Minutes: December 17, 2018
1. CALL TO ORDER: 7:04 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) - A
Michael Cheski (MC) - P
Angela Erichsen (AE) - P
Craig Williams (CW) - P
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 Ms. Erichsen. All were in favor.
3 Silver Spruce Drive Soil Dumping.
Andrew Pitsker - 1707 Route 565, Sussex. Mr. Pitsker said this debacle started with the cell phone tower and has been going on since 2008. He recalled that when the cell tower was being considered (at 3 Silver Spruce Drive), there were questions whether the soil was stable enough to support it and that allegedly, there were roofing shingles that had him very concerned. He said he came back from Sweden to be here, and as a busy taxpayer of a bedroom community, he believes elected officials should be able to be relied upon for protection. He said he has been to Town Council and that Mayor Shortway has done a lot with other officials but that the buck stops here. He believes there is “executive paralysis.” Mr. Pitsker thinks that there are numerous building code violations and that the value of his home and property, which he said is approximately 350 yards adjacent to 3 Silver Spruce, is negatively impacted by the situation. He said he works from home and has called to complain about the noise. Local noise code prohibits unnecessary noise between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Mr. Pitsker said he does not want to bother the police but questioned what to do about this issue that affects his quality of life. He said he cannot even have a peaceful dinner.
Mr. Pitsker said his wife noticed that trucks dropped several stones in the road. He also remarked that there is an alleged recent incident of violence involving a windshield being punched. He believes the issue is going to escalate. Mr. Pitsker commented that the property owner (Mr. Wallace) has no respect for his neighbors or his community and acts rather as a business, with allegedly up to thirty trucks per day, sometimes seven days a week, with some trucks lacking license plates. He referenced the “Vernon NJ Residents Affected by the ’Landfill’” Facebook group, adding that there is allegedly the presence of E. coli. Mr. Pitsker said even with multiple Stop Work Orders, the activity does not stop. He attended the last Sussex County Soil Conservation District (SCSCD) meeting, where he said he was told that they were aware of the circumstances and that there was pending litigation.
Commissioner Williams said there are trailers on the property. Mayor Shortway explained twenty five summonses have been issued but that the Stop Work Order cannot be enforced until a judge hears the case and (Wallace) is found guilty and that the local police do not have the power to arrest because no criminal action has occurred. The next court date has been scheduled to be in Hardyston on January 30, 2019. Mayor Shortway said they have not been able to get an injunction but that he is working to get the laws changes so that they have the necessary enforcement authority. He said he will be requesting that Town Council consider including an additional police officer in next year’s budget. Chairman Furrey added that the SCSCD manages soil erosion control and required Mr. Wallace to have a sedimentation plan, which Mr. Wallace ignored. Chairman Furrey explained that New York has stricter dirt laws than New Jersey and suggested to the public that they, too, write Senator Bob Smith to pass stricter laws. He said he did water tests, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) described them as not being properly done. He said all of the samples were well samples, which showed some arsenic (which can be naturally occurring). He said there were no levels of lead in the water or an increased level of volatile organic compounds or bacteria but that it is extremely possible. Chairman Furrey said they are trying to stress to the DEP the possibility of aquifer contamination and has been requesting that the soil be tested to determine if it is dangerous. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited the site recently. Commissioner Williams wondered if the property could be condemned. Commissioner Erichsen thought that the trucks with no license plates would still need some type of certificate.
Mayor Shortway added that this dumping activity is happening in many places and is not only a local problem. EC members and the mayor expressed frustration that the Stop Work Order cannot be enforced. Mr. Pitsker commended Mayor Shortway and said he has done more than just about anyone. He also thanked Chairman Furrey and EC members for their efforts.
Joseph Sireno - 7 Stone Ridge Road, Sussex. Mr. Sireno said he has lived here more than twenty five years and that his property is located approximately a hundred yards away from the pile. Mr. Sireno said he loves this beautiful town where he raised three children and is invested in the future of Vernon. He started and is circulating a petition to stop the dumping and said that in four days there has been a groundswell of movement. He said the document now has about 440 comments, which show people’s aggravation and frustration over the dumping situation. Mr. Sireno expects after a month that there will be much more participation in the petition. He expressed his appreciation to Mayor Shortway for taking an active role. Mr. Sireno wondered what the community could do if there is no power to enforce zoning laws or conveyance of materials across state lines and said he feels utterly powerless while (Mr. Wallace) continues to violate zoning orders day in and day out and continues to break the law. He said there is an acrid smell (from the Wallace property) and that it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that that construction material is present. He questioned why the trucks were coming from Queens to Vernon and believes that people are losing faith in institutions. He asked how long it will be before people stop coming to Vernon. Mr. Sireno said he thinks people have been trying their best to address this really serious problem but that it is not working. He said that his background with Nabisco was in communications and now that he is retired, he has time to visit Trenton. He said he and other members of the community have come with a problem and they are asking for help coming up with options. He expressed concern that Vernon would be stuck with the land (Wallace’s property).
Mayor Shortway explained that under the criminal justice system, violation of the Stop Work Order is not considered a crime. He said that even a crime such as petty disorderly conduct would have to occur in the presence of a police officer in order to have the power to arrest. Mayor Shortway said he is calling for amended legislation because currently they have no authority to arrest with the ordinance. Mayor Shortway said they spent approximately $30,000 trying to get an injunction but that it did not work. Chairman Furrey said that the DEP is essentially telling us that this is a local issue. He said what people can do is support an ordinance that is enforceable and that this is something the town can do. He said when he talked to the head of Solid Waste, it was the same message; Vernon needs a local ordinance with a local judge to enforce it.
Margaret (Peg) Distasi - 4 Silver Spruce Drive, Sussex. Mrs. Distasi said what they need is an appropriate environmental attorney.
Commissioner Williams opined that local support would be nice but that support at the state level would be even nicer. He said he thinks they could emulate what New York has done, and EC members agreed. He suggested campaigning in Trenton for sympathy at the very least. Chairman Furrey recommended that people contact Governor Murphy and legislators to tell them their concerns. He suggested that they send the petition and said he believes that persistence is key. Mayor Shortway added that Senator Oroho and Representative Gottheimer speak with Governor Murphy frequently. Mr. Sireno said he, too, believes in persistence, and will do what has been suggested. He said he is late in the game and believes there is no need to be adversarial with each other. He thinks they need to work together to address 3 Silver Spruce.
Caralynn Brown - 8 Lakeville Road, Sussex. Ms. Brown asked if the Highland Act had been explored because Mr. Wallace’s property is located in the Highlands Preservation area, which requires a permit for development of an area greater than one quarter of an acre (referring to the 2004 Highlands Act, C.20, p.4, “Major Highland development means except as otherwise provided pursuant to subsection a. of section 30 of this act, (1) any non-residential development in the preservation area; (2) any residential development in the preservation area that requires an environmental land use or water permit or that results in the ultimate disturbance of one acre or more of land or a cumulative increase in impervious surface by one-quarter acre or more; (3) any activity undertaken or engaged in the preservation area that is not a development but results in the ultimate disturbance of one-quarter acre or more of forested area or that results in a cumulative increase in impervious surface by one-quarter acre or more on a lot; or (4) any capital or other project of a State entity or local government unit in the preservation area that requires an environmental land use or water permit or that results in the ultimate disturbance of one acre or more of land or a cumulative increase in impervious surface by one-quarter acre or more. Major Highlands development shall not mean an agricultural or horticultural development or agricultural or horticultural use in the preservation area.”).
Mayor Shortway said when he went to a Highlands Council meeting he was referred to the DEP. He explained that the County Environmental Health Act (CEHA) gives the county enforcement power. He said they have complained about the inspector that has come and not taken measurements. Mrs. Distasi said she finds it confusing that the DEP reports indicate that no visual changes in the site have been observed when from 2013 to now the pile has grown. Mrs. Distasi said between five to thirty trucks, sometimes three or four at a time, bring timber and come and go at various times between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. She said that Mr. Wallace first stored all of the wood in the back of the property, and then to the side of Mr. Eric Gorovoy’s property, and now the wood has been moved to the front of Mr. Wallace’s property. Mrs. Distasi remarked that activity has accelerated in the last month, which she said she believes is because he thinks he has a free ride. She asked how to get it to stop and how to get it tested. She thinks Mr. Wallace’s attorney will attempt another continuance. Mayor Shortway said that the case might be moved out of Hardyston Municipal Court to another county. Mrs. Distasi said Mr. Wallace threatened them and questioned why a tort could not be put on him to counter him. She said that they really do not want to sue Vernon but might be forced to eventually. She thanked everyone for listening.
Patrick (Pat) Distasi - 4 Silver Spruce Drive, Sussex. Mr. Distasi stated that his and his wife’s property is located across from 3 Silver Spruce. He argued that while people are under the impression that the housing values will go down in Vernon as a result of the Silver Spruce issue, he does not believe this is the case. He said that even though it is a trying situation, the disturbed area is small, contained, and remote from homes. He does not think it should be viewed as a massive dump. Mr. Distasi thinks the second thing that they must “hammer” quickly and effectively is zoning, to give an opportunity to end the problem. He perceives what the DEP is doing, especially the Highlands Council and the Division of Land Use, as very unfair and grossly negligent in this matter because of litigation. Mr. Distasi said there is no local rule over the Highlands. He believes the Solid Waste Department through the commissioner saying that this dumping is a local problem was a very bad decision. Mr. Distasi stated that his concern is that Silver Spruce has a bigger immediate problem resulting from the “new pay-to-play scheme” of twenty-foot wood planks being brought onto the property, which he said he has no doubt involves Mr. Wallace being compensated to take them. He commented that it is not even the creosote but the question of what happens if these hydraulic diesel machines of an unknown source leak. He said there were two trucks today and he believes activity is ratcheted up because nothing is able to be done. Mr. Distasi said he contacted the fire marshal -- he said the mayor is aware of it and on it. Mr. Distasi expressed fear because there is one way in and one way out (of Silver Spruce), and if lightning hit, he does not think a raging, blazing fire could be stopped. He said there are a thousand or more timbers stacked up, some diagonally, and that there is a wall, approximately a hundred feet long by thirty feet high. He said there are trees, forty to fifty inches in diameter cut sixteen to eighteen feet long laying on the four acres. Mr. Distasi said he prays that the material is removed before something happens. He said a truck could ignite.
He wants to concentrate on this issue because it could be deadly and also thinks it would get the attention of the State and the EPA. He does not think the State has the answer and said he put a complaint in with the EPA a couple of weeks ago and wants to involve Peter Lopez and others from the EPA administration. Mayor Shortway said he has been in touch with the state fire marshal and will request another letter to the EPA with aerials. Mr. Distasi said the EPA’s practice is not to give updates and say they will contact you if they need anything further. He thinks the EPA could be held accountable by the commissioner. He said his goal is to make as much contact as possible with the EPA.
Mr. Distasi said he knows that everyone is working hard. He said he had a meeting just before coming to the EC meeting and wanted to convey that just because everyone is not seeing what is happening does not mean everything is not in flux. He said do not assume that nothing is happening. He said the public needs to appreciate the work being done but that the public is frustrated. He asked for suggestions how they could bring more attention to the fire hazard. Mr. Distasi again thanked the EC and mayor for their time.
Linda Jacob - 27 Fieldstone Drive, Sussex. Ms. Jacob said she has a small dumpsite tale that involves about twenty loads from Joseph Wallace’s site to her neighbor’s property. She said they will resolve it. She said her background is in lending and that a bank would never take Mr. Wallace’s property back and that it is a cash cow until he walks away. She said she will personally try to gather thousands of signatures and get to the regulatory agencies. She agrees that the planks are bad. She said they will take the time to check with the police department and Town Council to find out what they can and cannot do. She commended Mr. Sireno for doing “an amazing job” and wondered if there is a certain target number of signatures to get the proper attention.
Chairman Furrey suggested contacting Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club. Mayor Shortway said that if it rises to the state level, he will provide testimony. Chairman Furrey said he would be beside him to “shine the light on the issue.” He believes this issue will go beyond the county level because it is a high-profile case compared to what is happening in other parts of the state. Commissioner Williams added that if it could happen here, it could happen anywhere and that it is important to make people realize it is a regional issue. Mrs. Distasi thought the people involved with the Sparta Mountain issues would be interested. Mayor Shortway said that while he realizes he is preaching to the choir, he asked if those in attendance could pass on the message to all their neighbors that he is stressing the importance of handling this matter by peaceful and lawful means. Mayor Shortway said he could not advocate damage, violence, illegal seizure or confrontation because these methods do not lend credibility.
Commissioner Williams moved to close the meeting to the public, seconded by Chairman Furrey. All were in favor.
6. LAND USE BOARD (LUB) LIAISON REPORT
LU# 10-18-7, 13 Vanderhoof Court, Block 141, Lot 12.02. Diamond Communications LLC - Site Plan with Variances to Construct a 199-Foot Telecommunications Lattice Tower within a Fenced Compound
7. OLD BUSINESS
A. LUB Applications Review - All
LU# 10-18-7, 13 Vanderhoof Court, Block 141, Lot 12.02. Diamond Communications LLC - Site Plan with Variances to Construct a 199-Foot Telecommunications Lattice Tower within a Fenced Compound. The owner is Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L). EC expressed a concern that there is the appearance of a stream flowing through the property and that a site visit was needed to confirm the stream as well as a Letter of Interpretation (LOI) from the DEP.
B. Resolution to Ban Balloons, Polystyrene, Plastic Bags, and Plastic Straws - MC
Chairman Furrey commended Mr. Cheski for his good work. Rahway’s code is the oldest compared to Maplewood and Secaucus, and Chairman Furrey also said he thought it was the best of the three documents. He said the information was vague on a state level. Chairman Furrey asked members to review the draft and come to an agreement. He requested for members to inform Mr. Cheski if they had any comments, and then it will be voted upon at the next EC meeting. Chairman Furrey said if members are in agreement at the January meeting, then the next step will be to make it known to Town Council. He said an ordinance would be a ban but that they could start with a resolution where participation was voluntary. Mr. Williams agreed with this approach and said some local establishments are sensitive. Mayor Shortway gave the example of The Daily Bean using a wood stirrer (rather than using plastic). Ms. Erichsen asked if the resolution would run the whole gamut. Chairman Furrey said the decision had been to separate out the balloon ban. He said he is comfortable with all three (polystyrene, plastic bags, and plastic straws) being included as part of the resolution, which was the consensus of members.
C. Black Bear Hunt, Garbage Disposal Regulations - MC
This item was not discussed.
8. NEW BUSINESS
Chairman Furrey pointed out that terms for EC members are staggered. He said applications would need to get to the township clerk. Mr. Cheski’s term ends December 31, 2020. Ms. Erichsen’s term ends December 31, 2019. Chairman Furrey’s term ends December 31, 2019. Carol Kadish’s term ends December 31, 2018. Craig Williams’s term ends December 31, 2020.
9. LUB APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW
10. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
A. November 19, 2018 - Regular Meeting Minutes
Motion to approve the minutes was made by Chairman Furrey and seconded by Ms. Erichsen. Ayes - Chairman Furrey, Ms. Erichsen, Mr. Cheski. Abstention: Mr. Williams. Minutes were approved.
11. COMMISSIONERS’ COMMENTS
Ms. Erichsen said she finds the dumping situation to be very frustrating but was encouraged to see the very proactive group in attendance this evening. Chairman Furrey said he had reached out to publications regarding this issue.
Motion to adjourn was made by Chairman Furrey and was seconded by Mr. Williams. All were in favor. Meeting adjourned: 8:47 p.m.
Minutes submitted by Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary