Minutes: December 8, 2015
Chairperson Beverly Budz called the meeting to order at 7 p.m.
Statement of Compliance
Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 231 PL 1975, adequate notice of this regular meeting has been provided to the public and the press on January 13, 2015 by delivering to the press such notice and posting same at the municipal building and filed with the office of the Township Clerk.
Salute to the Flag
Jessi Paladini, Recording Secretary
Chairwoman Beverly Budz welcomed Angi Metler and Richard Carson to the environmental commission. They were appointed to terms of regular members until December 31, 2016.
1. Open Meeting to the Public
Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Diane Wexler.
Seconded by Dale Disney
All were in favor.
2. Close Meeting to the Public
Seeing no one come forward, Diane Wexler moved to close the meeting to the public.
Dale Disney seconded the motion.
All were in favor.
3. Land Use Board Liaison Report
Diane Wexler reported that the Vernon Valley Reserve satellite facility on Edsall Drive was coming in before the land use board tomorrow night seeking expansion of six more satellite antennas. She said the land use board engineer said there would be no significant environmental impact from the expansion. The company is seeking variances because satellite facilities are not permitted in any zone in the township.
4. Old Business
A. Status of Tree Planting from Forestry Grant
Chairwoman Beverly Budz reported that all the trees in the first phase of the grant the environmental commission received from New Jersey Department of Forestry for tree planting in lieu of all the trees lost from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project have been planted. Phase One is completed. The township DPW planted all the trees and is maintaining and taking care of them. The next phase of the grant will continue next year.
B. Letter to Mosquito Control Commission
Beverly Budz spoke with township clerk Lauren Kirkman, and she confirmed a letter was sent to Sussex County Mosquito Control to inquire about notifications to the town for when spraying will occur. The commission is concerned that the notification has not been adequate. Notifying the township the day before spraying occurs is not satisfactory, the commission feels. The last spraying that occurred was on a Saturday, and the township was not informed until the prior afternoon on Friday.
C. Discussion of Open Space and Farmland Preservation Meeting
Environmental commission members Doreen Edwards and Diane Wexler had attended this county meeting that was held at Vernon Township. Beverly Budz asked Diane Wexler to report on the meeting. She said the county open space committee’s effort is to develop a computer model map for water quality and trails. They are working with the William Penn Foundation on water quality. They are meeting with each township one at a time to discuss this and to update their farmland and open space trust funds. How could the trust fund better help each additional town? They are exploring ideas on how to better help all of Sussex County. They will email a map to the township for its review. Diane Wexler will contact them about it. They are concentrating on the entire county’s open space needs and better ways to use the open space funding.
D. Water Use and Conservation Management Plan from the Highlands Council
Chairwoman Beverly Budz said Doreen Edwards was going to speak on this tonight, but she was not able to attend due to illness. Diane Wexler suggested tabling the discussion for the next meeting. The commission agreed to table it to the January meeting.
5. New Business
Discussion of Township Proposal to Amend the Wastewater Management Plan and Expand the Sewer Service Area
Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority Chairman Vincent Zinno attended the meeting to give a presentation on a proposal to explore expanding the sewer service area. Mayor Victor Marotta also attended. Mr. Zinno gave background information on the township’s existing Wastewater Management Plan (WWMP). Currently, it does not include the McAfee area, but that area was originally considered for inclusion of the WWMP. At that time, the township was seeking town center designation from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). However, the NJDEP did not want town center sprawl, so it recommended scaling back the sewer area to what it is currently, so the McAfee area was removed and the concentration for the WWMP was on the town center area only.
The current WWMP includes the Vernon town center and also along Route 94 and the Mountain Creek Resort area. Recent circumstances, specifically more than 50% of private septic systems failing along Route 94 to McAfee, have resulted in the VTMUA considering expansion of the sewer area. The proposal is to study this possibility for the areas of Mountain Creek to the town center and from Mountain Creek into McAfee to the Hardsyton border.
Mr. Zinno said the county health department statistics reveal that 54% of the septic systems along the expansion route to be studied by the VTMUA have had some type of failure or are currently failing. These failing septic systems could compromise the water quality of the township’s streams and waterways, so sewers night be a good option, he said. Replacing a septic system could cost even more than connecting to a sewer system. Another problem is that some of the lots where these failing septic systems exist are too small, and there would be no room for homeowners to construct new septic systems, creating even further financial burdens on the homeowners.
The existing WWMP extends along Route 515 only as far as Snap Fitness, but the Hidden Valley area might also be suggested for inclusion in an expanded WWMP. Mr. Zinno also noted that the VFW Post 8441, on Route 515, has also had numerous problems with its septic system. The VFW is included in the WWMP and sewer service area, but the VFW has not yet hooked up to the sewers and has been granted an extension due to financial hardship. Mr. Zinno said the VFW pumps out its septic system almost once a week because the system is failing.
The township has a daily capacity of 640,000 gallons of sewage flow allocated to go to the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority (SCMUA) for treatment but is only sending a daily average of about 220,000 gallons. The town had guaranteed SCMUA 460,000 gallons daily. The town center is allocated 99,000 gallons. Mountain Creek has a total of 166,000 gallons, which includes future development of the resort. Mayor Victor Marotta said a 2005 sewer agreement between Mountain Creek and the township, when the resort was owned by Intrawest, guarantees that Mountain Creek would pay for any shortfalls. Intrawest then went bankrupt and a new owner purchased the resort. As part of the purchase the new owner felt it was onerous to be responsible to pay for the entire shortfall. After further negotiation, an agreement was made that Vernon Township would pay for one-third of the shortfall and Mountain Creek would pay two-thirds. For the first five years of the shortfall, funding was deferred. Four years have since passed, and Mountain Creek must begin paying the back fees with interest, so 2017 is an important year for the VTMUA, Mayor Marotta said.
The mayor said there are two important issues for exploring the expansion of the WWMP and sewer services area. The first reason is because the McAfee area is very environmentally sensitive and the many failing septic systems are a big concern. He said everything flowing along Route 94 to McAfee going south and going into the ground empties into the headwaters of the Black Creek, which then meets with the Wallkill River, which is classified a highly sensitive body of water. The second reason is financial, the mayor said. If the township does not generate enough users on the sewer system to financially support it, the taxpayers of Vernon must guarantee payment, he said, adding he hopes the incoming government realizes the importance of this.
Vincent Zinno said many of the residential properties are on small lots. If septic systems need to be replaced, there will be no room and there is also significant bedrock on those lots. In some areas, just about every other house has a septic issue. These areas are on top of the largest aquifer, and untreated failing septic systems have a great potential to contaminate the aquifer, he said. Further down into the commercial areas in McAfee, there are numerous environmentally sensitive concerns, including wildlife endangerment. Amending the WWMP does not necessarily mean infrastructure will automatically be constructed in the areas of plan expansion.
Vincent Zinno said businesses in McAfee are already experiencing problems with their septic systems, such as the Jerzees Diner and the George Inn. The first step for the VTMUA before anything could be done is to amend the WWMP. They also have to study the costs involved and notify the public that sewers are coming to that area of the township. If the council does not pass the resolution to study the proposal, the VTMUA cannot move forward.
Vincent Zinno said the sewer users pay all the VTMUA’s costs. The more users that are on the system, the less the costs are to them individually. Currently, an EDU is $900 annually. One EDU is 250 gallons of wastewater per day. If we don’t move forward, one EDU could cost a property owner as much as $2,000. He said there are two things that will bring development into the area—water and sewer. Developers do not want to go into areas where they have to install septic systems and drill their own wells, he said. He said a project he is personally involved with, a 55+ senior housing complex, could not be started unless there was water to the property. Prior governing bodies failed to realize they needed to bring water into the town center area. Mayor Marotta and his administration worked successfully to bring the United Water Company into the town center area to bring the necessary water lines that were overlooked by prior administrations.
Vincent Zinno asked the environmental commission to document the environmentally sensitive areas within the proposed area of expansion and discuss those areas with the VTMUA. He said the VTMUA and its professionals would meet with the environmental commission to discuss these areas.
Environmental commission chairwoman Beverly Budz said she has been researching the issue and there are significant environmental concerns regarding the failing septic systems, and she thinks the VTMUA needs to explore expansion of the sewer service area. She said it is critical for the environment, particularly in wetlands areas. She asked what the turn-around time would be to bring the expanded sewer areas. Mr. Zinno said it would be at least about 18 months before they could even start the project and go out to bid. He also said there is a March 4, 2016 deadline to submit an application to the DEP for review. He said the VTMUA professional staff will make a presentation to the township council at its next meeting.
Commissioner Diane Wexler asked if everything is approved, when would the town actually begin the project. Mayor Marotta said if everything went according to plan, they might be able to begin an expansion project in late 2017 or early 2018, but it would not be completed until around 2020. He said that timeframe is just a best guess estimate but could even go longer.
Vincent Zinno clarified that the VTMUA is not proposing expansion of the town center area into McAfee as was originally proposed several years ago. It is only applying for amendment to the WWMP and expansion of the sewer service area.
The mayor said his and Mr. Zinno’s objective in coming to the environmental commission is to ensure their understanding of the situation and the reason behind the proposal to amend the WWMP and extend the sewer service area and to get their support to explore the project. He said he feels it would make a big impact for the commission to lend its support by approving the resolution the commission had created for the project and forward it to the township council for its consideration at its next meeting.
Commissioner Angi Metler questioned whether the residents living in the proposed areas of expansion are in favor of it. Mayor Marotta explained they have not yet presented it to the residents. They need council approval first to move forward with exploring it. Ms. Metler said she would think that if homeowners had failing septic systems they would welcome the assistance from the township with the sewers. Mayor Marotta agreed that homeowners who are having septic problems would likely be in favor of going to sewers. He said homeowners could pay up to $50,000 to $100,000 to repair or install new septic systems on their properties and would be very happy to have the sewer line come through. This is a significant decision on the part of the township and has great impact in so many respects, he said. When the information became apparent to the VTMUA, they all agreed it was very important to get it out to the public immediately because it is going to be a long educational process for the residents of Vernon, the mayor said.
Diane Wexler asked if homeowners would be required to connect to the sewers, even if their septics were not failing. Vincent Zinno said state laws require all properties in a sewer service area to connect. Connection fees for private homeowners could range between $12,000-$18,000 to abandon their septic systems and hook up to the sewers, of which about $6,000 would be the fees to the SCMUA. The VTMUA cannot be involved with the financials for homeowners, but they can offer hardship payment plans, Mr. Zinno said. He said the town could also speak with local contractors, explain to them the situation and what is involved, and ask them to offer better services and costs to the homeowners. He said property owners within the existing sewer service areas had upwards of two years in which to connect after the sewers were installed. The VTMUA was very receptive to people’s hardships and created hardship payment plans. He also said the VTMUA could possibly give property owners 50% reduction in fees if they connected by a certain date. Most of the users in the existing sewer service area were commercial properties, with the exception of the condominiums at Great Gorge Village. A number of these who connected got the 50% reduction.
Vincent Zinno noted that the VTMUA’s sewer rates for users are the lowest rates in the entire county. He also suggested the environmental commission contact VTMUA Executive Director John Scerbo to obtain the documentation he has from the county health department on the failing septic systems along Route 94 and into McAfee.
He explained to the commission the process of the wastewater flow to the SCMUA treatment facility and how it is treated and returned to the township and put back into the groundwater. He discussed the benefits of such a process in which the treated water is returned to the township. He suggested other ideas to propose to the DEP that would be favorable to the township.
Chairwoman Beverly Budz said she supports the proposal to explore the expansion of the sewer service area and amend the WWMP. Commissioners Diane Wexler, Dale Disney, and Angi Metler also said the support the proposal. Chairwoman Budz asked recording secretary Jessi Paladini to read the environmental commission resolution to support the proposal and recommend the township council support it as well so that the VTMUA can move forward.
Diane Wexler moved to approve the environmental commission’s resolution to recommend the township council approve the VTMUA proposal to study expansion of the sewer area and amendment to the WWMP.
Dale Disney seconded the motion.
Further Discussion: None
Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Dale Disney, Angi Metler, Diane Wexler, and Beverly Budz
Resolution 15-04: Recommendation to Explore the Potential of Amending the Wastewater Management Plan and Expansion of the Sewer Service Area
WHEREAS, the Vernon Township Council and the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority (VTMUA) are exploring the potential for expanding the township’s Wastewater Management Plan and the sewer service areas along Route 94 from Mountain Creek to the McAfee town line and from the Appalachian Hotel to the town center,
WHEREAS, according to the VTMUA and its engineering firm more than 50% of the septic systems along the route, a significant number, have been failing,
WHEREAS, according to N.J.S.A. 40:56A-6 statutorily charges the Vernon Township Environmental Commission to study and make recommendations concerning open space preservation, water resources management, air pollution control, solid waste management, noise control, soil and landscape protection, environmental appearance, marine resources and protection of flora and fauna,
WHEREAS, the potential for significant negative impacts to the environment arises from failing septics,
WHEREAS, the Vernon Township Environmental Commission is concerned with the environmental interest, the protection of township waterways and ecosystem, and the interest of Vernon Township residents and their health, safety, and well being, it is the recommendation of the Vernon Township Environmental Commission to explore the potential of expanding the sewer service areas.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the Vernon Township Environmental Commission of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, supports the decision of the Vernon Township Municipal Utilities Authority to explore the amendment of the township Wastewater Management Plan and the expansion of the sewer service, supports all options that protect Vernon Township residents and the environment of Vernon Township, and recommends the proposal to explore the expansion of the sewer service area to go forward.
This resolution shall take effect immediately.
Date: December 8, 2015
6. Applications Under Review
LU#11-15-12: Vernon Valley Reserve Satellite Campus Expansion, Edsall Drive
The commission reviewed the application and did not have any concerns or recommendations for the land use board.
7. Approval of Minutes
November 10, 2015 Regular Meeting Minutes
Motion to approve the minutes was made by Dale Disney.
Beverly Budz seconded the motion.
Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Dale Disney, Diane Wexler, and Beverly Budz
Abstain: Angi Metler
8. Commissioner Comments
Chairwoman Beverly Budz read into the record a letter written by Council President Patrick Rizzuto addressed to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company. She said the letter was sent out several weeks ago, but the township has not had a response from TGP. She passed around some photographs of concern along the pipeline for the commissioners to review. Ms. Budz noted the company admitted having had spills during the construction of the pipeline and have the acknowledgement from the company in writing.
Commissioner Diane Wexler noted the commission, under former chairman Craig Williams in August 2012, was asked to locate floc logs, or absorbent “pillows” TGP had placed into the waters in Highland Lakes because the company had forgotten where they had placed them.
In an email messages sent to all of the commission members on August 10, 2012, Craig Williams directed the commissioners to go out and find the floc logs and tag them with pink ribbon he had to help TGP find them. This decision was made in an email to the commission members.
The commission is now concerned about the next phase of construction TGP plans to do in the municipality and will be diligent in monitoring it.
Beverly Budz thanked all of the commissioners for their work during 2015 and said she looks forward to working with them during 2016.
Diane Wexler and Dale Disney said they enjoyed their work on the commission during 2015 and looked forward to working with the commissioners in 2016.
Mayor Marotta said he wants to thank each of the commissioners, including the new members most effective and most aggressive environmental commission in addressing environmental issues in the history of the township. He said he was involved with the township during the 1980s and was also mayor then and he said there was no one and nothing that approached the activity level or the accomplishments that this commission has accomplished, taking on tough issues and dealing with them in a way that everyone, including himself as mayor, could be very proud of them. Mayor Marotta thanked them for their exemplary service.
Beverly Budz said it has been a pleasure working with Mayor Marotta. Other commissioners also thanked the mayor for his service, his complete support of the environmental commission and their endeavors, and the time he spent with the commission. Mayor Marotta said it was “great teamwork, and that’s what it takes—people working together.” There is always room at the table for many voices and opinions and out of that comes a much higher quality decision, he added. He said all of the town boards worked together for many good accomplishments for the township, but the environmental commission has led the way.
Diane Wexler moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:34 p.m. Dale Disney seconded the motion. All were in favor.
The next meeting of the Environmental Commission is on January 12, 2016.
Transcribed by Jessica Paladini
Adopted January 12, 2016