ELIZABETH, NJ — Debate about the possible addition of trails for mountain biking in Watchung Reservation continued at Thursday night’s Union County Freeholders meeting. The county had asked for input regarding the trails in February, which sparked an outpouring of people into the subsequent board meetings.

A resolution regarding mountain biking had appeared on the agenda for the Freeholders meeting on April 13, but was removed from the agenda for the rescheduled meeting on April 20. Nevertheless, mountain biking was the major topic on the crowd’s mind as more than 10 Union County residents spoke before the board. 

“The common goal that we all share is a healthy, sustainable trail network and ecosystem at Watchung Reservation,” Jamie Meiselman, a Westfield resident and co-leader of the Union County Chapter of the Jersey Off Road Bicycle Association (JORBA.org), said. “This goal can be better achieved by embracing the contributions of the local mountain bike community, not by excluding it.”

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Meiselman proposed a meeting for stakeholders invested in this issue and asked for the Freeholders to facilitate such a meeting. He also proposed a refined version of the Watchung Reservation map that he feels would result in an increase of wildlife while still allowing bike trails.

However, many voices in the room were staunchly opposed to the addition of a bike trail at all.

“This is a quality of life and safety issue that, if approved, will negatively affect every Union County resident,” Thomas Manna Jr., a Mountainside resident, said. “Mountain biking is a dangerous and destructive activity that causes serious injury to people, plants and wildlife.”

Arguments made about environmental concerns, safety and biking trails in nearby counties were raised by both pro and anti-mountain biking activists during the meeting. 

None of the Freeholders responded to comments regarding the biking concerns, but according to Sebastian D’Elia, director of communications for the county, there is no current timeline in place for a proposed resolution. This process could continue for weeks, he said.

Apart from the mountain biking concerns, two county residents voiced anger and suspicion regarding the board’s approval of resolutions 2017-296 and 2017-297, which award service contracts to T&M Associates of Middletown, NJ, and Maser Consulting, PA, of Red Bank, NJ, respectively.

“I don’t think there’s a law firm that has ever gotten a contract from this board that has not made contributions,” John Berry, a Kenilworth resident, said. “So that is a definite criteria for choosing these people.”

His concerns were echoed by Bruce Paterson of Garwood, who also accused the Freeholders of awarding contracts based on unethical means.

“I will just say that the county of Union strictly complies with the rules on all of our contracts,” Chairman Bruce H. Bergen said.

Following public commentary, the Freeholders entered into an executive session to discuss “Attorney-client privileged communications and discussions relative to potential legislation, possible violations of law and potential contract negotiations with CME relative to issues relating to the Trail Master Plan,” and “Attorney-client privileged communications and discussion relative to on-going contract negotiations with CWA,” according to the meeting agenda.

The next Union County Freeholders meeting will be an agenda setting session on April 27 at 7 p.m.