The objector’s attorney has played an important role in the Fisher water hearings, bringing to light significant facts about the proposed commercial operation that the applicant’s expert witnesses omitted from their testimony. Witnesses have stuck to the general narrative line that, in water use and truck traffic, the water pumping operation would be “similar” to the prior dairy operation.
So it came as quite a surprise, at the July 9 Board of Adjustment hearing, to have two witnesses for Mr. Fisher, his engineer Robert Templin and a truck driver, Frank van Horn, make significant new revelations about the operation. Mr. Templin testified first. Under questioning by the applicant’s attorney, George Dilts, Esq., Mt. Templin told the meeting that the new site plan calls for three 500 watt halogen lamps, equipped with motion-sensors to turn on when the trucks arrive after dark. Currently there is one 75 watt floodlight on the barn, so the lighting plan would be a significant increase over what currently exists on the farm.
The Township’s planner Betsy McKenzie expressed her concern that the motion sensors could be set off by deer, and the sporadic glare of three 500 watt halogen lamps turning on at random moments throughout the night would be an annoyance to neighbors. She asked Mr. Templin whether they could be programmed to stay off during certain hours. Township Engineer Peter Turcek commented that “that really is a lot of light; you would have sky glare visible over a wide area”. Mr. Templin said the wattage could probably be reduced somewhat; he said the Board should ask Mr. Fisher what he was willing to do.
Mr. Templin concluded his prepared testimony, and Mr. Dilts yielded the floor to Mr. John Lanza, Esq., attorney for the objector, for cross-examination. When Mr. Lanza asked Mr. Templin about the possibility of putting timers on the lights so they would not be turned on in the middle of the night by passing deer, Mr. Templin revealed for the first time in these proceedings that the trucks could be coming and going from the site around the clock, six days a week. The public’s reaction to this new detail was palpable: the entire room fell silent. Mr. Dilts slumped visibly in his chair.
Public attendance at these hearing has been sparse. But on this night a standing-room only crowd was present, in response to an anonymous flyer distributed to neighbors’ mailboxes. During public comment period, Township resident and professional trucker Ralph Dellabadia asked Mr. Templin “will the trucks be using food grade non-baffled tanks? Because the load shifts. How do you propose to deal with this truck going up a road with a one-foot crown, no shoulder and no sub-base?” The engineer did not answer.
To a question from Mr. Lanza about truck weight and the number of daily trips, Mr. Templin replied “the number of trips is not the most important factor: it’s the weight. A 6,000 gallon water truck weighs about the same as a 6,000 gallon milk truck”. Mr. Templin did not state the obvious: that the number of trips by 6,000 gallon trucks would be much higher for the proposed water operation than it was for the defunct dairy. That was left to the next witness.
Mr. Frank van Horn, truck driver and Mayor of Knowlton Township, testified next. He still drives a milk truck, he told the Board, making deliveries of milk and water to Readington Farms. He introduced himself as the “owner and operator of F&M Transportation, that’s Frank and Mary, me and my wife”. More than a decade ago he used to pick up milk from the Fisher dairy farm. He does not know whom Mr. Fisher plans to sell the water to, but Mr. van Horn mentioned during testimony that he would like to have the contract to drive the trucks.
Under questioning by Mr. Dilts, Mr. van Horn testified that the trucks would be 8 feet wide and 59 to 64 feet long, and weigh 79,000 – 80,000 pounds loaded. During cross – examination, Mr. Lanza asked Mr. van Horn how many milk trucks were needed for the former dairy operation. Mr. van Horn testified that one truck used to go to the Fisher farm every other day for a pickup, 7 trips in two weeks.
As a point of reference, previous testimony has shown that the water operation would employ nine trucks arriving empty and leaving the site fully loaded each day, six days a week. In a two – week period the water operation would bring 108 trucks to the area; in the same period the dairy operation brought 7.
Mr. Lanza began by verifying the previous number of truck trips.
LANZA: If someone said you came eight times a week, that would be an exaggeration. It wouldn’t be true?
VAN HORN: Correct.
Mr. Lanza continued with questions on the proposed operation.
LANZA: You said you would operate during non-peak hours?
VAN HORN: Yes. The demand would come from the bottler. If you have nine loads over a 24-hour period, they come about two and a half hours apart. We try to start between 3:00 and 4:00 AM. We’d arrive on site about 45 minutes later. Readington Farms operates on a 24-hour schedule.
LANZA: So the timing is determined by the customer?
VAN HORN: Yes.
LANZA: Would you be comfortable with a scenario with an eight-foot wide truck passing a school bus on Locktown – Sergeantsville Road?
VAN HORN: No. We’d avoid that. It’s a narrow road. We’d try to operate when the school busses are not there.
As cross examination continued, Mr. van Horn revealed inadvertently that Mr. Fisher’s conception of the business he proposes to enter is outdated on two key points. Before this meeting, the narrative given out by Mr. Fisher and his experts was that at any given time there would be at least one tanker on site. A driver would bring an empty tanker and park it by a tower to fill; he would then decouple the tractor and recouple to a tanker left on site on a previous trip, which would now be full. This tanker would be driven to the buyer while the empty tanker filled.
Mr. van Horn testified that the current practice is to never leave a tanker unattended. “That’s a security risk. Buyers now are very concerned about the chain of custody. The driver will stay there with the tanker.”
LANZA: So the tanker parked next to the water tower, it would be filled by gravity feed?
VAN HORN: Oh, no. There have to be pumps on each of those towers to fill the trucks. Gravity feed is too slow.
Mr. Lanza asked about the noises associated with the trucks: the back-up horn and jake-brakes.
VAN HORN: There are federal regulations on the new truck models.
LANZA: So an older model could still have jake brakes and loud backup horns? The noise would depend on the make, model and year of the truck making the pickup?
VAN HORN: That’s correct.
Board Attorney Steven Goodell, Esq., asked Mr. van Horn whether a board could stipulate the noise, and the route taken by the trucks, and the hours of pickup. Mr van Horn said he thought they could. The maximum weight of the trucks is stipulated by the U.S. government, Mr. van Horn said. It is understood that 80,000 pounds is the maximum vehicle weight allowed on public roads in New Jersey without a special permit.
Mr. van Horn commented that the three tanks Mr. Fisher proposes for the site plan, with a combined capacity of 93,000 gallons, have much more capacity than he needs for the proposed extraction of 43,200 gallons per day. “That’s a real first class operation he has designed”, Mr. van Horn said.
Mr. van Horn’s statement that he would not be comfortable with the scenario of an 18-wheeler sharing Locktown – Sergeantsville Road with a school bus, indicates that the morning and afternoon rush hours when school busses are on the road would be unavailable for trucking. This could have the effect, though no one came right out and said it, of extending trucking operations even later into the night hours.
The next Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on the Fisher application will be held on Tuesday, August 4, at 7:30 PM at the Delaware Township Municipal Building.