All meeting minutes posted on the township website are unofficial minutes. Official copies of minutes may be obtained from the township clerk.

Minutes: March 8, 2016

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 12, 2016 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

Roll Call

Beverly BudzP
Richard CarsonP
Dale DisneyP
Doreen EdwardsP
Angi MetlerP
Edward NitchP
Alyssa PortaroA
Diane WexlerP

Also Present

Jessi Paladini, Recording Secretary

1. Open Meeting to the Public

Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Doreen Edwards.
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.
Richard Carson seconded the motion.
All were in favor.

3. Open Space Discussion

Former Vernon Township Environmental Commission Chairman Craig Williams was invited and attended the meeting to discuss open space and his experiences and expertise in the matter since several open space parcels were purchased during his tenure on the municipal environmental commission. He was on the Vernon Township Environmental Commission for 8 years, serving many of those years as chairman. He was on the Vernon Township Open Space Committee for five years and also on the Sussex County Farmland Preservation and Open Space Committee for three years. The purpose of asking Mr. Williams to attend the meeting was to gain knowledge about prior open space purchases and to learn from Mr. Williams’ expertise in recommending and purchasing open space parcels. The commission specifically wanted to get information on the previously purchased open space tracts.

Since by law the municipal environmental commission has the responsibility to review open space parcels in the town and make recommendations for purchase and preservation, the commission is reviewing state statutes and open space acquisition. The commission invited Craig Williams, who was responsible for recommending several parcels for purchase during the years 2001-2009, asking him to come to the meeting to share his expertise with the new commission members. The commission asked the following questions.

  1. What was the reasoning or motivation for buying the open space tracts?
  2. What criteria had the commission established for the selection of open space parcels to recommend for purchase?
  3. What did the town plan to do with these properties purchased?
  4. Can the public access these properties for any recreational use, or are they heavily forested and without access?
  5. Did the purchase prices come within the assessed valuations the township did? How many appraisals did the town do for each property?

Mr. Williams said the primary objective in purchasing the open space tracts was to establish and manage a greenway based on those acquisitions. He gave an example of the Gray property that was purchased for the greenway path. He sad the Gray family had planted trees that got too large and were blocking their view, so they sold their property. He sad the tract was a key piece between the Walker Farm and the church property.

Chairwoman Beverly Budz asked why the Smith property on Sammis Road was purchased with open space funds. Craig Williams stated the property was purchased for the Audubon Society and said no Vernon tax dollars from the open space fund were used, but recording secretary Jessi Paladini stated that was incorrect and the parcel was purchased entirely with municipal open space funds, as documented on a spreadsheet from the former township CFO. The entire amount was paid from taxpayer open space funds.

Beverly Budz asked why the prior EC did not recommend the purchase of Camp Sussex with open space funds. Craig Williams said former Mayor Sally Rinker was opposed to purchasing the camp property. Camp Sussex had plusses and minuses, he said. He said there were three buildings of value on the property, the theater, crafts, and gymnasium buildings.

He said the Masker Marsh property, formerly owned by Sally Rinker, was up for consideration but had some negatives and the EC and town council did not support buying the property but rather just buying an easement for the continuation of the bike path.

Doreen Edwards asked Mr. Williams if any of the properties were approved by the state or by ANJEC. Mr. William said the Smith and McEwen properties were endorsed but he is not certain about the Gray property. He said the best route for acquiring property would be to get the county on board with the purchase for possible matching funds.

Craig Williams said the greenway would be good for hikers, bikers, and joggers. He also said a good property to acquire might be the MacPeek farm on Breakneck Road, behind the Acme Supermarket. He said it has great potential.

He said good criteria for purchasing open space parcels would be threefold: 1) to protect endangered species, 2) for farmland preservation, 3) to provide public access to land for projects such as the greenway.

Chairwoman Beverly Budz thanked Mr. Williams for coming to the meeting and discussing this important topic.

4. Old Business

A. Tennessee Gas Pipeline

The commission received email from Kinder Morgan, the parent company for the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, in response to the commission’s questions about the pipeline, but they had not responded to any of the commission’s questions. Commissioner Richard Carson suggested setting a deadline of March 31 to receive their responses and asking them to attend the commission’s April 12, 2016 meeting to follow up on their responses to the commission, or to ask any further questions the commission might have.

Richard Carson moved to set the deadline.
Dale Disney seconded the motion.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Richard Carson, Dale Disney, Doreen Edwards, Angi Metler, Ed Nitch, Diane Wexler, and Beverly Budz
Nays: None

B. ANJEC Membership

Recording secretary Jessica Paladini gave administrative assistant Irene Mills the paperwork for registering the commission members for ANJEC, but Ms. Mills informed her that she had not yet registered them because she was waiting for paperwork from the greenway committee, as the mayor wants the greenway committee to join ANJEC, too. Some of the commissioners want to attend an ANJEC conference on March 19, “The Principles of Good Environmental Commissions,” and questioned how they would attend if payment for their memberships was not even received. There is no fee for workshops and conferences for ANJEC members. The recording secretary said she would take care of the workshop conference and ensured the commissioners would not have to pay for them to attend.

C. Bear Baiting

Commissioner Angi Metler is preparing a presentation and a resolution to prohibit bear baiting in Vernon Township. She will present the information at the next meeting.

D. Gypsy Moth Spraying

Mayor Harry Shortway announced that Vernon Township would conduct aerial spraying this spring for gypsy moths. A problem is, however, that Wawayanda State Park and Warwick might not do spraying and the gypsy moths and their egg masses can blow up to 30 miles in winds, causing infestation to occur again in Vernon after the spraying. Recording secretary Jessi Paladini was directed by the commission to write a letter urging they spray also. The recording secretary read the letter she wrote into the record.

5. NEW BUSINESS

Sparta Mountain Logging Plan and Senate and Assembly Logging Bills

Susan Williams of Sparta, with the Skylands Chapter of the Sierra Club, came to speak against the logging plan at Sparta Mountain and against logging in general on state owned lands. Ms. Williams gave a thorough presentation on the plan and its devastating effects to the environment.

The Audubon Society is doing a large scale campaign to get people to support this logging plan. Ms. Williams plans to attend the Sussex County Freeholder board meeting to ask the freeholders to stop the plan.

“They are calling it [logging] a stewardship plan. I’m all in favor of stewardship plans, but this is not stewardship. This is downright commercial logging,” Ms. William said. She said the project needs to be immediately put to a stop until there is more transparency and until there is more scientific information about the effects of the logging.

Angi Metler stated she has done a lot of testifying in Trenton on various bills and legislation. She has also worked with the NJ Audubon Society and other “environmental” groups. She has been involved with the logging issue for two years. She does not believe that the Audubon Society or its logging plan is good for the environment. Susan Williams said she feels the Audubon has “gone rogue” with regard to environmental issues.

Angi Metler said legislators in Trenton are so overwhelmed and do not even have time to research many of the bills put before them. She said they need to keep calling the current bill the “logging” bill because even a number of the legislators who voted on it think it is a preservation bill and is environmentally sensitive when it is really logging for profit.

Susan Williams said they have cleared a portion on the top of Sparta Mountain and clear-cut the area. She said the plan is a 60-year plan with the first phase being 10 years. Sparta Mountain consists of 3400 acres that were purchased with Green Acres money. She said the NJDEP is not managing the property; they have the Audubon managing it.

The only way to stop the logging, she said, is to get a groundswell of opposition against it from citizens. She has been working for about two months to generate this opposition.

Susan Williams said they are going from town to town, asking for the communities to oppose the plan. She asked the Vernon Township Environmental Commission to join them in opposing both the logging plan and the bills in the legislature. After Ms. Williams’ presentation, the commission unanimously adopted Resolution 16-03.

Resolution 16-03: Opposing Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan and Opposing Logging on Public Lands

WHEREAS, the Legislature of the State of New Jersey introduced Senate Bill S768 on January 12, 2016 and the Assembly introduced Bill A1505 on January 27, 2016, and

WHEREAS, these bills are titled “Establishes forest stewardship program for State-owned lands,” will allow logging on public owned and environmentally sensitive lands; and

WHEREAS, logging is currently being conducted on environmentally sensitive lands at the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area; and

WHEREAS, such proposed legislation would permit logging on public owned, environmentally sensitive, and preserved lands; and

WHEREAS, the proposed legislation could require “forest stewardship” plans that would also affect each state park; and

WHEREAS, these bills and subsequent logging plans would hurt our open spaces, biodiversity in our forests, public access, and pristine resources that people have worked for decades to protect; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey’s state forests and parks belong to all of us and are held in the public trust; and

WHEREAS, this legislation breaks that public trust by allowing loggers to take over these environmentally sensitive lands; and

WHEREAS, this logging plan would result in limiting public access and environmental damage to wetlands, waterways, and forest habitats; and

WHEREAS, these bills do not include adequate protections for natural resources and have no enforcement; and

WHEREAS, the Natural Heritage Report lists 41 wildlife species listed as state endangered, threatened, or of special concern and will be impacted at the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area and on other publicly owned and preserved lands; and

WHEREAS, we need to protect these forests and the vulnerable ecological assets they hold, such as forested wetlands and vernal pools, through effective stewardship and not with logging and commercially driven management; and

WHEREAS, the logging would lead to more erosion and stormwater runoff, impacting pristine streams, reservoirs, and aquatic ecosystems; and

WHEREAS, opening up the canopy would lead to a loss of biodiversity in our forests as more deer and invasive species take over, and invasive species infestations would require herbicide use that could impact sensitive streams and areas above reservoirs and water supply intakes; and

WHEREAS, the January 3, 2013 National Heritage Database Report identifies at least 48 species of rare plants that would be impacted during the implementation of this plan; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of Interior has nationally and internationally recognized New Jersey’s forests, pinelands, and highlands as important, and the federal Highlands Conservation Act has recognized and designated our Highlands and Skylands regions as nationally significant, wild, and scenic and these forests are not just state but also national and international treasures; and

WHEREAS, our state forests are not to be exploited by commercial loggers for private profit at the public’s expense,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the Vernon Township Environmental Commission opposes bills S768 and A1085, opposes logging on state and public lands, and opposes the logging being conducted at the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

PASSED, APPROVED, AND EFFECTIVE on this 8th DAY of March 2016.

Diane Wexler moved to adopt the resolution.
Richard Carson seconded the motion.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Richard Carson, Dale Disney, Doreen Edwards, Angi Metler, Ed Nitch, Diane Wexler, and Beverly Budz
Nays: None

6. APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW

A. LU2-16-2 Lot 270, Block 6.03, Colonial Plaza, Route 94

The commission reviewed this application for a use variance & minor site plan for a coffee cart at Colonial Plaza in McAfee. The commission had no concerns with this application.

B. LU2-16-1 Block 22, Lot 8.01 Conditional Use Site Plan/Use Variance to Construct a Small Network Node Wireless Communications Facility at Vernon Township High School

The commission had no concerns about this application.

C. National Winter Activity Center

The commission has significant concerns about the tree clearing at this resort, the massive soil and water runoff as a result, the silty water being diverted into the FW2 trout stream below the resort, and numerous violations of the resolution of approval of this ski resort. The commission is going to ask the applicant to came to its next meeting to answer questions and to discuss the project. Applicant Schone Malliet, director of the resort, promised at the January 13 land use board meeting that he would contact Chairwoman Beverly Budz and meet with her regarding the replanting of trees at the resort. Ms. Budz has not yet heard from Mr. Malliet.

7. Approval of Minutes

February 9, 2016 Regular Meeting Minutes

Motion to approve the minutes was made by Diane Wexler.
Beverly Budz seconded the motion.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Dale Disney, Doreen Edwards, Angi Metler, Ed Nitch, Diane Wexler, and Beverly Budz
Nays: None
Abstentions: Rich Carson abstained from the vote because he was not at the February 9, 2016 meeting.

8. Commissioners’ Comments

Rich Carson said he feels there is a sense of urgency to address the National Winter Activity Center problems going on.

Ed Nitch addressed the issue of the logging at Sparta Mountain and said he feels there may be an ulterior motive. He said he researched some of the forest stewardship council members involved with the project and some of the members are executives of timber companies, paper product companies, and other products that can profit significantly from logging and from the timber. He suggested there is a significant profit motive from the logging for these individuals.

Angi Metler commended Ed Nitch for his research and said that at all the meetings she attended in Trenton, the financial connections were never mentioned.

Adjournment

Beverly Budz moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:30 p.m. Edward Nitch seconded the motion. All were in favor.

The next meeting of the environmental commission is on April 12, 2016.

Transcribed by Jessica Paladini
Recording Secretary
Adopted April 12, 2016