A geologist representing Millington Quarry on Tuesday night told the Township Planning Board that rock faces alongside a proposed 50-acre lake and possible future residential neighborhood on the quarry land are "stable."
"I wouldn't do anything to disturb any part of that quarry face," geologist Mark Zdunczyk advised on the quarry's behalf.
"Rocks will tumble—we don't know when," the geologist said. Later in the meeting, he revised that observation to specify he couldn't predict when rocks might break off, if at all, as a result of repeated freezing, getting wet and drying.
The geologist added that the rock faces have fractures, but none of the fault lines that cause rock to move. In response to questions by Board Member Kevin Orr, Zdunczyk said it would be "a stretch" to say this past year's seismic activity and recorded earthquake would have had any impact on the cliff areas. He said the only fault line in New Jersey, the Ramapo fault, is in the northern part of the state.
Zdunczyk said that any potential falling rocks—which he said estimated would likely be no larger than 2-by-2 feet in size, and could be smaller—would fall into a trench, berm and fence that would separate the bottom of cliffs from any people in the area once the quarrying operation stops.
Another witness, municipal and civil engineer Kevin Page, later said the area set aside to catch any falling rocks is about 24 feet wide, and is also separated from the remainder of the property by a 10-foot wide earthen berm and a 6-foot fence.
Page also said that local zoning would require that any possible homes envisioned someday for a "meadow" section of the quarry property would need to be at least 100 feet from the quarry's property line, which would further increase the distance.
Once the proposed lake would fill in, the rock face would be about 70 feet above the water level, Page said. It would taper down on other areas of the property, he said following the meeting.
As had other witnesses before him, Zdunczyk said that buoys would divert any boaters that might be on the future lake from approaching the edge of the cliff, he said.
Zdunczyk was the latest in about a half-dozen witnesses to testify on behalf of the quarry since hearings began before the board last November on the quarry's latest "rehabilitation" plan for how the property could be prepared for its future after quarrying stops.
More than three months following the start of hearings, Michael Lavigne, an attorney for the Millington Quarry, said he intends to call another witness at the next meeting. He said future testimony and possibly other witnesses could be required, based on questioning and reports by experts for the township.
Lavigne asked the board to schedule a special meeting in February to continue hearing the application, but board members said the quarry would need to wait until March 6, following the Feb. 21 meeting, which already has a full agenda.
Lavigne told the board that a stay in quarry's lawsuit against the township will expire on April 27. The legal actions stems from a dispute over the Township Committee's refusal to accept the quarry's last proposal for a reclamation plan in 2008, and also a dispute about soil that tested as contaminated being brought into the quarry as fill.
"If we reach April 27, and this isn't done, I think it's likely that the litigation will carry through, one way or another," Lavigne told the board. The board must make a recommendation for the Township Committee to give final approval to a rehabiliation plan before it could become official.
"I know you want this to go faster, but I don't know how much faster it can go," said Stuart Koenig, attorney for the Planning Board. "There's a lot of witnesses, a lot of testimony and a lot of questions," he said.
Some of the questions came from the public. Resident Bill Allen, who also had considered previous quarry plans in his capacity as a former member of the Township Committee and on the Planning Board, presented multiple questions to Page.
Among his questions was why fill in one section of the quarry couldn't be moved to another to "pad" steep rock faces.
"This quarry is very close to being done," Page said. He said most of the current proposed reclamation plan would involve regrading of fill and rock already there, although the plan also calls for more topsoil and rock to line the future lake.
Allen's proposal would require blasting and massive regrading and cuts at the property, he said.
Allen also displayed exhibits from the quarry's application for the rehabilitation plan submitted to the township in 2008, compared with those in 2011. The quarry has been required to submit updated plans every few years. He pointed out the differences in topography between those dates.
"Wouldn't you agree that there's already been a lot of fill put in there?" Allen asked Page.
"Absolutely," Page responded.
The 2011 application, currently before the board, calls for about 421,000 cubic yards of topsoil, Page testified at a previous meeting. "We are not proposing significant fill," in the current application, compared with previous amounts brought in, he said.
Resident Vann Vogel also asked Page why the budget for the rehabilitation plan in the current application does not include funds to purchase topsoil.
Page responded there could be many reasons that the soil used for fill might not be a budgeted amount, including that the quarry might be paid to take the soil, or it might be brought in for free from another site.