Monday, June 12, 2006

The Mayor and the DEP

Letter to the Editors

Is the endless quest for ratables finally going to bite taxpayers back in South Brunswick?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has found South Brunswick’s stormwater management plan deficient because the Township failed to include its handling of runoff from numerous warehouses on Davidson Mill Road. Those who have been following the story are well aware that members of the Eastern Villages Association have repeatedly insisted that this runoff is flooding the Pigeon Swamp State Park and compromising both its lands and waters.

DEP investigators agree. With a new Commissioner in place and new regulations governing stormwater discharge, DEP engineers toured the area in March. Since all the waters in the Pigeon Swamp including the Great Ditch are listed by the State as Category 1 waters, contamination from runoff is of critical concern. Category 1 waters are sources of drinking water and must be protected from any upstream discharges. This Spring, the New Jersey Courts upheld DEP regulations regarding Category 1 waters over protests from developers. As a result, these laws must be enforced.

Now, South Brunswick finds itself in an awkward position. The Trammel Crow warehouse developers have given the Township $100,000 for an engineering study of the flooding. Many in the know have suggested that this money will just be a portion of what is needed to do a thorough investigation. How much more will be needed to remediate the problems and fix the causes of the flooding? Where will those funds come from?

The Township Planning Board was told of this problem during the Summer of 2005 during the CNJ warehouse application. The Township Engineering Department and the Township Council were also informed. EVA members asked the Boards to use caution in approving the CNJ application because that developer was going to be modifying the very detention basin and drainage system causing the flooding. Had the Township acted then, the CNJ developer would have been responsible for remediation. Instead, the Planning Board approved the plans with only Joe Spataro and Debra Johnson, who had taken the time and effort to visit the site of the flooding, voting against CNJ.

Now, as I write this, bulldozers and earth movers are beginning work on the CNJ site. There is no turning back. While various State agencies have done their best to control the effects of the CNJ plan, the responsibility of proper stormwater management remains in the hands of the municipality. All along the way, the professionals and officials of South Brunswick ignored the warnings.

The Mayor has established the Davidson Mill Road Committee as a task force to consider the impact of warehouse development in the area. Included will be discussion of the flooding. As well the Trammel Crow money is slated to hire and engineering firm to study the flooding. But this all comes nearly a year and a half after the EVA first discovered the flooding and began to investigate its cause. Within a matter of four months, DEP engineers had investigated and made their decision. Now, the Township must act. It is no longer a matter of mere speculation and discussion. Failure to listen to logic has its consequences.

The trouble is, South Brunswick residents may be faced with the bills. We are already paying with potential damage to our drinking water. Are we yet to face potential damage to our wallets?

How much are our ratables going to cost us in the end?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Task Force Begins Its Work

The Task Force Meets

The task force created to study the issues of flooding and traffic in the Eastern Villages area has started its meetings. So far preliminary efforts include a reworking of some of the details of the engineering scope and discussion of present traffic concerns.

The engineering scope includes all the requirements the Township needs from the engineering firm hired to study the flooding from the warehouses. The task force felt there were some modifications needed to the request. The area of concern needed better definition. As well, water testing needed to be added, and a study of the aquifer recharge area needed some examination. As soon as an engineering firm is selected, the task force will work with its representatives investigating the flooding and its impact.

Truck traffic in the residential areas of the Eastern Villages has been an ongoing concern. As warehouses have been built, more and more tractor trailers have been using local roads as shortcuts. While Township roads can be restricted , County roads are open to all traffic. The new Route 522 may relieve traffic in the future, but its construction is still years away. In the meantime, the task force hopes to make suggestions to establish designated truck routes to discourage truckers from rumbling past peoples' houses.

It may not be until summer's end before the task force's mission is complete. Be assured some very dedicated people are working hard to make sure its job is done well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

DEP Joins the Flood Controversy

Floods along the Jersey Central Power and Light right of way. This water reaches into the Pigeon Swamp waters.

DEP Writes Letter to South Brunswick

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has sent a letter to South Brunswick Township ordering a new Stormwater Management Plan which must include the runoff from the warehouses on Davidson Mill Road. The new plan must include a full study of the current system and various methods of mitigating the flooding into the Pigeon Swamp. Since the Swamp is a Category 1 watershed, regulations prohibit stormwater from having an impact in the area. Essentially, "dumping" of runoff from the warehouse district into the swamp is illegal.

DEP environmental engineers noted that flood waters were coming from the warehouses, a contention the EVA had made well over a year ago to the Township. We have been battling development in the area ever since, pleading before the Planning Board, Township officials, and Township engineers that modifications must be made in the stormwater systems of proposed warehouses before they were given approval. Blog entries below have chronicled our successes and failures. Now, at last, with definitive action by the DEP, the Township must listen.

Currently, the Mayor of South Brunswick has designated a task force of residents and experts to examine the problems, but that committee must wait for the Township to select an engineering firm to do the technical study. Using money provided by the Trammel Crow warehouse developers, an environmental engineer will investigate the complete picture of the flooding and determine its effect on the aquifer and the swamp. With the new DEP requirements, there will also have to be a plan to stop the flooding and repair damage it may have caused.

The EVA's position and claims about the flooding have been vidicated by the DEP's decision. At last something will be done because something has to be done, or the Township will be in violation of at least two State regulations. We are relieved to finally see real hope for protecting this vital area.

Slave Gravesite Honored

Memorial for the Slaves

On May 26, 2006, the EVA held a memorial cememony on the Van Dyke Farm to honor the slaves who lived, worked, died, and were buried there. According to notarized written testimony from members of the Van Dyke family, the area near the Turnpike Bridge was once dotted with old wooden crosses marking the burial sites of slaves such as Amy who once toiled on the farm.

The EVA has continued hopes of using advanced technology to search the area for signs of the graves, but for now, we selected a spot under a spreading tree to place a memorial to these people whose lives are intertwined with the history of our nation.

The Reverend Robert Turton of the Fresh Ponds Chapel offered prayers at the brief ceremony. James Shackleford, local historian and our expert on the slaves of South Brunswick gave a moving speech expressing sorrow for lost lives and freedom. Jean Dvorak sang to close the ceremony as guests and participants joined hands for the benediction.

The Home News Tribune has posted a slide show with portions of the ceremony at its website:

William Klimowicz of the EVA designed and crafted the marker which reads: "In memory of the African Americans of centuries past whose remains life here in the fields of the Van Dyke farm where they toiled under hardship and difficulty."