By Marc Covitz
In a gutless move on April 12, the Township Committee in Upper Freehold Township abolished the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC). This was done without prior notice to any of the members of the EAC. Not a courtesy phone call, text or email was sent to any of the members. The agenda for the April 12 meeting wasn’t (and still isn’t) even posted on the township website. If not for one of our members visiting town hall for another purpose the afternoon of the meeting and being informed at that time by our town clerk, none of us would have known at all.
Why was this done? Supposedly, the EAC did not meet enough; there was/is too much environmental activism going on in town; and there are only citizens on the EAC without real environmental experience and this opens the town up for liability.
The EAC was an advisory committee to our Planning Board. We meet when there are applications to review and topics to cover. Thankfully, development is at a minimum in Upper Freehold Township, therefore our meetings have been greatly reduced.
This does not mean the members have not been communicating with each other. We did so quite frequently, as well as coordinating efforts with the Crosswicks-Doctors Creek Watershed Association.
The only recent proposal to come before the township is the St. John’s Church application. The EAC recently expressed concern over clear-cutting along Doctor’s Creek to make way for the project, as well as the size and scope of the project. The timing of the abolishment of the EAC is quite coincidental with the St. John’s application.
2. Since when is environmental activism a bad thing? Moreover, this was never explained fully. I don’t recall any protests or marches led by the EAC. Our EAC took the township’s Country Code seriously and has been a champion of our environment, attempting to maintain our rural character amongst the massive growth occurring in most of our neighboring towns.
3. The EAC is supposed to be made up of citizens who take guidance from township hired professionals and is to be the environmental watchdog of our town leaders. There has never been a lawsuit against the EAC nor would there ever be one as the Planning Board does not have to abide by our recommendations. Thankfully, they have listened to us in the past, but there is no requirement for them to do so.
Regarding a lack of experience, it is interesting this is now a concern of our Township Committee. The same evening, they appointed a 20-year-old college student to our Planning Board who has no planning or governmental experience, nor is he taking any course of study in the field. He was appointed over someone who is an attorney, served on a planning/zoning board in New York City, and also took community planning courses in college.
In fact, almost all of our citizen members of all of our township boards and committees have had no experience in planning, zoning, health, etc., before they were appointed to their board positions. If the EAC must be experienced then why shouldn‘t this concern of “experience” hold true for all of our township boards and committees?
The EAC has been an important addition to the township’s environment over the years. We have conducted numerous cleanups along Doctor’s Creek, Indian Run (Breza Road), Imlaystown Lake and other water bodies. One year we even cleaned up trash in Reed Park along the ditch that separates the two sections.
For Earth Day we conducted energy saving and recycling lectures for the elementary school and we started a water quality monitoring program along some of our greenways. We were able to reduce the scope of the storage facility on Route 537 by requiring the applicant to complete a Natural Resources Inventory. This showed the Lahaway Creek stream corridor as a Cooper’s Hawk nesting ground.
We gave our opinion on what we thought was a foolish subdivision application on Chambers Road that would have led to flooding on a neighbor’s property and a potential hazardous situation on the road.
We have been staunch advocates for preservation and have assisted Monmouth County with identifying parcels that could be added to our existing county owned parks and greenways.
The former members of the EAC hope that at some point our town leaders will reconsider their decision and reinstate the EAC, as it has been an important contributor to our township governmental process.
Marc E. Covitz of Upper Freehold Township is a former chairman of the Upper Freehold Township Environmental Advisory Committee and is the president and chairman of the Crosswicks-Doctors Creek Watershed Association.