Minutes: August 16, 2021

The meeting was called to order at 7:17 PM by Chair Diane Wexler.

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

Roll call was taken for attendance - present were:

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

Approval of General Meeting Minutes, July 19, 2021

A roll call was taken to approve the July 19, 2021 minutes. Catherina Sawoszczyk, Peg Distasi, and Diane Wexler all voted to approve, with Craig Williams and Bonnie Tadrick abstaining. The minutes were then officially approved.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Agenda Items Only)

No-one from the public came forward at this time to comment.

LAND USE BOARD - LIAISON REPORT

Land Use Board Liaison Craig Williams stated that the last Land Use board meeting was convened primarily to facilitate the payment of some bills. He said that the Land Use Board also issued a resolution on a project that involved the installation of a garage with taller height dimensions than is typically allowed. Peg Distasi asked if the resolution was ultimately approved; Diane Wexler replied yes.

APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW

LU# 7-21-6 Suez Water

Diane Wexler gave an overview of Board Engineer Cory Stoner’s report on this application. She reported that the plans for this project (which seek to allow the replacement of temporary generators with more permanent installations in multiple Suez Water locations) were determined by Mr. Stoner to be both lacking and incomplete, with much work still to be done to make them acceptable, therefore the project wasn’t evaluated by the Land Use Board until the substantial changes mandated by Mr. Stoner are fully incorporated. Peg Distasi wondered if the application would be brought up at the next Land Use Board meeting; Craig Williams replied that it was unlikely, given the nature and scope of changes required by the Board Engineer. Craig then mentioned that it would be an excellent idea for Suez Water to have solar and battery backup for the petroleum-powered emergency generators they wish to replace. Diane Wexler proposed that Craig bring the idea up at the next Land Use Board meeting. Peg Distasi maintained that Suez Water should consider designing for our alternative energy future and not for an increasingly obsolete fossil-fuel intensive past.

OLD BUSINESS

Hybrid and EV Cars/Charging Stations/Solar Panels

Diane Wexler reported on a meeting she and Peg Distasi held with Vernon Township Mayor Howard Burrell and Vernon Township Business Administrator Charles Voelker to discuss the eventual purchase of hybrid and/or electric cars for the town’s fleet of vehicles -- as well as the need to upgrade municipal facilities with charging stations and solar panels in the future. She said that the meeting went very well, and that both Mayor Burrell and Mr. Voelker seemed receptive to their ideas and to the informational materials that Peg provided. Peg stated that the whole premise of the meeting was to encourage town leadership to assume a proactive and forward-thinking stance towards greening their stable of cars -- and towards providing the infrastructure that will be necessary as the town inevitably transitions from conventional to alternative vehicles. She mentioned that there are grants available for these kinds of upgrades now, and the town should consider taking advantage of them sooner rather than later. Diane reminded the commissioners of the state law, signed by Governor Murphy earlier this summer, that requires all New Jersey municipalities to complete the process of electrifying their fleets of vehicles by 2035 -- adding a layer of urgency to the conversation with the Mayor and Business Administrator.

Peg Distasi gave an overview of Mayor Burrell’s and Business Administrator Voelker’s thoughts and concerns as articulated in this meeting. Regarding vehicle upgrades, she said that they weren’t sure the types of cars the Commissioners were proposing would work for police vehicles, but suggested that lighter-duty vehicles currently in the town fleet could be replaced with these kinds of electric cars once their leases are up. Peg stated that they discussed the possibility of placing a charging facility behind the police station to allow for the re-charging of electric police vehicles; the Mayor and Business Administrator maintained that current charging technology is not yet up to the challenge of quickly and efficiently powering high-usage, high-frequency vehicles like police cars, so this idea would not be viable yet. Peg suggested that the technology is improving rapidly, making the possibility of quick charging much more feasible down the road. She said that they also discussed the topic of installing a canopy of solar panels to recharge town fleets for free, with both Mayor Burrell and Business Administrator Voelker appearing especially favorable to this idea. Peg stated that the Mayor and Business Administrator liked their report - especially the section that delineates the cost savings that ultimately can be achieved through electrification of municipal fleets. She said that she believes both Mayor Burrell and Business Administrator understand the timeline involved -- and are committed to getting serious about planning for the greening of town vehicles and facilities as soon as possible.

Catherina Sawoszczyk asked if the Mayor and Business Administrator had identified a point person in township government to oversee these efforts. Both Diane Wexler and Peg Distasi replied no, with Peg surmising that they were just at the beginning stages of thinking this through and would likely need additional time to deliberate and discuss the matter among themselves. Peg then emphasized that the Commissioners should be prepared to periodically follow up with the Mayor and Business Administrator to keep the issue front and center. The Commissioners all agreed that the first step and initial focal point in this process should be the installation of charging stations and infrastructure, with the purchase of electric cars coming later.

Peg Distasi asked Craig Williams if he thought the Commissioners might now approach the Vernon Township Council with the findings of the report they just gave to the Mayor and Business Administrator, with the intention of making the council members aware of the issues involved and getting them on board with future plans. She wondered if there were protocols in place that required the town council to extend a formal meeting invitation to the Commissioners before the material could be presented. Craig said that he knew of no such protocols and stated that if the report could be condensed and formatted differently it might be a good idea to pursue. Diane Wexler suggested they might disseminate a revised report to the town council via a link to electronic content.

Catherina Sawoszczyk asked Peg Distasi what immediate actions and next steps the Mayor and Business Administrator are planning to take in this process. Peg replied that they are preparing to discuss the infrastructure development issue first, presumably in conjunction with the town council. Diane Wexler said they mentioned that the training of a mechanic and the installation of charging stations would be top considerations right out of the gate.

Peg Distasi concluded this portion of the proceedings by suggesting that the Commissioners should request the opportunity to make a presentation to the township council once the council is up and running with its hybrid public meeting system, possibly as early as October.

Blue Community

Peg Distasi reported no new developments with the process of securing Blue Community designation for Vernon, but mentioned that Business Administrator Voelker is requesting more information on the program and its requirements, so she would be prioritizing work on a report going forward. Diane Wexler suggested that they start with the Barry Lakes neighborhood as a potential Blue Community if possible. Peg indicated that she needs to determine whether smaller communities and enclaves within townships are eligible for the designation. She also said that the fate of a potential Blue Community designation for all of Vernon Township rests with the ability to communicate to the various lake communities the importance of careful water stewardship and septic and well management, as well as conveying the best practices and necessary changes that would be required to make township-wide improvements a reality. Peg concluded by saying she would have a more detailed report on Blue Communities ready for deliberation at the next meeting.

Diane Wexler requested that they move discussion of the trout stream near Acme Supermarket up in the agenda; the other Commissioners consented. Diane then asked Catherina Sawoszczyk to report on her research into the trout stream issue.

Cleanup and Revitalization, Trout Stream (stream near Acme Supermarket)

Catherina began by mentioning that she contacted several people who might prove helpful in establishing a viable approach to getting the trout stream cleaned up, but hasn’t heard back from everyone yet. She remarked that she was able to compile some material on trout stream management from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. According to Catherina, the DEP basically stipulates that people may not dump in trout streams, dam them or curtail their flow in any way, or use chemicals in their immediate surrounding areas. She said there wasn’t much information out there about best practices beyond that, so she asked her contacts to go further and reach out to specialists with expertise in this area of wildlife management. Catherina suggested that the Commissioners might ultimately play a pivotal role here by establishing a general set of trout stream management and protection guidelines for the township, enabling owners of properties that either contain or border the trout stream to respond appropriately to critical environmental and wildlife concerns. The Commissioners then took the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss the possibility of developing a community awareness program from Catherina’s suggestions, incorporating both generalized advice on the maintenance of these types of streams on private property and specific recommendations tailored to the Vernon Township community. Peg Distasi proposed that this kind of campaign could help the township cultivate even more certification and recertification points with Sustainable New Jersey. Catherina said that she has sought additional assistance and information from the Blue Community program on educating the public about the management and care of water resources, and should have that material available for review at the September meeting - allowing the Commissioners to draw from Blue Community as they begin to develop their own public awareness program.

Sustainable New Jersey

Diane Wexler began by mentioning that the Commissioners still need to finish program write-ups (including detailed narratives on current activities and future plans) for the Sustainable New Jersey (SNJ) reapplication process. She said that these narratives don’t necessarily need to be fully completed by next month’s meeting-surmising that the process of compiling, synthesizing, and writing up the information could take a couple of months-but encouraged the Commissioners to begin working on their respective updates as soon as possible. Diane asked Craig Williams, chairperson of the township’s Greenway Action Advisory Committee, to handle the write-up on Vernon’s town trails expansion program. She then offered to write an update on the Environmental Commission and its activities.

Diane asked the rest of the Commissioners if they thought the Vernon Farmers’ Market would qualify for SNJ food sustainability certification points. Peg Distasi and Craig Williams both said they thought it would. The Commissioners then suggested that they incorporate information and documentation about the Farmer’s Market, as well as written descriptions of several local farms and farm-to-table restaurants, into a write-up for the SNJ recertification process. Diane asked Bonnie Tadrick to handle this process, who agreed. She concluded this part of the proceedings by confirming that Catherina Sawoszczyk and Peg Distasi would be doing the write-ups for the trout stream cleanup and Blue Community initiatives, respectively.

Before going on to new business, with the prior approval of the other commissioners, Diane Wexler brought up for discussion an item of old business - the Tennessee Gas & Petroleum (TGP) Compressor Expansion Project --that was not included on the official August agenda, but had been discussed extensively at prior meetings. The Commissioners reviewed a letter that Craig Williams drafted to TGP representatives, with the purpose of seeking additional information and clarification on items of concern that TGP had failed to address adequately in previous communications. They agreed upon the letter’s contents and voted to send the letter via email.

NEW BUSINESS

Peg Distasi mentioned that there are grants available for the planting of wildflowers along roadways. She asked her fellow Commissioners whether they might be interested in pursuing grant money to institute a similar program in Vernon Township next Spring. Diane Wexler indicated she thought it would be a good idea. Peg then offered to do more research into the matter and report back.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Any Vernon Environmental Issue)

No-one from the public came forward at this time to comment.

With no other business or comments offered, Craig Williams made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Peg Distasi seconded the motion. The meeting was adjourned at 8:26 PM.

Respectfully submitted by Leslie Boen, Recording Secretary