Thursday, December 17. Attorneys for both sides rested their cases at tonight’s Board of Adjustment hearing, and opened the floor to public comment. Fifteen persons spoke, two in favor of the application, thirteen against. Because speakers frequently built on previous comments, all are summarized here in the order given at the meeting. Speakers tended to enumerate their points, and in the interest of clarity we have followed their practice.
Laura Hornby: 1) The case of Wells, Maine, which permitted a large water vendor to operate, shows what could happen in Delaware Township. Small businesses and startups often sell out to larger concerns; this is their right; the Fishers could do the same in 1 year, 10 or 30. A new owner would probably sue Delaware Township for relief from the conditions which the Township’s experts recommend placing on the operation of the business. Delaware Township has no ordinance allowing it to regulate amount of water extracted, number of trucks used, hours of operation, lighting, noise or any of the conditions the Township’s experts would impose, or to require the maintenance of records, or to compel indemnifying neighbors for loss of water. The Township would lose the suit and the defense costs. 2) How does this benefit the community?
Robert Hornby: 1) The pavement is 18 feet wide, not wide enough for tractor trailer tanker trucks to share the road with school buses, fire trucks, delivery vans. 2) The application invites a commercial operation to remove resources from the community. 3) There is absolutely no benefit to the community. 4) Drafting and implementing the regulations proposed by the Township’s experts will create a new expense for Delaware Township taxpayers.
Ralph Dellabadia: 1) This will cost the taxpayer. 2) There are already places in the Township where road damage from heavy trucks can be observed; the same damage can be anticipated here.
Glen Kohler: 1) Would rather not have testified, or in any way restricted what a landowner can do with his land, but felt compelled here by the seriousness of this application. 2) Is from a farming family. Finds it absurd to link this to farming. Calling this “water harvesting” is inappropriate. This is not “harvesting”; Fisher does not sow, or cultivate, or do any other farming operation to get water. This is mining, extraction of resources. 3) Fisher’s comparisons to the prior dairy operation are misleading. Water weighs 8 lbs. per gallon; Fisher would extract 43,200 gallons per day; 345,600 lbs per day. Milk is measured in pounds, not gallons. Numerous studies over several decades of average daily milk production indicate that to produce over 340,000 pounds of milk per day would require a herd of 5,200 head. 4) Testimony in this case indicated that the trucks to be used will be unbaffled food-grade tankers; sloshing is be a problem with such trucks; the load can shift; the driver can lose control. MEI (Magnesium Electron Inc., which operates a fleet of water tankers in the area) lost a driver on South Main St.; the load shifted, he lost control of the truck and was killed. 5) There is no benefit to the community. Kohler once ran a gas station, created jobs, paid taxes; no local jobs will be created by the Fisher operation. 6) The noise of the backup alarms will degrade quality of life in the area. 7) “If my well goes dry, the first person I will look at is Fisher. And my lawyer will tell me to look at the Township for permitting this”. 8] The record-keeping recommended by the Township’s experts will be a new expense for taxpayers. 9) Tractor trailers will take a long time to make the turn from Ferry Road onto 523. The traffic problems will not end there, because then the trucks can go through the Township, Sergeantsville, 604 by the school, 523 to Stockton or Flemington. 10) Locktown-Sergeantsville Road already seeps water. 11) Excavators’ trucks involved with home building on Meszaros Road tore up the pavement; the school bus drivers complained and the Township finally went out to repair it; the same can be expected again. 12) The Star – Ledger “propaganda” article showed a rundown farm and implied that the Fishers lived there in hardship, which would be relieved if they get their variance. They do not live there, and it’s their choice that the farm looks the way it does, not the result of hardship. 13) The water operation would consume as much water as 200 houses. The property has four approved building lots. Kohler “would rather see the four houses”. 14) The operation will negatively affect residents’ pocketbook, wells, and the Township. 15) Urges the members of the Board to reject the application.
Stephanie Jones read from a prepared statement. 1) The Fishers are family friends, an old family who have preserved their farms. 2) The Township needs to do more to preserve endangered farmers. 3) The dairy trucks used to be part of the community; does not see the difference between the former dairy operation and the proposed water operation in terms of truck traffic. 4) Fisher has been pursuing this for ten years, has passed all the DEP tests, and deserves a positive outcome. 5) Any further delay constitutes harassment. 6) The Township owes the Fishers a debt of gratitude for preserving the farming way of life.
(Under New Jersey Law, an applicant is required to prove that the proposed land use is a net benefit to the community, and that the site in question is the only site in the community suited for the new land use. As a practical matter, in this case Mr. Fisher would have to prove that the water trucking operation is a net benefit, and that the Fisher Farm on the SW corner of Reading Road and Locktown – Sergeantsville Road is the only place in Delaware Township where 43,200 gallons of water per day could be extracted by a fleet of trucks. Testimony earlier in the evening by Mr. Fisher and his hydrogeologist Vince Uhl attempted to prove the farm’s “unique suitability”.
The Board of Adjustment heard contradictory and inconclusive testimony on the structure of Locktown-Sergeantsville Road. Delaware Township Public Works Director Jay Tretsnsky testified that in his nine years’ experience no core sample of the road had ever been taken, so it was impossible to say what its structure is. Under cross examination by John Lanza, attorney for Robert K. Hornby, whose property is across the road from the Fisher Farm, Mr. Trstensky repeated what he had told Mr. Lanza earlier this year: that he expects Locktown-Sergeantsville Road to begin to crumble at the edges within six months if the fleet of trucks begins operation there. Mr. Fisher testified that he remembered the road being paved with asphalt when he was a child.)
Leslie Jones-Sauer: 1) Is a friend of the Fisher family and supports the application. 2) Anybody who has lived here a long time knows there are no other sites like this in the Township. 3) Remembers as a child bicycling on a newly asphalted Locktown Road. 4) Has known the family for decades and regards this as preservation, because Charlie has not decided to put Purdue chicken coops or nursery greenhouses on the farm. 5) Thinks that “Nestlé is not interested in a little operation like this”.
Rebecca Wunderlich: 1) Sees no benefit to the Township, and is apprehensive that the Township may be ineffective in trying to regulate the operation. “Fifty years from now, residents of this community may look back and curse us”. 2) This benefits one family only, and the entire Township pays. “We’ll have a long time to regret this”.
W.E. Peterson: 1) Has lived here forty years. In that time he has seen ponds he used to swim in as a kid dry up. 2) New housing construction has increased the community’s use of water for well and septic. 3) “There is only so much water in the ground”. 4) Fisher’s trucks will damage the roads, and the Township will pay for the repairs.
Jerry Kalajian: 1) Is concerned about the water use, the equivalent of 210 homes. 2) The property is 40 acres; the rain that falls on that small area cannot recharge the amount this use would withdraw, so this type of land use cannot be allowed everywhere. 3) “My family and I walk that road. If anyone can say the increased traffic will not make that road more dangerous, then go ahead”. 4) The road shoulders are deteriorating; a tanker truck and a bus can’t pass on Locktown-Sergeantsville Road. 5) There is no benefit to the community. 6) The Zoning Board’s responsibility is to represent the entire community; therefore they should vote “no”.
Lorraine Cagliostro: 1) “Delaware Township has a water quality problem as we speak”. Nitrate levels in groundwater are already too high. 2) The Township has submitted a water quality ordinance as required, but before DEP will approve it the Township needs to improve its nitrate dilution. 3) The zoning ordinance that is being prepared addresses this issue, but it is not likely to be passed by the incoming Township Committee. So housing construction can continue apace. More houses, more wells, and more fires to fight, means less water will be available for an individual to appropriate and exploit for private profit. 5) Mr. Fisher agreed to all the conditions proposed by the Township’s experts, but it’s “hard to prove a negative”. If roads are damaged or wells run dry, how can the Township prove it? “We are too small a township to manage a project of this size”.
Jack Giantempo: 1) Lives within hearing distance of the backup horns. This is a quality of life issue. 2) The proposed land use goes against zoning. This is an industrial use in an agricultural and residential zone. 3) “Not to beat a dead horse, but the turn into Route 523 (which I call the Pennsylvania Thruway) is already difficult. It will be more so with a fleet of trucks operating there”. 4) We’ve never had a well problem yet, but what happens in a drought? 5) The Board should vote “no”.
Martin Schmidt: 1) There is a significant risk to the entire Township, and profit to only one family. 2) What happens to our investments if there is a water problem? 3) The farm can be sold. The Township does not have the resources to stand up to lawsuits. 4) The Board should vote “no”.
Nancy Bennett: 1) There are children who walk along that road; when cars pass, if you want to get out of the road there is no shoulder. You have to step into the ditch, which is 3 feet deep. To make this road safe, you would have to build wide shoulders on either side, at the Town’s expense. 2) The Board should vote “no”.
Stacy Antar: 1) Appreciates Mr. Fisher’s trying to come up with new ideas for his farm. “But not all ideas are good, and I can’t support this one”. 2) The Fisher farm is on a loop of roads that her family and neighbors use as a recreational area. Her children, ages 5, 7 and 9, ride bikes there; her husband jogs; Ms. Antar and friends ride horses. All those activities would be prohibited if the trucks were allowed to operate. “I don’t let my kids ride bikes on Route 523 or 604. So please don’t bring the kind of traffic that’s on those roads into our neighborhood”.
Van Worman: 1) There is a major safety issue. 2) There will be a traffic problem at the intersection with Route 523. 3) The noise will be a problem. 4) It would destroy the rural character of the area. 5) The damage would be irrevocable.
With the public comment period concluded, the Zoning Board’s attorney, Steve Goodell, explained what will happen next. He read a charge to the Board regarding how they should consider the evidence they have heard. (The Post will upload a copy of the charge as soon as we get it).
At the next meeting of the Board of Adjustment, on Thursday, January 14, 2010, at 7:30 PM, the attorneys for the applicant and the objector will give their summations of the case for and against. Because the burden of proof is with the applicant, his attorney Mr. Dilts will be allowed to speak last. When summations have been delivered, the Chairman will ask the Board for a motion to approve or deny the application; any motion will require a second. The Board members will discuss the motion and vote. Members are not required to state their reasons for voting. Under State law, five votes are required for a “d” variance. Six members are eligible to vote on this case. A decision is expected January 17.