Residents who live in the vicinity of the Millington Quarry on Tuesday offered varying reasons why they oppose the quarry's proposal for closing and preparing for redevelopment, which has been the subject of hearings before the Bernards Planning Board since last November.
But they all agreed on one point: No more fill should be allowed to enter the 100-year-old quarrying operation on Stone House Road, now on the verge of final closure.
Steve Yglesias of Valley Road, saying he was making his first appearance before the board, said he agreed with those who seemed "dubious" that only clean soil and fill materials would be brought in to smooth over and prepare for development a portion of the approximately 180-acre property. The quarry's application calls for bringing in about 425,000 cubic yards of fill and soil to cover a rocky area along a future lake spanning about 50 acres.
"You should be dubious — particularly because we are in the state of New Jersey," Yglesias told the board and public.
He said there are many industrial brownfields and undocumented contaminants dumped or leaked into soil throughout the state.
Yglesias' concerns were similar to those voiced by other residents and some planning board members throughout the hearings. The quarry property already has an area with identified contaminants from soil brought in as fill for a few years prior to May 2008, when the township placed a ban on the importation of further fill.
Michael Lavigne, attorney for Millington Quarry, said the board's own expert, Sharon Wollenberg said publicly at a hearing earlier this summer that the quarry's for bringing soil into area to be redeveloped can make sure that soil is uncontaminated and safe for the public — as long as the plan is followed.
Wollenberg is one of the experts that the Planning Board agreed to call back at the next scheduled hearing date of Oct. 30.
But some residents, including Carol Bianchi, whose testimony is scheduled to continue on Oct. 30, expressed scepticism that no more contaminated soil would enter the site, based on the quarry's record.
Bianchi said that the quarry's years of accepting money to allow truckloads of fill to enter the property means the quarry could be more aptly described as a dump between around 2006 through May 2008.
At the next meeting, Bianchi said that among the documents she plans to introduce into the record is a "dump price list" she said was mailed to a local landscaper in past years.
Along with questioning the contents of Bianchi's documents, Lavigne said that Tilcon New York, a separate company from the Millington Quarry, was responsible for arranging truckloads of fill at that time.
Other residents, including Kim Geary of Blackburn Road and Christine Thoma of Valley Road, testified that hundreds of dump trucks heading each day to the quarry during its most active years, especially when fill was being imported, had made their lives miserable and created a safety hazard on local roads.
That traffic was vastly reduced since the bringing of the soil onto the property was banned in 2008 and quarrying at the location dwindled.
"It's been a blessing," Geary said of the very small amount of truck traffic now heading to and from the quarry.
Prior to 2008, she said, on hot summer days, she said she and her family had to go indoors to escape the impact of the quarry's nearby operations. On those days, she recalled of the quarry, "I can hear it, smell it and [even] taste the debris."
Reading from previous testimony, Lavigne said at the height of Tilcon's operations, there were 350 to 400 trucks per day coming into the quarry. Under the new rehabilitation plan, the area might expect trucks bringing in needed fill to number about 120 to 150 trucks per day over a period of about two years.
Resident Bill Allen, a former member of the Township Committee who has in the past considered the quarry's updated plans for rehabilitation from the other side of the table, said there is no reason for additional fill to be brought in at this time.
Disagreeing that the land needs to be prepared immediately after the quarry closes for development in anticipation of a specific plan for residential development, Allen said shale from a large proposed "meadow" area should be moved to create a more gradual incline at slopes that would rise by about 60 feet above the proposed lake. Despite the applicant's plan to install a fence and plant brambles along the steepest edges, Allen said the rock faces still would present a risk of people falling, or being struck by a falling rock.
"One needs rock-climbing skills and equipment to negotiate a 65 to 75 degree slope," Allen said in a report submitted to the board and handed out to the public. He said someone falling from such a distance could be killed or severely injured.
"This is not a theoretical risk," Allen wrote. He referred to the case of a young man at the Bernardsville Quarry, with the same owner as the Millington Quarry, who in 2004 was found dead at the foot of a cliff.
"I put the safety of those who live here, now and in the future, first," Allen said.
However, according to his own estimates, his plan requires moving four million cubic yards of material, essentially shale, to regrade the steepest area to a 27-degree slope, which he said still is substantial. He said his plan would reduce in size, but not eliminate, a lake suggested for filling in the quarry pit.
Allen acknowledged that his plan had been opposed in the past by experts testifying for the quarry and that it even had been questioned by the board's own professionals or members.
He also said that residents living near the quarry would be inconvenienced by noise and blasting during the years in which the work would be done. "After that, they too will benefit from the removal of the risks."
Allen also said the board should hold off on deciding whether to recommend a rehabilitation plan to the Township Committee, as is the procedure, until the state Department of Environmental Protection issues a final report on recommendations on how to deal with contaminants in soil already on the property.
Allen said the steep slopes exist "because too much rock was removed for crushing and sale. The quarry [MQI and Tilcon] benefitted financially from the mining of rock that should have been left in place."
Since Allen also suggested that the township ordinance governing quarrying operations be modied, he should approach the Township Committee with that suggestion, he was advised.
The Planning Board is charged with deciding whether to recommend the Township Committee should give final approval to the quarry's rehabilitatio plan for land that has been used for quarrying for about a century.
The Township Committee also has the option of recommending that the quarry's proposal be modified. That process bogged down a previous post-quarrying plan that went before the governing body in 2008 — and never received final approval.