Minutes: November 15, 2021

The meeting was called to order at 7:04 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:

* CRAIG WILLIAMS, Vice Chair, Liaison to Land Use Board

Approval of General Meeting Minutes, October 18, 2021

Diane Wexler mentioned that, without Catherina Sawoszcyzk in attendance, they did not have a quorum of attendees from the October 18 meeting to vote, and might have to postpone approval until the next meeting. Craig Williams suggested that they could delay and revisit the vote later in the meeting if Catherina were able to join in at some point during the proceedings. The other Commissioners agreed to do so.


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


Mountain Creek Resort Inc.

Land Use Board Liaison Craig Williams stated that he had been unable to attend the most recent meeting, but gave a general synopsis of what had been reported back to him. According to Craig, the board discussed a request by Mountain Creek Resort to move their tubing venue and facilities to a more family-accessible location on the property (allegedly a site that was used previously, below the village and across the street from its current spot). He said that he was not yet certain as to the outcome of these discussions, although he expected that the Land Use Board would have approved-or will approve--the request.


There were no applications officially under review to discuss. Diane Wexler briefly alluded to an application for a swimming pool installation project that would require a lot line to be shifted. She said that the Commissioners could review this application at their next meeting, along with the results of the Mountain Creek Land Use Board discussions.


For the benefit of those who were not in attendance at the November meeting, Diane Wexler announced that they had decided to cancel the December meeting at that time, citing the proximity of the meeting date to the Christmas holidays.

At 7:10 PM, Catherina Sawoszcyzk joined the meeting. With Catherina (and enough eligible voters) in attendance, Diane Wexler suggested they take the opportunity to revisit approval of the October minutes. Peg Distasi made a motion to vote on the minutes; Catherina Sawoszcyzk seconded the motion. Diane, Peg, and Catherina all voted to approve the minutes as submitted. Craig Williams and Bonnie Tadrick abstained, since they had not been present at the October meeting.

Blue Community - Well Heads/Septic Systems

Craig Williams began by reiterating the group's general consensus that the Blue Community initiative, a program through which municipalities obtain special designation by taking extensive, concrete action to ensure a clean and healthy water supply in their communities, is not feasible for Vernon to undertake fully at the present time. He suggested that the town's current slate of water protection activities is not yet sufficient to meet Blue Community requirements, and bringing the township into total compliance with their standards all at once would be onerous and prohibitively expensive.

Craig mentioned that there are also new and costly rules for homeowners with private wells, making it mandatory to test for PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) upon home resale. Peg Distasi expressed her concern that a lot of new homeowners-especially those moving in from more urban locations-do not understand the complexities of safely maintaining a private well or septic system. She recommended that the Commission put together a public information campaign to help educate residents about these issues. Craig then voiced his support for an ordinance requiring all septic systems and wells in the municipality to be registered with-and documented by-town government.

Diane Wexler proposed that, beginning in January, the Commissioners start an online column where educational information on well and septic maintenance-along with other environmental tips for homeowners and the greater community-could be highlighted. She suggested that this column could be featured on the Environmental Commission's dedicated township web page, with the tips also included as part of the Commission's meeting agendas and at the end of the monthly meeting minutes. Peg Distasi expressed her support for this idea, recommending that they incorporate links to helpful online information into the minutes as well.

Craig Williams suggested that the township establish its own repository for septic system waste. Diane Wexler asked then asked Craig to be the point person on this matter; he agreed, offering to work with the Vernon Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) to make this happen. Craig maintained that a local collection point for septic waste in Vernon could reduce MUA costs and ultimately save money for residents. Craig proposed that the Commissioners undertake a complementary effort to establish an ordinance that requires residents to have their septic tanks serviced on a regular basis. She then asked Peg Distasi to take the lead on this part of the initiative.

Blue Community - Lakes and Water Bodies

Diane Wexler began by following up on an earlier proposal for the Commissioners to regularly get themselves on the agenda for town council meetings, which would allow them to discuss township water quality issues and best practices for protecting town water resources both with elected officials and a wider audience. She cautioned that, given the Commission's role and relationship to the Mayor's office, it would likely be difficult to make this happen. Diane suggested that these topics would be a natural fit for their proposed online column. Peg Distasi countered that she had spoken to Councilman Lynch and Councilman Rizzuto about the Environmental Commission securing a recurring spot on the agenda, with both expressing support for the idea. Diane agreed they should continue their efforts on this front, but voiced some skepticism that they would actually be able to secure meaningful speaking time at the meetings. She said that adding water resource maintenance tips to their web page (as well as to their own meeting agendas and minutes) would also help them create an accessible archive of information as part of the permanent record-with the added benefit of moving the township closer to Blue Community status.

Craig Williams suggested that, aside from stringent public water requirements, many of the Blue Community's stipulations for lakes and bodies of water are quite achievable in Vernon. Diane Wexler stressed that the new web page could play a vital and invaluable role in creating awareness and facilitating action on the proper stewardship of water resources. Bonnie Tadrick asked how the Commission might best drive traffic to that page. Diane replied that Facebook might be a good vehicle for promoting the newly revamped site; Peg Distasi concurred. Bonnie proposed that the web page could also be advertised on other Vernon community websites. Peg suggested that the Sierra Club, the Vernon Garden Club, and the Vernon Township Greenway Committee might be good places to start, and recommended that the Commission put together and then pre-approve a boiler plate about the new web page that other local organizations could use for their sites. Diane and Peg then agreed to work together to craft the language. Bonnie emphasized her belief that the Commissioners should prepare environmental tips and structure website content well ahead of time, allowing for timely recommendations that dovetail nicely with the different seasons. The other Commissioners concurred.

At this point in the meeting, there was a brief side discussion on an ANJEC seminar Peg DiStasi attended, which mostly covered how environmental commissions can best help residents to accept and adapt to new state environmental regulations (including ordinances and rules on single-use plastics).

Catherina Sawoszcyzk next returned to the issue of participation in town council meetings to educate the community on water resource management and other environmental issues of concern. She asked if they were still planning to attend on a consistent basis to make remarks during the comment period at the end of meetings. Diane Wexler replied that, if they were able to move forward with their plans to become regular featured speakers at these meetings, it would be better to get on the agenda for the beginning of the proceedings, when attendees are most fully alert and paying attention. Craig Williams cautioned that town council meetings are not currently set up to sufficiently accommodate this kind of request; Diane agreed, but suggested they wait and see whether or not the structure of the meetings change next year, when a new council president is installed. Peg Distasi said that she will continue to work with Councilmen Lynch and Rizzuto to secure a recurring place on the town council meeting agenda for the Commission, but stressed that they will need a few months to potentially make that happen.

Notes on Blue Community - Craig Williams

The notes were partially covered during earlier discussions of Blue Community and well head/septic maintenance.


Plastic Straw Ban/Plastic Ban

Diane Wexler stated that she had reviewed Peg Distasi's notes from the ANJEC seminar that was mentioned earlier, which prompted her to do further research into the New Jersey plastic ban law. Peg proposed that information on the new law could serve as the basis for one of the Commission's first public service announcements on the revamped web page, which would also include stand-alone pieces from the state government that could be used in one form or another to educate small business owners in the township. Catherina Sawoszcyzk then recommended that they approach local business organizations (such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club) to help distribute this material and get the message out. The other Commissioners concurred that this would be the most effective way to proceed. Peg agreed to contact the business organizations in question to lay the groundwork for this campaign. Diane then proposed that they use Peg's notes as the foundation for an ongoing initiative to keep stakeholders informed about the onboarding of new environmental regulations (and their regulatory impacts) in a systematic and timely fashion. Catherina recommended that the Commissioners attend the next Sussex County Chamber of Commerce fair to help disseminate information on the new rules; Peg then suggested they consider setting up a booth at the Vernon Farmer's Market on a monthly basis during the warmer weather months for the same basic purpose (and more). Diane proposed that they enlist the Vernon Economic Development Advisory Committee, as the primary entity charged with the responsibility of recruiting new businesses into town, in their educational efforts.

Immediately prior to launching the second public participation session, side discussions ensued among the Commissioners about additional topics and tips for the revamped web page, as well as pieces of old business (the pollinator garden, town composting) that were not included on this month's agenda.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Any Vernon Environmental Issue)

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

Before adjourning, Diane Wexler advised the Commissioners in attendance that the next meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.

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 8:14 PM.

Respectfully submitted by Leslie Boen, Recording Secretary