BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - The Bernards Township Committee's approved agreement with the Millington Quarry to begin bringing in a maximum of 150 trucks of soil per day to prepare the quarry off Stonehouse Road for eventual development could take effect soon, officials said in mid-May.
However, Bernards Township Mayor John Carpenter said on Wednesday, May 14, there was no indication yet that the quarry owners had begun trucking to bring in soil. The soil, or fill, would be transported to an area of the quarry that may someday house a residential neighborhood.
Despite opposition to the settlement agreement by a crowd of at least 100 members of the public, a petition with 500 signatures, and three former Planning Board members, the Bernards Township Committee on April voted, 3-1, to approve the agreement. The settlement is designed to lay to rest legal wrangling stemming from a lawsuit filed by the quarry back in 2008.
Millington Quarry had filed the lawsuit protesting a 2008 township ordinance banning any more fill coming onto the property, about 180 acres, after random tests of some truckloads showed the presence of contaminants in soil and other fill materials.
"It's impossible to protect residents from contaminants by allowing more material to be brought in," said Richard Huckins, a former member of the Planning Board. Huckins had served on the board during a lengthy series of hearings, on the Millington Quarry's latest plan, dating back to fall 2011, to close and "rehabilitate" the quarry property.
Bernards Township Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano, who was near tears before casting her yes vote on May 29 later said, "All we are trying to do is protect the town and to get the least amount of fill as possible."
Gaziano and Carpenter both said that the choice the Township Committee had was not one of "fill or no fill."
The township instead faces a return before yet another judge to resolve the six-year litigation, and Gaziano said that feedback from the township's attorney and the judge's comments were that a complete ban on soil to place on the future development site "was not defensible." A local quarrying ordinance long in place requires quarried areas to be covered.
"The alternative is to go to trial and have a judge unfamiliar with the technical issues...make a decision we have to live with," she said at the meeting.
The approved April 29 agreement limits the quarry to importiing no more than 300,000 cubic yards of fill into the property to "fulfill" the 2011 rehabilitation. Carpenter said that translates into a maximum of 150 trucks per day — but possibly fewer if the quarry gradually finds suitable soil for the site — compared with reports of between 400 to 800 trucks of fill coming onto the property on a daily basis between 2006 and 2008.
Both Gaziano and the mayor said that the agreement requires testing of soil at its origin, a copy of soil reports to be sent to the township's experts, and also some testing by the township of materials entering the quarry.
Gaziano and Carpenter both later said they also had heard from some residents who were in favor of the settlement agreement that had been approved on April 29.
Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi abstained from voting since she had been involved with a citizens' group raising concerns about contaminants at the quarry in prior years.
Township Deputy Mayor John Malay cast his vote against the settlement.
"For years, MQI [Millington Quarry] testified that no contaminated fill was being brought in," Malay noted. But in the 2011 plan, and at subsequent hearings before the Planning Board, the quarry presented maps showing contaminated areas, which had been tested by the state Department of Environmental Protection, he said.
Malay said the township should rewrite quarry ordinances to eliminate requirements for soil depths, and require the quarry owners to use fill already on the property.
The public speakers at the April 29 meeting spoke against arguments in favor of the settlement. "No one wants to spend the money on litigation," resident Linda Murphy said while addressing the Township Committee that night.
Murphy, who presented the petition, said that the quarry already is already "under the burden of litigation," and said now would be the time for the township to increase its efforts.
"Emphatically, vote no," Murphy urged the Township Committee. She added that "residents will stand arm-in-arm to block trucks."
The link to the agreement, as well as video clips of comments by the public and members of the Bernards Township Committee, are on the updated April 29 agenda on the Bernards Township website.
Resident Bill Walsh, whose wife Christen was asked to leave the meeting when she continued to protest the Township Committee's decision during the vote, later said that a group of residents are following up by "validating the legal agruments" to dispute the Township Committee's decision.
Walsh said he believed the Township Committee had "hastily" reached an agreement. He noted that the Planning Board had recommended that about 14 to 18 inches of topsoil would be sufficient to cover the so-called 95-acre "meadow area." He added that the Planning Board also had raised questions about the best composition for the soil being brought in for the potential future residential area that could have been further addressed with Millington Quarry.
Another former Planning Board member, Kevin Orr, said that approving the ground cover of between 14 to 18 inches of soil would at least have reduced the cubic yardage _ and number of truckloads — of soil coming into the quarry site.
Orr also said that the 2008 ordinance halting the quarry's importation of additional fill specifically requires that any settlement be approved by both the Township Committee and Planning Board. Carpenter disputed that reading. The ordinance is online.
Carpenter said that as the governing body, the Township Committee retained the right to approve, reject, or approve in part the Planning Board's recommendations on the quarry rehabilitation plan.
Following the quarry hearings before the Planning Board, in which Orr had participated, the board voted to recommend approval of the quarry's plans for a future lake on the property and also capping an area determined to contain contaminants. At that time, on Orr's recommendation, the Planning Board suggested that final approval be withheld on the 95-acre "meadow" area envisioned for future residential use.
Township Attorney John Belardo said on May 15 that the quarry owners could be expected to bring the approved settlement back to court to seek dismissal of their legal action, with prejudice, as part of the process of ending the lawsuit against the township.