Minutes: September 17, 2018
1. CALL TO ORDER: 7:00 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) - P
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 Mr. Williams and was seconded by Mrs. Kadish. All were in favor.
A. 3 Silver Spruce Drive Soil Dumping
Mr. Pat Distasi - 4 Silver Spruce Drive, Sussex. Mr. Distasi commented that he last addressed the EC in 2008 and 2009. He asked if there are activities, if any, in which the EC has participated in or can participate in to help residents at 4 Silver Spruce Drive with getting the dumping to stop. Chairman Furrey answered that the EC became aware of the situation nine years ago when he was an EC member and Mr. Williams was chairman, and he also recalls reading minutes from a meeting during that time period. Mr. Distasi remembered the meeting as being very good and thanked the EC for it. Chairman Furrey said he remembers from the minutes that Mr. Williams advised Mr. Distasi to contact what the EC considered to be the regulatory authority at the time, which Mr. Williams said he believed was the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Chairman Furrey said there was a time after that when the cell tower was being considered that he walked the site as a commission member and gave input on what he saw, and Mr. Williams was not on the EC then. Mr. Distasi said from 2014 to 2018 was when the stop work order was placed on 3 (Silver Spruce), trucks were going into Vernon to 1 (Silver Spruce), and then four years to get it to court. Chairman Furrey clarified that every member currently on the commission was not an EC member in 2014 but that when the new commission was formed, members were appointed at the same time. He said in December 2017 or January 2018, when he became fully aware of what is going on, they contacted NJDEP and the county health department to find out what rules and regulations apply to this situation, which resulted in learning about several incidents of people calling in issues to the warn (DEP) hotline. Chairman Furrey said he found it rather disturbing that there was no measurable response or follow up from the DEP, other than four or five different site visits from the end of 2017 into 2018. He said they contacted the assistance commissioner of enforcement, who is now the acting DEP commissioner and Michael Hastry, who is the director of Solid Waste Enforcement, to inquire as to what the DEP is doing about the situation. Chairman Furrey said they also contacted the county health department. The way he understands it, the county gets funding from the DEP and is the enforcement agency for it. He said the phone call was prompted by Mr. Hastry’s letter written in response to an inquiry from the Lake Wallkill community about concerns over what was going on, which is available for people to see. Chairman Furrey said Mr. Hastry’s letter, in essence, responded that (fill activities off Silver Spruce Drive) did not show any signs of violations and that there was no solid waste. The DEP has done fourteen different site visits over the past several years. Chairman Furrey said, apparently in January, the DEP did some soil testing, somewhere. He said they asked for those test results and have not received them. Mr. Williams pointed out that they sought Representative Gottheimer’s help in terms of pressuring the DEP to do more. Representative Gottheimer recently went to the site and saw visible construction waste.
Mr. Distasi said it sounds like they are speaking to the same people and got different types of answers but with the same result. He said it has become apparent that the Sussex County Soil Conservation District (SCSCD) is responsible for ensuring compliance of its work orders, which includes the first one and the current one. He said that responsibility lies with the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office because if there is a violation issued, it has to come from there. He said the caveat is that the Vernon police, through the SCSCD and their sheriff’s department, has a way of acting as an adjunct. Mr. Distasi believes this is outside of any pending litigation pertaining to that property and irrespective of any tort because it is Sussex County. He said they notified the Sussex County prosecutor this morning with a letter that all seven cases brought for prosecution of this activity had a county prosecutor, not a municipal prosecutor. He said the four cases on his table involved state police. He said because every one of the cases that goes down to a town level has involved state police or the county prosecutor, he thinks they may have things available other than people going into their own checkbooks. He said many arrows are in the air, that it is coming unglued, that it is a matter of stopping the trucks and Wallace, and then determining who will take the stuff out, if necessary.
Mr. Distasi said all of the people are owed the explanation of what is and has been dumped there. He said the people that live near it or below it where the water runs off need to have tests done professionally, two-inch bores, eighteen holes. Mr. Distasi said when the Vernon Township attorney tried to explain to the judge in Morristown about a couple of technical issues, the judge said the stop work order is not really clear. Mr. Distasi said the judge stated it was on six acres when the attorneys had repeatedly told him was four acres. He said after much exploration, they found that in the past two years, the prosecutors were given what they needed, including state police reports, arrests, companies, drivers, convictions, etc. He said he is bringing this to the EC and to the public to make known that there are avenues to aggressively explore, such as going to the county prosecutor’s office and inquiring why something is not being done. He suggested the state police could get involved because of the trucks using State Route 23. Mr. Distasi brought up that the mayor is looking to use a weigh station on County Road 565. He told Chairman Furrey he would email him the new stop work order issued by the SCSCD.
Chairman Furrey said they did water testing on water bubbling out onto Eric Gorovoy’s road (from 3 Silver Spruce to 1 Silver Spruce), which included metal and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) testing. He said the only thing they found were some detectable levels of lead in the water, and the township was given that report. Chairman Furrey said if anyone wants to contact him about it he will provide it. The drinking water limit is 15 parts per billion, and he estimated that they found about 85 parts per billion.
Ms. Jean Murphy (town council, president) interjected from her seat that because there is pending litigation, she is not sure how far he should take the discussion. Chairman Furrey replied that the report is out. Ms. Murphy answered that she is not telling him what to do. He said he knows what he is doing and is going to be completely transparent about what they are doing because people should know. Mr. Distasi expressed appreciation for the transparency and agreed that people should be aware that the test was done. Chairman Furrey said they were waiting for the county or the DEP to do it, and they did not respond, so the township did its own testing.
Chairman Furrey said the EC does take it seriously and members are equally frustrated by the fact that they would like to do more. He said, speaking for himself, that the EC is not a regulatory body and has no enforcement capabilities. He said the EC can inquire about what is going on and has made efforts and has done what it can to help resolve the issue. Mr. Distasi said he remembers the EC having its hands tied during the cell tower application when he brought the issues happening at the property to the EC’s attention. When Verizon withdrew its application the following year, Mr. Distasi said he went back to the EC and asked who will remediate the property, which looked like a “bombing zone.” He invited people to drive up Silver Spruce to see for themselves what he is talking about and thanked the EC members for their time.
Mrs. Peg Distasi - 4 Silver Spruce. Mrs. Distasi said she wanted to bring attention to something new, which is that (Wallace) has brought old railroad ties onto the property, some today and some last week. She said she is seriously concerned about them looking chemically treated, having rebar and iron stakes coming out of them. She asked how she gets someone to come and look at them to determine if they should or should not be there. Chairman Furrey replied that an email, with pictures, was sent out today to Kerry Pflugh of the DEP and to James McDonald of the county health department to make them aware of it and asking them to make a determination on whether it is solid hazardous waste and how they are going to address it. Chairman Furrey said the DEP responded that it will refer the issue to enforcement and thinks the county health department referred it to one of the county engineers. Mrs. Distasi said there was an article posted today about the new leader and suggested giving her the history. Chairman Furrey said he, along with the mayor, Congressman Gottheimer, and some other people had spoken with Richelle, who he said was receptive and told him she would look into the matter. Chairman Furrey told Mrs. Distasi he thinks it would be helpful to contact her, give her the history, and tell her what she expects the DEP to do about the situation. Mr. Williams added that he thinks the DEP logs what transpires during calls and keeps records in a way to attach them to the issue. Mrs. Distasi thanked the EC for the guidance.
Mr. Joe Wallace - 3 Silver Spruce Drive. Mr. Wallace said he believes it was last Tuesday that the DEP called him and gave him a ten-minute window to tell him they were coming to do a site inspection. He said it is a thirty-second inspection that the DEP has done at 3 Silver Spruce Drive. He said there were concerns because people were under the assumption that they were railroad ties, but he said they are not railroad ties. He said they are reclaimed timber beams that are either red oak or white oak with dimensions of about eight inches to twelve or sixteen inches in width and about sixteen to eighteen feet long. Mr. Wallace agreed with Mr. Williams that they are major but emphasized that they are non-treated and approved and said he has the paperwork on them for wildlife wetlands. Mr. Wallace said there cannot be any treated lumber and said when an excavator is tracked out to a certain area, there cannot be something in the water that is going to contaminate. Chairman Furrey asked if that was within a certain distance to the wetlands, and Mr. Wallace answered that the pipeline, for example, has rights to track through the wetlands for its purposes, then the mats are removed but that it cannot be any treated lumber. Mr. Wallace said some of the timber had been dredged. He said the report on the NJDEP Data Miner is probably pending and should be posted by the end of this week. He replied to Ms. Erichsen that the other beams came from Newark, which he said he learned about from an Internet ad. Mr. Williams asked whether or not there is an effective stop work order. Mr. Wallace responded that it has nothing to do with it because they are good boards that are either being separated to go to a mill for flooring or being cut up for firewood. He said his friend told him about the railroad ties speculation and advised him to attend the EC meeting to state what he did. Mr. Wallace said if they check with the DEP, they will find what he is saying to be true.
Mr. Wallace said there were three male inspectors during this past Tuesday’s site visit who stayed for almost four hours and went all around his property. Chairman Furrey asked if they found any evidence of solid waste, and Mr. Wallace said no. He said that was his thirty-second inspection, and he has never failed one DEP inspection. He said the county health department has been there and did an inspection and he has never failed anything from them, either. He added that they came two times in the same week, and once it was Jennifer Terwilliger, who Chairman Furrey said was in county solid waste enforcement. Chairman Furrey asked if the county ever issued a report. Mr. Wallace answered that he was told that the information was on the Data Miner site but that he is not computer oriented. Chairman Furrey said the site he is referring to is the NJDEP Data Miner site, which is not a county site. He said the county might put information into that database, but there should be a record of the inspection. Mr. Wallace said he never asked about the inspection. Chairman Furrey asked which department came out from the DEP, and Mr. Wallace replied that there are so many different divisions of the DEP, including wetlands, freshwater, Highlands, solid waste enforcement, and he said over the years he has had every single one there. Chairman Furrey asked about the DEP’s claim to have taken core soil samples for testing in January of this year, and Mr. Wallace answered that he has pictures of it, that they did eighteen boreholes, in a star-like pattern. When Chairman Furrey asked Mr. Wallace if he ever saw a copy of that report, Mr. Wallace replied that he believes it is on the Data Miner site. Mr. Williams said the report should give the size of the core, how deep it went, and the results. Mr. Wallace said the DEP does not send him anything, and Raj, the inspector, told him that it is his responsibility to get it off the website. Mr. Wallace said the test results should be available there and thought that the inspection was on January 26.
Mr. Wallace said the mayor has the results, to which Chairman Furrey said was untrue and questioned why the mayor would keep the results from the EC. Chairman Furrey said the mayor and Representative Gottheimer asked the DEP for the report and the DEP promised that report. Chairman Furrey said it would be helpful for everyone to have a copy of those results because they want to know if it is hazardous. He said they can go look on Data Miner but that he made the request to the assistant commissioner and Director Michael Hastry. Mr. Wallace said Tom Farrell of DEP (Bureau of Solid Waste Compliance & Enforcement Chief) told him that all of the documents that the township requested, they received. Mr. Wallace answered Chairman Furrey that he was unsure if he had contact with Michael Hastry because he had received many different business cards.
Mr. Williams moved to close the meeting to the public, seconded by Mr. Cheski. All were in favor.
6. LAND USE BOARD (LUB) LIAISON REPORT
A. National Winter Activity Center (NWAC)
Mr. Williams was not present at the meeting but said the only thing that came up in terms of a public hearing was a minor site plan to construct a “starting hut” at the top of the slope. He said he has not seen plans and nothing was in his mailbox. Ms. Erichsen (an alternate on LUB) attended and said a plan was given out at the meeting. Chairman Furrey said when they see the plans, they can discuss it.
7. OLD BUSINESS
A. LUB Applications Review - All
Chairman Furrey said he did not receive anything in his mailbox.
B. National Resources Inventory (NRI) - CW/All
Mrs. Kadish provided information to Mr. Williams about designated sites from Historic Preservation Commission files, and Mr. Williams will use the information to update the NRI. Mr. Williams said the major stumbling block is the mapping. Chairman Furrey asked if an updated NRI with appropriate documentation but without mapping could be considered an acceptable NRI to Sustainable Jersey. Mr. Williams said everything they have in terms of mapping is in Portable Document Format (PDF). If there are historical designated sites that go beyond what presently exists, there is a way within PDF to locate, tag, and notate it. Mr. Cheski had information pertaining to weather, and Chairman Furrey asked Mr. Cheski to send Mr. Williams a digital file on the Climate section. The recording secretary will update the tracking spreadsheet and highlight in yellow any new changes to it and send to EC members. Chairman Furrey said he will inquire whether a grant is available for mapping. Mr. Williams suggested also applying for a grant from ANJEC. Chairman Furrey would like to submit to Sustainable Jersey by November. The EC can ask for assistance from the county when it gets to the point of mapping.
C. Sustainable Jersey (SJ) - MF
The submission deadline was September 9. Information was submitted, which allows them to maintain bronze certification and still submit more information by November to get silver certification. He said if members want to contribute, it is a pretty simple process that involves reviewing actions on the SJ website. Mishelle Downtain submitted for several items, and it is up to them to review and fulfill them.
D. 3 Silver Spruce Drive Soil Dumping (additional discussion) - MF
Chairman Furrey answered Ms. Erichsen that the EC will try to get a copy if the soil testing is available on the Data Miner site, which Mr. Williams explained has to be retrieved. Chairman Furrey said they could look on Data Miner and hopefully find it. Ms. Erichsen agreed with him that the EC should make an official Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the DEP and see if they respond. Ms. Erichsen also wanted to know where they get information on the status of what Mr. Wallace called timber beams. Chairman Furrey said Ms. Erichsen’s question is valid whether the ones Mr. Wallace said he bought online were included in the non-creosote treated wood. Mr. Wallace said the most recent inspection was last Tuesday. Mrs. Kadish asked if Chairman Furrey knew if, aside from Data Miner, the DEP keeps major paper files on someone. Chairman Furrey said in dealing with DEP regarding water and wastewater, all reports are electronic. He said they might keep some correspondence, like the letter from Michael Hastry to Lake Wallkill or other supplemental information, such as lab reports, which will not be on Data Miner but might be able to be obtained through a special request. He said most logs are on Data Miner because it is required and that Data Miner is the DEP’s internal electronic database. Mr. Distasi asked permission to speak and said that there is a main toll free hotline (not the WARN-DEP hotline) that can route the call to the OPRA area where someone takes information and then sends out an OPRA request form.
Ms. Erichsen feels the EC has a responsibility to get some answers for these people. If there is information available, she thinks they need to gather it so next time they do not need to depend on the person who has been in violation to tell what has or has not been done. Chairman Furrey fully agreed. He said they can request and get information, but it is very difficult to go on that property to test, which he understands would need a warrant. Chairman Furrey said this type of activity is happening at other municipalities, and Vernon Township is passing ordinances and now aggressively taking actions against these activities. Chairman Furrey said the DEP did issue a violation in 2014 but never followed up on it. He said what is happening statewide is that towns have to take their own actions. He said another thing that has been happening locally is that there have been zoning violations issued for this activity on residential property with daily summonses being given. Chairman Furrey explained that the stop work order was originally done by the SCSCD in 2014 and was not enforced. He said in the last week, the SCSCD has issued another stop work order, which requires (Wallace) to produce a soil erosion plan. SCSCD regulates soil erosion. He said whether it is toxic or hazardous or what is in it or if it is solid waste is regulated by the county and the state. He said there are not a lot of laws in New Jersey to stop this from happening, which contrasts from New York State, and that is why he could be stopped there.
Chairman Furrey said what they can do as the EC is listen to people, collect information, and provide information to the township to help the decision-making process. He said he personally feels that the township is doing a lot to stop the problem. Chairman Furrey said this is the response he got from the director of Solid Waste: “It’s not much solid waste.” Chairman Furrey saw a lot of solid waste on the property, including concrete, rebar, pipes, and bricks. He said there are solid waste laws that prohibit burying these types of materials. Ms. Erichsen wondered how, if the DEP is not saying these things are in violation, can he be stopped. Chairman Furrey said he asked Enforcement, the Assistant Commissioner, and the Solid Waste Director Michael Hastry, how the DEP went to the site fourteen times and missed the solid waste. He said the DEP letter says there is no evidence of solid waste. Chairman Furrey said members could visit 1 Silver Spruce Drive, which is Eric Gorovoy’s property, and then look to the right to see 3 Silver Spruce Drive. Ms. Erichsen wondered if the soil would slowly erode away if it was just dirt and not solid waste. Chairman Furrey said a concrete block wall is around it, stopping soil from going across Mr. Gorovoy’s roadway. He said there is water bubbling up from the ground into wetlands, which is just on the other side of the road.
E. Open Space - Greener by Design (GBD)
This agenda item was not discussed.
F. Secaucus Resolution to Ban Polystyrene - MC
Mr. Cheski said he forwarded everyone the email from ANJEC with sample ordinances related to polystyrene and plastic bags to review. Members were supposed to then discuss the terminology. Chairman Furrey said his understanding is that Governor Murphy vetoed the plastic bag fee and sent it back to the assembly for clarification. Mrs. Kadish thinks plastic bags would be easier to ban than polystyrene (Styrofoam). Chairman Furrey said for plastic bags, it would not hurt to look at the original vetoed bill, make a recommendation to the town council on what the EC would like to see in a resolution, and then follow the bill through the legislation route to see how it goes. Mr. Williams wondered if it was common for state law to supersede local law. Mr. Williams said they could draft it for it to then go to the legal department. Mr. Cheski reminded members that they had discussed including plastic straws in the ban. Following is Mr. Cheski’s draft:
Resolution Certifying Vernon Township with Sustainable Jersey
Whereas, Vernon Township wishes to eliminate polystyrene and plastic shopping bags from schools, restaurants, and small businesses within the town; and whereas, polystyrene and plastic shopping bags cannot be recycled in Vernon Township; and whereas, polystyrene products and plastic shopping bags are not necessary and can be replaced with paper or other alternative biodegradable products. Now, therefore, be it resolved, that Vernon Township places a ban on polystyrene and plastic shopping bags, and we will raise awareness of sustainable initiatives it will have in Vernon Township.
After discussion, members were in agreement to draft three separate resolutions: polystyrene, plastic straws, and plastic shopping bags. Chairman Furrey said at the next meeting, they will have a vote to make a recommendation to town council.
G. Black Bear Hunt - MC
The black bear hunt has been banned on state property and is limited to private property.
H. Vernon Street Fair and Farmers’ Expo-Saturday, September 8, 2018, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. - All
Chairman Furrey said at the Vernon Street Fair (on Main Street) as well as yesterday’s Sussex County Day (held at the fairgrounds), he got a great response from people, and most people were really interested. He said it was good that people from outside the county were at yesterday’s event and got to see what was going on with Vernon. The table looked really good. They had maps, information about the trail system and Trail Challenge, and bear pamphlets. He said the first three hours of the Vernon Street Fair was very well attended until it started to rain. He said there were about 65 vendors, a lot of food, a radio interview with the mayor, and dance troupe performances. Sussex County Day was also well attended and was held indoors.
8. NEW BUSINESS
A. EC (Polystyrene) Presentation to Board of Education (BOE) - MC
Chairman Furrey said they can approach the school after the draft is finished. Mr. Williams said they could talk about recycling and composting. Chairman Furrey said if any of the members would like to go to the BOE meeting, he does not have any problem with EC members bringing it up during public comments and has no problem making a presentation.
B. Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissioners (ANJEC) Award
This item is not on the agenda. Chairman Furrey said Cherie Shortway of the Greenway Action Advisory Committee (GAAC) put all of the information together, completed an ANJEC application for a state award, and submitted the Vernon Township Greenway (trail system) as the project. They learned Friday that they won. October 12 is the ANJEC award presentation and conference and Chairman Furrey asked members to let him know if they want to attend. One member can attend free, and each additional registrant is $70. Chairman Furrey thinks it is good for the commission, and Mr. Cheski expressed interest in attending the event.
9. LUB APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW
10. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
A. August 20, 2018 - Regular Meeting Minutes
After discussion, motion to approve the minutes with changes was made by Mr. Williams and Chairman Furrey. Ayes - Chairman Furrey, Mr. Cheski, Mr. Williams. Abstentions - Mrs. Kadish, Ms. Erichsen.
11. COMMISSIONERS’ COMMENTS
Mr. Cheski is still waiting for the bear group to get the rules and regulations of trash disposal. He said he will remind his contact again and hopefully bring the information to the next meeting.
Motion to adjourn was made by Chairman Furrey and seconded by Mr. Williams. All were in favor. Meeting adjourned: 8:37 p.m.
Minutes submitted by Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary