ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd today canceled an event, announced the night before, at which Roxbury residents could have bought well water testing kits from a non-profit environmental group.
Although Shepherd said he canceled the Oct. 14 event due to “questions” raised today, and did not elaborate, other township officials said the manager made the move because the group involved in the event was incorrectly portraying it as a partnership with the township. They added that Roxbury already offers free well water testing to residents.
The water testing kits were to be sold by Raritan Headwater Association, a non-profit organization, as part of its annual "Community Well Testing" program. The kit sales were to have occurred in Roxbury Town Hall form 9 a.m. to noon. The group conducted a similar kit sale last year.
Flyers announcing the event were distributed in town hall this week. The event was mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting of the Mayor and Council by Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline, who has been working with Raritan Headwaters to organize the kit sales.
The event was canceled without Kline being contacted. Asked why, Shepherd did not go into detail.
“As you know, this was announced last evening by Councilman Kline,” he wrote in an email. “Some of the Council were not at the meeting and some questions about the program have arisen. So this might take some additional time to evaluate.”
When advised today, by a reporter, of the event's cancellation, Kline - the council's sole Democrat - was surprised and said he hoped "politics" weren't involved. Shepherd’s action surprised not only Kline but also a representative of Raritan Headwaters. “I’m confused,” said Raritan Headwaters Well Test Manager Mara Tippett shortly after receiving an email from the township advising about the event cancellation.
Tippett said she’d been discussing the event earlier in the morning with “a lovely woman” in the Roxbury Health Department who gave no indication the township was thinking about pulling the plug.
Shepherd's decision to cancel the event came only hours after his assistant emailed reporters asking them to promote it. Attached to the email was a statement, appearing to have been authored by Raritan Headwaters, which portrayed the event as the fruits of a partnership between itself and the township.
Roxbury Mayor Mark Crowley said it was that language, and the fact that Roxbury already offers free well water testing to residents, that prompted Shepherd to pull on the reins. He said there are strict protocols involving the township getting involved in partnerships and he also noted that only four of the council's seven members were at Tuesday's meeting where Kline mentioned the event.
Although Kline initially said he feared politics were at work, he later took a more conciliatory tone. “We're working on resolving some differences of opinion and will get something out soon,” Kline wrote in an email.
Crowley said politics had nothing to do with the manager's action. "I applaud Mr. Shepherd's decision to go back to the (township) environmental commission and our health department (to review the matter)," he said. "That is the protocol of the township."
Only four of the Mayor and Council's seven members were at Tuesday meetings. Councilman Robert DeFillippo, one of them, said he was surprised when Kline announced the event. "Certainly we were not given any heads-up this was coming last night," he said. "So, in that sense, we would have liked to have gotten, at least as a courtesy, some advance notice about this."
"What's In Your Water?" ask the flyers announcing the event. The flyers, on display at a table in town hall on Tuesday, have both the township's emblem and Raritan Headwaters' logo.
Even if politics had nothing to do with Shepherd's decision, groundwater contamination is a touchy subject in Roxbury due to the presence in the township of the former Fenimore landfill. The main source of Fenimore-related grief for town officials – noxious hydrogen sulfide odors that blanketed the town in 2013 – is no longer happening, but the landfill remains a concern for some.
Groundwater tests have shown the old dump could be dripping carcinogens and other pollutants into the aquifer. However, township officials say wells in the town, even those near the landfill, are showing no sign of contamination.
Despite that, it’s unlikely an event that brings to mind Fenimore in any way would be viewed as a good thing by those seeking re-election on the council, especially an event less than a month before Election Day. Seeking re-election in November are Crowley, Roxbury Councilman Jim Rilee and DeFillippo, all Republicans, who hope to be returned to their 4-year, at-large seats.
They are being challenged by Democrat Lawrence Jones of Ledgewood.
Another member of the GOP, recently appointed Roxbury Councilwoman Jaki Albrecht, will also be on the November ballot hoping to fill out the remaining two years of retired former Roxbury Councilman Gary Behrens. She is being challenged by Democrat Sean Cope of Succasunna.In the past, Roxbury officials were not particularly happy with Raritan Headwaters. The group, in 2015, directly blamed Fenimore for a decline in the cleanliness of Ledgewood Brook.