LACEY – Township officials will be reactivating its environmental commission that has been dormant for at least a year.
During the public comment period of a recent Township Committee meeting, the subject of the Environmental Commission came up. The commission has not held meetings in some time and a few residents questioned what had become of it. They noted that decisions were being made regarding developments without input from an environmental perspective.
“The Environmental Commission is made up by the Planning Board and a lot of the things that are done are under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Commission,” Mayor Steven Kennis said.
Resident Kathryn Cahalane said she had reached out to Township Clerk/Business Administrator Veronica Laureigh concerning the status of the Environmental Commission.
She responded with the specific duties of the Environmental Commission, duties that the planning board took over: “open space preservation, water management, air pollution noise control, solid waste management, soil landscaping protection, environmental resources and keeping an index of all open areas, initiate studies and make recommendations to the planning board.”
Cahalane added to the list of duties: records were also kept of related activities, an annual report made to the governing body, recording the activities of unofficial bodies organized for a similar purpose and interacting with them as well.
The commission would also be charged with promoting education concerning the preservation of the environment in the township. She also noted that recommendations from the commission would also be reviewed for decisions of the mayor and council regarding the purchase of property in the township.
“Is the Planning Board taking over all those duties?” Cahalane asked.
The mayor said that the Planning Board was not handling all those duties.
Committeeman Mark Dykoff responded “we have an economic development commission and it had gone away for a while and when we resurrected it, we discussed it with our attorney and the question was ‘Do we have a commission or a committee?’ The difference is that a committee is funded. Our commissions are not funded so they can’t perform a lot of the duties that you are pointing out.”
“I’d like to have a discussion with all of you about some ideas of ways we can get the commission going again with a lot of volunteers. I’ve lived in this town for 20 years and am buying a home in this town, raising a family in this town. It is a beautiful area and we need to protect it,” Cahalane said.
“We are decommissioning the oldest power plant in the world. I am a federal scientist and graduated the third in my class from John Hopkins University and I’m not here to bother anyone. I’m here because I care,” Cahalane added.
Kennis, who works as a developer, said he was on Environmental Commission 30 years ago. “I’ve been here a long time. We used to meet very regularly. It is hard to get members to show up all the time.”
Cahalane questioned if new members were allowed to join the commission.
The mayor advised her to submit her resume to the township.
“I tried to do that when I tried to form a Green Team and that was shut down so now, I’m back. If the Environmental Commission is not active why would I send in my resume?” she asked the governing body. “It is in our statutes to have an environmental commission.”
“I promise you we will revisit it,” Kennis replied. “As Mark said a lot of these commissions don’t have teeth meaning they make recommendations to the township committee and for a lot of different reasons we only have so much money to spread around and sometimes we use their recommendations and sometimes we can’t and sometimes the members get discouraged that their recommendations go unheeded.”
Laureigh said that no action was taken to make the Environmental Commission inactive but it did stop meeting. “When they did meet, they didn’t always have a quorum.” She also noted that the commission did not always have an application from the Planning Board to review.
Resident Regina Discenza said she had inquired about members on the Environmental Commission a decade ago “and I heard nothing,”
Laureigh said resumes are reviewed each year in December.
Deputy Mayor Peter Curatolo who is expected to become next year’s mayor, when the all Republican governing body reorganizes in January, said the Environmental Commission would be reviewed for potential reactivation.
“Send in your resume,” Curatolo said adding that a letter be sent to all the existing members of the committee. “We will gauge their interest and let’s see if we can resurrect it.”
“Not only do we care about our environment deeply, most of our property west of parkway cannot be developed since 1971 and we test our water quality every week. This is a town that cares deeply about its environment and has an extensive permitting process,” Curatolo said.
“The Barnegat Bay water shed is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and it needs to be protected at all costs,” Cahalane added. “I’m not asking for a budget. I’m a scientist and researcher so I know how to get grants.”