Minutes: October 18, 2021

The meeting was called to order at 7:10 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
* CATHERINA SAWOSZCZYK
* MARGARET DISTASI

Absent were:
* BONNIE TADRICK
* CRAIG WILLIAMS, Vice Chair, Liaison to Land Use Board

Approval of General Meeting Minutes, September 20, 2021

The September 20, 2021 minutes were accepted and approved by unanimous consent.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Agenda Items Only)

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

LAND USE BOARD - LIAISON REPORT

There was no Land Use Board meeting convened since the last Commissioners' meeting in September.

APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW

There were no applications under review to discuss.

OLD BUSINESS

Spotted Lanternfly

Diane Wexler said that Craig Williams was going to discuss the latest developments with their efforts to educate Vernon Township residents on the spotted lanternfly infestation. She mentioned that Craig had managed to get online content on the spotted lanternfly restored to the front page of the town website, but suggested that the information did not appear to have attracted sufficient attention yet. Diane stated that she would talk to Vernon Township Mayor Howard Burrell about whether or not the county or the state have any plans in place to sweep for the pest and do a large-scale eradication.

Peg Distasi expressed her desire to make a motion asking the township to put forth a public resolution on the spotted lanternfly infestation, declaring it an urgent situation and asking people to follow established DEP protocols for trapping and eliminating the insects and removing spotted lanternfly eggs from the trees. Diane said she would first mention this to Mayor Burrell, despite the fact that he does not handle town resolutions, and then to Vernon Town Council member Andrew Pritzker, who has proven helpful on environmental issues in the past. Peg reiterated how important it is that the township get a handle on the problem in this relatively early stage of the infestation, cautioning that there will be major problems down the road if decisive and swift action is not taken.

Blue Community

Diane Wexler began by stating her opinion that Blue Community's requirements for designation are way too multi-faceted and extensive for the township to tackle in their entirety. She recommended that the commissioners pick out one or two action items to focus on immediately. Catherina Sawoszczyk suggested that a clean water ordinance the commission is already working on would be a good place to start. Peg Distasi concurred, arguing that the ordinance should be the commission's primary focus with regard to water resources over the next year, with other issues addressed later. Catherina stressed that it is critical to get this clean water ordinance written and passed, because the lack of a similar ordinance on land contamination opened the door for the illegal Silver Spruce toxic waste dump to materialize. She mentioned that she had already circulated two examples of clean water ordinances that the commissioners could use to help them craft language for their own. Diane said she could start reviewing the information and materials they had already collected on clean water legislation and initiatives, pull out the most salient pieces to distribute to the relevant players, and then follow up with them repeatedly on a potential ordinance. Peg advised that ANJEC (the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions) includes sample resolution formats on its website that the commissioners can follow when putting together their ordinance.

Diane Wexler reiterated Craig Williams' observations about Vernon's possible participation in the Blue Community program from the previous meeting, stating that - after review of Blue Community's informational materials - it is not at all clear that the township would be able to meet the bulk of the program's obligations and prerequisites. She said, however, that it is important to educate township leaders and residents more fully on proper stewardship of water resources, the kinds of things that would bring the town closer to Blue Community status. The Commissioners in attendance then briefly discussed topics that would fall under such an educational initiative, including protection of well heads, and care and maintenance of lakefront property to avoid pollution and algae growth.

Diane Wexler questioned how the township would enforce an action plan to get homeowners to stop using pesticides and fertilizers on their lake-adjacent properties. Peg Distasi replied that the only way to achieve this is to issue an ordinance to that effect, asking that residents adhere to the DEP's latest guidelines and best practices on the stewardship of lakefront properties to avoid algae overgrowth. Peg stressed that this would have to be an ordinance that provides guidance and establishes a baseline of care and maintenance for homeowners to follow, suggesting that the practices would not necessarily be complied by mandate or stringent enforcement mechanisms. Catherina Sawoszczyk outlined a scenario that would allow the township to take it a step further, with the Commissioners educating Vernon residents about the rules and guidelines and municipal employees following up to help ensure compliance among homeowners in violation. She then asked the other Commissioners under which municipal agency this responsibility would logically fall. Diane replied that it would fall under the Planning/Zoning Department, with a zoning officer commissioned to deal with non-compliance situations as they arise, but suggested that they may not agree to do this. She said the Commissioners could at least prepare a comprehensive set of educational materials and have them accessible at town hall for people to pick up. Peg cautioned that not everybody frequents town hall on a regular basis. The Commissioners then discussed the possibility of making additional arrangements to disseminate these materials, including making them available more widely at Vernon Day, through township schools, to new homeowners through their real estate offices, and through the fire inspector-as well as to people seeking permits at town hall. Peg suggested that they also place the materials on the town website.

Catherina Sawoszczyk mentioned that she had conducted a search of Vernon township ordinances to see if there are any on file relating to water resources. She said she only came across one, which simply stated that the township should follow state guidelines with regard to housing setbacks from streams and lakes. Peg Distasi offered to research existing guidelines and ordinances for the use of chemicals around bodies of water and present her findings at the next meeting; Catherina then directed her to a number of resources that she encountered during her previous research on trout streams and water resource management. Peg also suggested that the Commissioners look into the different rules that the Vernon HOAs (homeowners' associations) might also have in place with regard to the use of chemicals around local bodies of water.

Pollinator Garden

Diane Wexler began by proposing that they scout a small space within Maple Grange Park for a second pollinator garden location, focusing on establishing plants that attract butterflies (milkweed, butterfly bushes, Morning Glories, Black-Eyed Susans, daisies). She said that-once they've found and established their secondary site at Maple Grange-they would simply need to put up some fencing and a sign. Diane suggested that they use Sussex Tech students to produce the sign, and reported that she already has a source lined up for the milkweed seeds. She mentioned that she also intends to consult with this source about best practices and optimal timing for planting. Diane stated that, once the location at Maple Grange is identified, she plans to schedule a meeting with Mayor Burrell to officially secure that spot for the garden. She concluded by mentioning several considerations that the Commissioners should factor in before choosing a spot, advising that the garden should be located in a place where people can easily see, appreciate, and enjoy its natural beauty (and should not be situated in a spot that would ordinarily be mowed over).

The other Commissioners in attendance expressed their approval of the idea.

NEW BUSINESS

Before moving on to new business, Catherina asked the other Commissioners for additional guidance in putting together the dossier of educational materials on clean water for distribution, and also questioned whether or not Vernon's newly installed councilman should be enlisted as a resource in their efforts to educate the public. A brief discussion ensued, with the other two Commissioners offering their input and suggestions on both of these matters.

Plastic Ban

Peg Distasi began by mentioning that the plastic bag ban will be going into effect shortly and that the township has yet to address the issue. Diane Wexler said that it is now state law, implying that pretty soon everyone will have to deal with this and adjust accordingly, but that the supermarkets are chiefly responsible for handling the execution of the plastic bag ban. Peg expressed her belief that the township might consider playing an enforcement role within town borders by policing violations.

Diane asked when the ban would be going into effect; Peg responded that the ban is supposed to commence some time in 2022. Catherina Sawoszczyk inquired as to whether the ban just covers plastic bags or extends to other forms of plastic. Peg Distasi replied that the ban encompasses any temporary-use plastics, including plastic water bottles, plastic straws, and plastic container covers.

Diane Wexler expressed her belief that the township should not have any issues with compliance and adherence, as the township has a relatively small number of establishments that would be affected by the ban. Peg Distasi reminded the other Commissioners that supermarkets and restaurants aren't the only types of businesses that are impacted. Diane also made the observation that New York State appears to have had little problem switching over from plastic to paper straws, and businesses seem to be making necessary changes without much provocation. Peg stated that if Vernon makes an organized effort to enforce the ban and educate the public about the law, it may help the township progress that much further towards becoming a "Blue Community."

Catherina Sawoszczyk suggested that the township make some sort of announcement alerting town residents to the new law right before it takes effect. Peg Distasi concurred, recommending that they place signs and notices around Maple Grange Park-particularly near the snack bar and playground areas-stating that plastics are prohibited. Catherina then proposed that the Commissioners start regularly attending and getting themselves on the agenda for in-person town council meetings, enabling them to discuss this and other environmental issues with their elected leaders more fully.

Before concluding new business, Peg Distasi inquired if there was any way to implement a Zoom component within the framework of in-person Environmental Commission meetings, stating her belief that doing so would encourage more public participation during COVID. Diane Wexler replied yes, as long as someone teaches her how to make a hybrid meeting work properly.

Catherina Sawoszczyk also took the opportunity to reiterate that the town council meetings represent an excellent opportunity to get the word out about environmental initiatives and concerns in the township-enabling the commissioners to get public service and educational information on the record not just at the actual meeting, but also by way of town council minutes and recordings. Peg concurred, suggesting that they get at least one Commissioner per month to discuss an environmental issue of importance and relevance at town council meetings. She mentioned that doing so would also raise their profile and increase the buy-in and credibility of the Commission among Vernon Township residents. The Commissioners then agreed to start attending town council meetings beginning on November 8, with the intention of speaking regularly during the public comment sessions going forward.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Any Vernon Environmental Issue)

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

COMMISSIONER COMMENTS

Peg Distasi stated that the Commission is "working hard and progressing nicely," after many years of relative inaction among previous Environmental Commissions.

Before adjourning, Diane Wexler reminded the Commissioners in attendance that the next meeting will be held on Monday, November 15, 2021. The Commissioners then resolved to cancel the December meeting, citing its proximity to the Christmas holidays. Catherina Sawoszczyk mentioned that she would likely not be available to attend the November meeting in-person, and asked if they could do a Zoom meeting instead so she could join. The other Commissioners agreed; Diane Wexler offered to let everybody know about the change in format and venue.

With no other business or comments offered, Diane Wexler made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Peg Distasi seconded the motion. The meeting was adjourned at 7:57 PM.

Respectfully submitted by Leslie Boen, Recording Secretary