vote.

Peg Distasi agreed to write up an announcement on the new community cleanup day for Diane Wexler to post on the environmental commission’s web page and to submit for placement on the front page of the township website. The group discussed putting together a flyer to announce the street cleanup day, as well as a series of handouts to address environmental issues affecting the area (spotted lanternfly infestation, composting, etc.). Catherina Sawoszczyk agreed to work on them and Diane Wexler agreed to print them. Catherina Sawoszczyk said that having the flyers available at the upcoming Earth Day event in Vernon would give them an opportunity to share information about the commission’s work and priorities and how residents can support town environmental initiatives.

On a matter of administrative business, Peg Distasi asked why the recording secretary was no longer attending the environmental commission meetings. Diane Wexler replied that the commission does not have enough money in the budget for the recording secretary to get paid for attending the meeting. She said that the recording secretary would need to transcribe the minutes from recordings without being present at the meetings, at least until the budget is increased as expected next year.

Catherina Sawoszczyk stated that she was excited about tabling at Vernon’s upcoming Earth Day event because she felt this would be a good way to create awareness about the commission -and an effective way to promote and publicize its work.

Diane Wexler reminded the commission that the next meeting will be May 17. She said that she was happy to see the commission working on projects and initiatives that she feels will be beneficial to the community.

Craig Williams made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Peg Distasi seconded the motion.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:17 PM