BERNARDS TWP., NJ -- Bernards Township will be required to defend a lawsuit filed late last week by Millington Quarry, Inc. (MQI) objecting to Mayor Carol Bianchi's recently appointed Quarry Advisory Task Force, as township officials and the quarry owners continue to spar over who should have control of the future of the now defunct quarry property.
The township is due to appear with MQI in state court in Somerville on March 29 to answer a motion filed by MQI on March 13 that seeks to disband the newly formed Bernards Township Quarry Advisory task force created by Bianchi early this year.
The quarry's motion argues that the creation of the task force violates a 2014 legal settlement specifying that an oversight committee set up at that time is the only advisory subcommittee permitted to address issues pertaining to the quarry, located off Stonehouse Road.
"The Township will be responding to the motion," Bianchi said in an email over the weekend. "The Quarry Advisory Task Force will meet next week as scheduled," she added.
Bianchi said the township will also respond to MQI's legal offense by bringing a cross motion to "compel the quarry to comply with our ordinance and settlement agreement requiring a revised rehabilitation plan."
Who should have jurisdiction over deciding future of 180-acre property?
MQI's lawsuit apparently is yet another recent chapter rising from a dispute with the Bernards Township Committee over which municipal board and advisory groups should have jurisdiction over the future of the 180-acre quarry property.
Millington Quarry owner's had applied to the township Zoning Board of Adjustment for approval of a subdivision plan to split the property into two tracts.
Before the zoning board heard the application on March 6, however, the Bernards Township Committee voted on March 5 that any alteration of an earlier rehabilitation plan to kick in after the quarry closed would have to go back before the Planning Board, with ultimate approval resting with the Township Committee.
A crowd attended a scheduled hearing before the township Zoning Board meeting on March 6 to hear an application to subdivide the Millington Quarry into two tracts--one about 50 acres, and the other almost 130 acre--but the hearing turned into a discussion of which township board had the jurisdiction to hear the case.
Zoning Board attorney Steven Warner, with the board's approval, suggested that the proposal come back before the board of adjustment at 7:30 p.m. on May 16, so the board can decide whether to itself consider the application, or to move the application to the Planning Board and Township Committee to conduct a hearing.
A representative for MQI said there is no development planned for the property, although a buyer for the property was awaiting the outcome of the application for the subdivision.
The Board of Adjustment meeting on March 6 was attended by dozens of residents, including members of the local Stop the Quarry citizens group.
The Stop the Quarry issued a release in response to MQI's legal motion stating that, "At the heart of this lawsuit is MQI’s desire to subdivide the 'contaminated' and 'non-contaminate' property into two lots, which cuts the lake forming on the property in half. MQI claims this is to facilitate a 'more desirable planning alternative.'"
"The property currently is subjected to a deed restriction which requires the owner to notify any prospective owner that there are toxins under a cap of crushed red stone," Stop the Quarry's release said.
The Stop the Quarry organization also passed along the The NJ Sierra Club's letter to the Bernards Zoning board opposing the subdivision of the property.
“MQI’s proposal would require only the contaminated lot be deed restricted," the letter said, referring to a section of the quarry property where contaminated soil had been identified. The subdivision could allow the second lot to be developed without a deed restriction, the letter said, "allowing the developer to build lakeside homes without having to tell future homeowners of the contamination in the lake," the letter argued.
As of now, the motion involving MQI is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. on March 29, 2019 at the Somerset County Court House, 20 North Bridge St., Somerville, according to the Stop the Quarry release.