Minutes: September 20, 2021
The meeting was called to order at 7:08 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
* BONNIE TADRICK
* CATHERINA SAWOSZCZYK
* CRAIG WILLIAMS, Vice Chair, Liaison to Land Use Board
* MARGARET DISTASI
Approval of General Meeting Minutes, August 16, 2021
The August 16, 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
Land Use Board Liaison Craig Williams stated that the last Land Use board meeting was convened on September 8. He said that two ordinances were discussed at this time. The first of these concerned plans for the development of a mother-daughter residential unit. According to Craig, there were no environmental impacts or concerns to consider, and-despite some unique and potentially problematic issues with the plan specifications-the Land Use Board approved the project. The second of these, which was approved by the Land Use Board as well, involved the clarification of rules and regulations for recreational cannabis sales within its borders. Craig cautioned, however, that neither of these approvals should be considered binding, as the Land Use Board operates in more of an advisory capacity and the town council has the ultimate decision-making authority.
APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW
There were no applications under review to discuss.
Peg Distasi began by alluding to the obviously worsening infestation, and stated that the commissioners should arrange to get earlier online content about the spotted lanternfly restored to the township website. She also suggested that they supplement with additional information, including a link to instructions on how to build a simple but effective spotted lanternfly trap. Peg said that the message needs to be stronger and more aggressive now, making it explicitly clear to the community that these tree-killing pests must be eliminated before they can reproduce. To this end, she proposed that the online content needs to be much more comprehensive and visible this time around, with the material located prominently on the front of the township website. She mentioned that she had sent quite a few materials on the spotted lanternfly over to the mayor's office for the website earlier in the year, but only two links made it on to the site, and they were buried at the bottom of the Environmental Commission's page. Diane Wexler argued that these links were insufficient; people need pictures and visuals up front so they can more easily and readily identify the spotted lanternfly, and can't necessarily be counted on to drill down to the bottom of the Environmental Commission page to click on informational links.
Peg Distasi proposed that the commission should get information to the town council for a possible proclamation on the dangers of the spotted lanternfly.
Craig Williams suggested that they should not only be pressing the township to more assertively address and publicize the spotted lanternfly issue, but should also be pushing the Department of Public Works to police township property for trees infested with the insect. Peg Distasi mentioned that, at this point, to effectively eradicate next year's threat, the trees would have to be scraped for the eggs prior to March, when they are expected to hatch. She surmised that the commissioners will then have roughly six months-from now until February or March of next year-to greatly increase public awareness and spur action in the township.
Bonnie Tadrick said that it was her understanding that the spotted lanternfly lays its eggs in September, so any effective public awareness campaign and call to action at this time would have to include actual pictures and visuals of the various stages of the insect's development, and not just a link to these things. Craig Williams proposed that they take this a step further, adding written blurbs that stress the urgency of the situation to accompany the pictures. Peg Distasi said that, now that it is clear the spotted lanternfly infestation has taken root in the area, people will perhaps now take the problem more seriously. Craig then offered to hand-deliver to the mayor and business manager the original trove of materials that Peg emailed to the mayor's office earlier this year, conveying the utmost importance and urgency of taking a more aggressive approach to facilitating community awareness and action. Peg agreed to re-send Craig the original email with attachments so that he could print them out. She suggested they arrange for this material to be featured on the website for six weeks in the fall, just in time for the egg-laying season, and again in February prior to the spring hatching season.
Craig Williams began by referring to a dossier of information that Peg Distasi sent over via email prior to the meeting. He cautioned that, while the Blue Community program is at first glance a noteworthy and laudable program, there are existing agreements and arrangements with private water companies in certain areas that may undermine the township's overall ability to achieve Blue Community status (in particular, there is a Blue Community program requirement that water must be managed as a common resource and not privatized). Craig suggested that asking the town to completely turn over all of its private water contracts to the Municipal Utilities Authority may not be practical or feasible. Catherina Sawoszczyk said her understanding is that only a certain percentage of Vernon communities would need to be compliant with the public management rule to secure the Blue Community designation. She then questioned if the township actually meets that threshold. Peg Distasi responded that they would have to do more research to find that out, but the Division of Planning and Zoning might be a source of information. Craig Williams proposed that the Land Use Board might also have insights as to which communities are served by private wells versus publicly managed utility.
A lengthy conversation about water quality issues and considerations in the township generally, as well as some measures the environmental commission might recommend to help improve the town's water management practices, ensued between the commissioners.
Peg Distasi brought up the Blue Community stipulation that designated communities must actively work to prohibit the sale of bottled water within its borders. She mentioned that Trenton had just issued a recycled-content mandate for plastic bottles, which would require the state to begin dealing more proactively with the problem of plastic pollution in general. The commissioners then discussed how the township might improve overall adherence to recycling in the community, with Diane Wexler suggesting a town-wide public awareness campaign on how plastic pollution is killing the planet and Peg Distasi proposing that the township create a plastic buyback program for residents. Peg reasoned that a such plastic buyback program could lead to another revenue stream for the town, by way of selling the reclaimed plastic to repurposing companies.
Craig Williams wrapped up this portion of the proceedings by stating that the commissioners really need to investigate the Blue Community program and its requirements further, doing additional research on whether Vernon Township could even remotely meet the prerequisites and conditions set forth for Blue Community designation, and laying the whole thing out in its entirety before proceeding.
Catherina Sawoszczyk reported that she had been conducting research since the last meeting to find out if there are any existing educational materials on stream management and protection specifically for New Jersey property owners and communities. She stated that she had investigated the matter extensively and found nothing applicable in New Jersey, but she did locate an excellent brochure from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Waterways, Engineering, and Wetlands that targets Pennsylvania residents with these types of water resources on or near their properties. Catherina cautioned that the laws in Pennsylvania would likely be different from those in New Jersey, so these pamphlets would not be applicable in New Jersey. Diane Wexler and Craig Williams concurred.
Catherina then took the opportunity to review and share the reference materials, links, and citations she collected during her research, mentioning that she is working on synthesizing all of the relevant information she found and developing an informational flyer for Vernon residents. She then passed out copies of "Protecting Our Streams," a pamphlet written by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) to show environmental commissioners what they can do to help manage and protect streams in their communities. Catherina briefly highlighted some of their suggestions, including informing residents on how to properly dispose of hazardous waste; advising residents about the correct usage of pesticides and fertilizers; sponsoring river cleanups; organizing wildlife surveys, water monitoring programs, and lawn care workshops; sponsoring tours by canoe or on foot; writing op-eds for local newspapers; and involving citizens and local officials in these activities.
Catherina next questioned the other commissioners as to whether they would like to recommend that the town council issue an ordinance establishing penalties and fines for people who pollute or damage trout streams and other critical waterways in the community. She said she thought it might be a good idea to be proactive in this case, since the town council made the mistake of not issuing an ordinance prohibiting contaminated soil dumps in the township, and Vernon ended up with a 75-foot mound of polluted soil within its borders. Craig Williams suggested that they first review the town ordinances that are on file, determine if something is already in place, and - if so - ascertain whether certain aspects of the current language and content should be changed or revised.
Catherina then test-drove some of the language and recommendations for managing and protecting streams and stream buffers that she planned to include in her flyer for Vernon residents. Craig Williams suggested that she broaden her focus to include considerations for stream watersheds as well, but Catherina countered that she chose to emphasize the water resources that you might find on or near residential properties since the flyer will be targeted to homeowners.
Craig then mentioned that any suggestions for the portion of the trout stream contained on ACME supermarket grounds must include protecting the sheltering vegetation that covers the stream, because if the vegetation cover is removed, the stream will be exposed to excessive heat from the sun. He mentioned that the ACME property owners have been doing just that in the name of beautification. Catherina argued that this should not be happening, as it is against DEP regulations. She also said that her flyer will advise property owners to honor the stream buffer zones when removing debris, making sure not to disturb the storm channel and natural vegetation.
Peg Distasi suggested that the township might consider requiring DEP permits for work done on streams. Catherina warned that this might deter people from just picking up garbage in the stream--making them afraid of being penalized for doing even the most routine cleanup work-and that would not be a desirable outcome. She reiterated her support for a township ordinance that fines bad actors for bad-faith activities like dumping in the waterways and removal of live trees and critical vegetation from streams-a stricter measure than found within current DEP rules and regulations, but entirely permissible for townships under New Jersey law. Craig Williams asked if the township could carve out a tree-clearing ordinance within stream buffer zones; Catherina replied yes.
Catherina expressed her strong belief that recommendations should not be primarily focused on the ACME supermarket property, but should encompass all streams and waterways in the town-taking a more comprehensive, township-wide approach to stream management in their efforts.
Craig Williams questioned how they might best present the information that Catherina put together, and how to best get it out to the public. Catherina mentioned that the PA Bureau of Waterways, Engineering, and Wetlands brochure is an eye-catching and easily readable piece, and might be a good model for their own work. The commissioners then discussed in detail the possibility of making the pamphlet accessible to new home buyers, real estate offices, and home builders, as well as how best to go about doing that.
Diane Wexler proposed that Catherina email her excellent research presentation to the mayor, business administrator, and the members of the town council. She suggested that the presentation might serve as the foundation for a new stream protection and public advocacy initiative in the township. Peg Distasi said that it might be a better idea for Diane and Catherina to print out a copy of the presentation and hand-deliver it to the mayor and business administrator. Diane said that the materials should be emailed first, but agreed to put everything together and print the presentation for the two of them to deliver in-person as well. Peg Distasi then asked if Catherina's research might be presented to the Land Use Board. Craig Williams and Diane Wexler both openly expressed support for the idea, with Craig proposing that they get on the Land Use Board agenda to present Catherina's work on stream protection along with their Blue Community research as a possible total response to water resource management problems in the township. Catherina said she thought this might even be an important first step towards becoming a Blue Community; Peg concurred. Craig also mentioned that the presentation could be extremely helpful in educating the Land Use Board members about the various issues involved, informing their work as well.
The commissioners concluded this part of the proceedings by articulating next steps and additional work that needs to be done before moving forward. Peg Distasi summarized and laid out a general action plan, with Diane approaching Mayor Burrell, Business Administrator Voelker, and Township Council President Shortway with Catherina's research in advance of a possible presentation to the Land Use Board. To this end, Catherina and Craig agreed to first work together to fine-tune her presentation and make it more concise before sending it over to the mayor's office and town council. Catherina also offered to keep looking for pamphlets on stream protection and management that are specifically geared towards New Jersey residents, homeowners, and property owners. Craig Williams and Diane Wexler both agreed that ANJEC would be the next logical place for Catherina to check.
Narratives, Sustainable New Jersey
Diane Wexler began by mentioning that she had not gotten the chance to work on her assigned Sustainable New Jersey narrative since the last meeting. Craig Williams said the same. Diane recommended that they refocus their efforts in the upcoming month to make some progress on this front. Bonnie Tadrick advised that she was able to do some work on the food sustainability narrative, doing research and getting information and pictures from the Vernon Farmers' Market, Vernon Valley Farms, Heaven Hill Farm, EarthMan Farm, and the Farm at Glenwood Mountain. Craig suggested that there will soon be another qualifying business that Bonnie can use for her narrative, as there are plans to install a new farm-related enterprise at the site of the old Rickey Farm. Peg Distasi offered to email Bonnie the official name of the new business.
Diane said that she would have something on the Environmental Commission ready to go over at the next meeting; Craig said he would continue his work on the narrative covering Vernon's town trails expansion program. Diane said that a lot of the work Catherina and Peg are already doing on stream management and the Blue Community initiative, respectively, can easily be folded into their assigned updates on the same topics.
Peg Distasi said that she had just sent an application for a brownfields development grant-one that could be used to clean up the contaminated Silver Spruce property-over to the mayor and business administrator for review and consideration. She advised, however, that both the township and county would have to be involved in the grant application process, with the application going from the township through the county to the state.
Wildflower Planting Grant
The commissioners discussed possible locations in the township where wildflowers could be strategically placed. Diane Wexler proposed that they pick a place that will not be readily mowed; Peg Distasi said that they could also accomplish the same thing by getting the township to agree not to mow in the chosen location. Craig Williams suggested a large parcel of township-owned property right across from Maple Grange Park. After discussing and dismissing, for a variety of reasons, several other potential spots in the township-including entrances to town on Routes 515 and 565-the commissioners decided that the area across from Maple Grange would be their best option, with other possibilities along Route 517 coming down from Pine Island, at the entrance to Lake Panorama coming from the old Martin Farm, and in other smaller pockets in town. The commissioners then agreed to apply for the wildflower planting grant under consideration and-upon successful receipt-do the planting in the spring.
There was no new business to discuss at this time.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Any Vernon Environmental Issue)
No one from the public came forward at this time to comment.
Before adjourning, Diane Wexler reminded the commissioners that the next meeting would be held on Monday, October 18, 2021.
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 8:34 PM.
Respectfully submitted by Leslie Boen, Recording Secretary