Public Comment Starts—Then Stops—in Quarry Case
Next meeting will bring further comment from township experts on changes made last week on quarry application.
The next meeting on Millington Quarry's application for plans to turn a 180-acre quarrying site back into usable property would mark the eighth month of hearings on June 5, when more testimony is expected from township consultants.
Members of the township Planning Board said Tuesday they want their consultants to review and report on revisions of the quarry's plans submitted just last Friday.
Michael Lavigne, an attorney representing Millington Quarry, said the changes and additional information submitted by the quarry owner were in response to suggestions made by the township's consultants and board members. The quarry wrapped up its own case, as presented by its own experts in early March, and consultants for the township have since offered input on the plan.
For example, Lavigne said the amount of rock boulders, or "rip rap" that would have been brought in to line a proposed 50-acre lake the property off Stonehouse Road has been reduced by more than half in response to advice from township experts. That would shave the amount of material to be brought in as "fill" for quarried areas from a proposed 681,000 cubic yards to a little over 533,000 cubic yards. Most of that fill would be soil for a layer of ground covering over quarried areas, he said.
However, it was soil, later tested as containing such contaminants as arsenic and lead, that was the primary concern of township officials and residents while the quarry was bringing in fill from other locations.
The one resident to comment on the quarry application, Christen Walsh, of Valley Road, offered testimony that Citizens for a Clean and Safe Millington Quarry, a watchdog group, had run an online search for known contaminated sites in New Jersey. She said that certifications filed in the township's engineering department showed that soil from at least 24 of those locations were brought into the quarry, then operated by Tilcon New York. The quarry collected fees for dumping that soil, she said.
Lavigne said later that Walsh's report involves actions by Tilcon, which is no longer operating the quarry site and also has dropped out of a lawsuit with the township that was sparked by discovery of the contamination. He said that the fill was brought in to smooth out steeply quarried areas, as required by a township ordinance, under a system worked out by a township professional.
Following Walsh's testimony and written submissions, board members said that public comment and testimony would be held off until after the board hears further input from its own consultants.
Some board members also said they want to hear additional information from the quarry's witnesses. Lavigne also said he reserves the right to call quarry witnesses to rebut tht testimony, and also comments by the public.
The township's last scheduled consultant, Planning Board planner Frank Banisch, also testified on Tuesday at the meeting.
The board's task, Banisch said, is to approve a plan that will not endanger the public or public water supply and also will "take a denuded landscape and somehow make it a usable landscape."
Although there is no development plan for the board, the applicant has discussed someday turning at least part of the property into a residential development in a two-acre home lot zone.
At some point, the board might wonder whether residential properties should be put in an area where contaminated fill had been brought in, Banisch noted.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, which has asked for further samples from the property, may limit access on a portion of the tract in which contaminants were found. "But we don't know that yet," Banisch said.
Banisch said it is difficult to determine how best to deal with the area that has the soil tested as contaminated until a pending DEP report is issued.
Lavigne said afterward that he can't say when the DEP will issue another report.
However, Lavigne did say during the meeting that an environmental consultant speaking on behalf of the board testified in April that an environmental "risk assessment" showed no hazard to humans based on the soil that is in the quarry at this time. He said later that the quarry plans to cover that soil with a layer of rock.
Bernards Deputy Mayor Carolyn Gaziano, who sits on the Planning Board, asked Banisch if he would be comfortable allowing a large lake to be developed at this time without having the results of the latest soil sampling from the DEP.
Lavigne objected that water quality was outside of Banisch's area of expertise, and referred to the report that had been received by the board the previous month.
Banisch advised that the importation of fill into the quarry to complete the latest version of the quarry's rehabilitation plan be limited to as little as needed to provide ground cover of about two feet or less over quarried areas.
Board members and attorneys for the quarry also went back and forth in discussion about the amount of bonding that should be posted by the quarry owners to guarantee that the rehabilitation plan would be carried out once quarrying ultimately stops for good.
Walsh noted that Tilcon had ceased quarrying operations at the site in 2010, but that the quarry owners later said they have continued quarrying the property to an extent.
Walsh said she had moved to the township in 1984, and was told at that time that the quarry would cease operations in 2000. "They keep kicking that can down the road," she said.
Walsh said that testimony in previous versions of rehabilitation plans, including a 2008 proposal that was never given final approval, professionals for the township have testified that there already is enough soil on the property to carry out a rehabilitation plan without bringing in additional fill. She asked that the board recommend to the Township Committee that no more fill should be imported onto the site.
If the quarry can come up with a plan that is endorsed by the Planning Board, that proposal then would go before the Township Committee for final approval.