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Resident: Town Should Celebrate Woods, Not Cut Them Down

The Somerset Hills board is considering plans that could cut down hundreds of trees near Bernards High School in Bernardsville.

To the Editor:

Before the board of education Feb. 20, is a project that offers the chance to set an example to our town, our state and most importantly our children, of proper land use management of the 82.968-acre watershed area.

This geographic area consists of 11 sub-drainage areas, studies of which have indicated is a critical tributary to Penn’s Brook flowing to the Passaic River Watershed. In fact, the headwaters start on the Bernards High School property, Block 64, Lot 1.

As we move forward, are we prepared to inform aspiring student scientists and curious developing minds alike, that you, this board of education, decided to cut down hundreds, perhaps over 1,000 trees, that represent a prime example of northern New Jersey wooded freshwater wetlands?

The same woods, though now dormant, are soon to be teeming with new life, consisting of a multitude of tree, plant and animal species, some of which may be endangered or threatened. These species return each and every year, in the spring, now just four weeks away—well beyond each of our own lifespans or the life of any athletic field.

What legacy are we choosing to leave behind and what lessons are we teaching our children if we risk not rigorously enforcing or, worse, potentially breaking state and/or federal laws—for example the Freshwater Wetland Protection Act and/or the Flood Hazard Area Control Act—by not pausing on a project that is without a comprehensive, written, well-thought out and verifiable plan or one that presents options for our community to ensure sustainable minimal impact growth?

What message are we sending with the current seemingly ad-hoc plan that appears reckless as not containing the due diligence expected of a board of this caliber? Why are we not pursuing a plan that is prepared by well-reasoned people from a cross-section of interests, undertaken in a controlled and measured manner?

Don’t you find it tragically ironic that the very woods you want to cut down now are in fact the woods that adjoin Penn’s Brook that our high school students are requesting to visit on a field trip on March 13? Is this plan consistent with the district’s well-recognized green initiatives?

Once again, we the concerned citizens—as we did in person, one year ago, on Feb. 23, 2012, in the historic Olcott Building—urge, request and demand that you ask yourselves certain questions, as do the many law-abiding citizens and taxpayers here or absent tonight—have we, as a community, become so blinded and absorbed by a culture rife with endless examples of “gotta-have,” “needs versus wants,” and “expansion for expansion’s sake,” that we are willing to forsake our collective conscience to the deleterious and irreversible environmental impact of a rapidly vanishing, bio-diverse ecosystem?

Must we proceed unchecked, without taking pause to stop and reflect on the process and choose the road not taken? Why are we not celebrating the woods and instead choosing to cut them down?

In closing, shouldn’t we as a community commit to finally creating a special overlay district consisting of all stakeholders, as originally recommended by your own “Watershed Analysis for A Tributary of Penn’s Brook” in March 2009, to ensure all “applicants to meet stricter stormwater management standards”?

As a final reflection, it is helpful to remind this board, our elected and appointed officials and our townspeople of the words of the esteemed American Poet, Robert Frost, who concluded his beloved poem “The Road Not Taken”:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

You the board can choose to make a landmark difference by setting a course for proper land use development. We urge you to choose the right and responsible path.

Sincerely,

David A. DePodwin

Bernardsville

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