Following 15 months of hearings, the Bernards Township Planning Board — with a reduced number of members eligible to vote — must decide whether to recommend that the Bernards Township Committee should approve the Millington Quarry's application for a closure plan as presented.
The Millington Quarry's plan for how 180 acres or so on Bernards' eastern border would be rehabilitated for future use after quarrying stops received a first look before the Planning Board in November 2011.
The case before the Planning Board finally rested on Jan. 31, following many long evenings filled with detailed testimony, expert witnesses, detailed reports and questions — lots of questions — from the Planning Board and also the public.
The board is scheduled to begin deliberating on the case at the next meeting on March 5. The board only votes whether to recommend whether the Township Committee should approve the latest closure plan for the quarry. In 2008, the Township Committee never approved the last plan — which must be updated every three years — although the Planning Board had recommended its passage.
Meanwhile, two of the Planning Board members who sat through all but the last meeting — Richard Huckins and Ann Parsekian, who served as chairwoman for the quarry application since Chairman Peter Winter recused himself from voting on the application — will not be part of the board's deliberations on the quarry application at the March 5 meeting.
Huckins and Parsekian, along with Winter, were not reappointed to the Planning Board by Mayor Carolyn Gaziano, and replaced by new members. Both Huckins and Parsekian said that had been willing to serve another term.
Gaziano thanked those who served, but also said on Tuesday this week that the new members were chosen with the focus on how they will examine all applications and vote during their entire three-year term.
"Every year we evaluate all members of the boards and commissions whose terms are expiring. We strive for the best combination of volunteers from various professions and backgrounds for each board," Gaziano said in a statement. :We thank all of our many volunteers both past and present for their significant contributions to Bernards Township."
Parsekian said in a statement issued just prior to her departure from the board that she had expressed continued interest in serving, but had learned she would not be reappointed.
"At the beginning of the year you selected me to chair the Millington Quarry hearings and it is important – at least to me – for you to know that it is not my choice to leave without finishing what I was asked and what I committed to do," Parsekian said in the statement.
Parsekian added that she would "like to think" that bringing the perspective of a political independent into the debate had been useful to the board and to the community. "But I respect the Mayor’s prerogative to choose board appointees." She thanked the board's professionals and other members who sat through the "very complex" hearings.
A third Planning Board member who won't be voting is this year's nine-member board is Planning Board Chairwoman, Carol Bianchi, who recused herself from sitting in on the application since she has been involved with a citizens group that for a number of years has monitored and sought information on contaminated soil at the mining site.
To be eligible to vote, a Planning Board member must either have listened to tapes from every hearing, most several hours long, or else have read all the transcripts.
Although they also sit on the Township Committee, Gaziano and last year's township Mayor, Mary Pavlini, last week said that they intend with the rest of the Planning Board to vote on whether to recommend that the Township Committee accept the plan. Pavlini said last Tuesday she is almost finished reading the transcripts for meetings she had missed.
Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Drill said that to make a recommendation, a quorum of five Planning Board members is needed to vote. A simple majority of those present is sufficient to make a decision on whether to pass along a recommendation, he said.
During the hearings, Michael Lavigne, attorney for the quarry, said the quarry's hope had been to settle an outstanding lawsuit with the township that sprang out of concerns that the quarry had brought soil into the facility that had tested as contaminated.
Part of the Jan. 31 presentation prompted questions about proposed truck traffic and the origin and type of soil that would be brought in to lay the groundwork for a potential residential neighborhood — the same questions, in fact, that came up at the first meeting in late fall 2011.
The goals of the rehabilitative plan, required by law, would be to protect natural resources, such as water quality, to prevent erosion and to prepare the land for reuse after the life of the quarry is ended, according to Lavigne.
The quarrying operation off Stonehouse Road, which began early in the 20th century, has slowed since Tilcon New York ceased its large-scale mining early in 2010. Tilcon reportedly leased the quarry from MQI starting in 1999 and until last year. Millington Quarry acquired the quarry in 1978, according to testimony last night.
Tom Carton, vice president of business development for MQI, said in November 2011 that if the Planning Board approves the quarry's plan is approved, subject to questioning by both the board and public, restoration could begin within a year.
But Lavigne said on Jan. 31 that some quarrying of red rock, rather than gray basalt, might conceivably be another five to seven years of life in the quarry.
During rehabilitation after the quarry closes, it could take up to three years to bring in thousands of truckloads of topsoil, as well as additional fill for areas where the state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered potential environmental concerns to be addressed, and also rock to line a future 50-acre lake, Carton said in November 2011.
During rehabilitation, (or reclamation) the entire property would be graded, stabilized and, except for the lake, seeded, according to his testimony.
Part of the skepticism by residents expressed during the hearings centered on whether the quarry would be able to find fill that is free of contaminants without paying for it, as is planned. "We are looking for clean, tested soil to support vegetative growth," Carton testified.
Contaminants that a township consultant found in truckloads of fill being brought into the quarry in previous years — under the terms of an earlier reclamation plan approved by the board in 2008 — had sparked a lawsuit, complaints to the DEP and complaints by officials and neighbors that they feared what might be in the soil already at the quarry.