Editor’s Note: This continues the Meet the Leaders profile series in The Alternative Press of South Plainfield. The objective is to provide our readers the opportunity to hear from South Plainfield’s leaders in government, public safety, commerce and other areas, regarding South Plainfield’s present and future outlook, their background and what they enjoy doing in their private life. In order to keep the format consistent, The Alternative Press presented each individual with the same five questions. We are publishing their answers unedited.
Meet Dr. Alice Tempel, Environmental Specialist
What inspired you to pursue a career in Government/Environmental Services?
Inspiration: I was in college during the first Earth Day. I was majoring in conservation of natural resources, but I graduated without a clear career path planned out. I took a job with the US Food and Drug Administration. After working as an entry level regulator for a year, I thought I should go back to school and get enough education to reenter government at a level where I would have some influence on policy. But I wanted to learn more about ecology, because I felt that my undergraduate education had just scratched the surface of this deep and complicated field, and I did not feel comfortable telling other people what they should be doing about environmental issues until I had a better understanding myself. I was accepted into the graduate program at Rutgers. I spent an enjoyable period working towards my degrees, but decided ultimately that I did not want to stay in academia. However, I found it difficult to find a position in the commercial sector with my academic background. I saw an ad in a local paper for a part-time environmental officer in South Plainfield, and I thought I would take that until I found a full-time position.
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing South Plainfield today?
Challenges facing South Plainfield: The Borough's industrial history has left an impact. We have only recently learned from the US EPA how extensive the groundwater contamination is in the Borough. There are indications of extensive soil contamination as well. Efforts to meet the federal Clean Water Act mandate to make streams and lakes fishable and swimmable are also hampered by older industrial properties that were not designed to retain or clean storm water before it runs off into the streams. Maintaining water quality and breathable air is a challenge as remaining open space is converted to impervious surfaces, leading to increased flooding, and increasing development adds traffic to already congested roads.
Opportunities - Replanting trees that have been lost to severe storms over the last decade or so. Improving conservation of existing natural resources such as deer management and control of invasive species. Stream corridor restoration. Working on ways to buy out frequently flooded properties. Supporting Green Team initiatives to improve land use planning and standards for development to reduce environmental impacts. Working with the US EPA to achieve restoration of the Dismal Swamp ecosystem as part of the remediation of the Woodbrook Road superfund site. Creation of a rails-to-trails extension of the Middlesex Greenway along the Bound Brook into Piscataway.
What are the top priorities on your “to do list” as Environmental Specialist?
Top priorities - Improving efficiency and effectiveness of the Recycling Program and the Clean Communities Program. Increasing the number of street trees planted; implementing a policy to require replacement of street trees that have to be removed because they are hazardous. Improving the condition of the Highland Woods Environmental Education Reserve through control of deer grazing and invasive species. Increasing the use of the HWEER by the school district.
What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time?
Five words that describe South Plainfield: Good urban forest remains in an older suburb. (I know, more than five. )