By Jaimie Julia Winters
Good fences make good neighbors, is what the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission (NJDWSC) is hoping for with its plan to build two fences on its properties adjacent to the Alfonzo F. Bonsal Preserve.
The NJDWSC, which cleared over 70 trees along its water line in Montclair in July and was given a notice of violation by the state, will be working on a remediation plan and will apply for a permit retroactively, according to Executive Director Tim Eustace. The commission also plans to erect two fences in an attempt to block visitors from entering its property adjacent to the Bonsal Preserve.
“We found evidence of trespassing, a tarp and some bottles on our property. We are concerned about liability,” said Eustace about the fence plans.
Bonsal is home to freshwater wetlands with the Third River running through it, offering nature lovers an urban oasis. The commission owns about eight acres flanking the west side of the Montclair-owned preserve and another acre on the eastern tip, and holds an easement on its water line, which runs through the 21-acre area. The commission plans on erecting two 12-to-15-foot chain link fences at its property lines with “no trespassing” signs posted that will act as buffers, but will not enclose the properties, said Eustace.
Last week, the commission was served with a notice of violation for not applying for a permit or waiver for the project that the commission said was necessary to maintain its water supply to three million residents. Due to the preserve’s Green Acres funding, its wildlife habitat and protected wetlands status, the Department of Environmental Protection should have been notified of the water commission’s tree cutting project.
“We cut 35 trees at Bonsal,” Eustace said. “The remainder are trees on our property in that vicinity. Although our easement was 100 feet, we cut only on 15 feet on each side. In 100 years, we have never, to my knowledge, required a permit to make sure that this vital resource is protected and maintained.”
Eustace added that tree roots could have severely damaged the lines.
The water company directed the $550,940 tree-cutting project throughout its miles-long system two years ago. Eustace took over as executive director earlier in the year after serving for four terms in the Assembly and as chairman of the Assembly environment committee. He gave up his seat in April after committing to the water commission.
“Trees shouldn’t have been allowed to grow along the line in the first place,” said Todd R. Caliguire, the company’s deputy executive director.
This week, the commission was expected to stabilize exposed soil by planting grass and placing hay, Eustace said. In addition, the commission’s remediation plan for plantings of grasses and blueberries and rosewood bushes along the river had been sent to the state. No trees will be planted, Caliguire said.
“Freshwater wetland rules require that the applicant provide public notice and have a public comment period [on the plan],” said Caryn Shinske, public information officer for the DEP.
A permanent fence placed in wetlands or transition areas would require another freshwater wetland permit or a transition area waiver as well, according to DEP officials.
The state regulates and requires permits for the destruction of plant life which would alter the character of a freshwater wetland, including killing vegetation by applying herbicides or by other means, the physical removal of wetland vegetation, and/or the cutting of trees and the construction of structures in freshwater wetlands areas.
Eighty percent of vegetation cleared was within a “transition” area or the uplands adjacent to the freshwater wetlands. About 20 percent of the removal
occurred in the Freshwater Wetlands Mapping area, according to a report issued after an inspection conducted by the DEP on Aug. 9.
Herbicide was also sprayed on the stumps that remain in order to stabilize the banks, but that the commission did not want to sprout.
The removal of vegetation and trees in a transition area that relate to serviceable structures and features are not regulated, but requires a transition area waiver.
The Friends of Bonsal Preserve, which has overseen the preserve since its dedication in the 1970s, hopes that “fences can be mended” with the water commission. They claim by living along the preserve and walking it daily, they have served as a security of sorts.
“We’ve always respected the need to protect the water line, and we did so by serving as the commission’s eyes and ears, on the alert for vandals, drug users, stray vehicles, felled power lines and other concerns. Every year, we’ve organized a clean up of its grounds. The commission had reciprocated by respecting that their line benefits from being in, and buffered by, a nature preserve and a community,” said Jonathan Grupper on behalf of the friends.
Although the friends share the commission’s concerns of vandals, they suggested a few weeks of periodic sweeps of a security guard after dark to “get rid of partiers.”
“And a ‘no trespassing’ sign would do the same job as a fence, without straining the commission’s relationship with the community,” added Grupper.
The friends have also been reaching out to the commission on all planned group visits, such as with recent trips by the Girl Scouts and a geology group.
The NJDWSC will need to prove they had, or have, the right to work on the property in question by presenting easement paperwork, said DEP officials. Eustace contends, however, that the DEP has had the easements papers on files for years.