Jackson responds to DEP, offers more sites to Green Acres


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By Andrew Martins
Staff Writer

JACKSON – Several months after municipal officials received a letter from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) outlining stewardship concerns the state had at Jackson’s Vista Center and Camp Joy properties, the town’s representatives said they have submitted a plan that could alleviate some of those issues.

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Business Administrator Helene Schlegel said a plan has been submitted to the DEP’s Green Acres program.

“We are proposing some additional sites for the Green Acres diversion and we are awaiting approval from the state,” Schlegel said, declining to provide details. “Until we receive the OK, the information is tentative.”

In 2015, issues at the Vista Center property on Jackson Mills Road and the Camp Joy property on New Prospect Road that date back to 2001 were laid out in a letter from Green Acres Program Acting Administrator Martha Sapp to Jackson officials. Sapp wrote that municipal officials had requested a reimbursement of $487,500 in April for the township’s acquisition of the Sambol Vista Center property.

Since November 2009, the Vista Center has been Jackson’s site for its composting and recycling operations. Although the portion of the property that is used for recycling and composting is considered Green Acres encumbered parkland, the DEP granted temporary use for two years while Jackson officials sought other locations for a composting site.

State law allows municipalities to use designated parkland for up to two years for uses other than recreation if the land is used to benefit the public.

From October 2010 to June 2011, the township made attempts to move the composting site to other locations in Jackson. Those attempts were stymied by the public.

By June 2011, the township sent a letter to the DEP requesting to extend the two-year period at the Vista Center an additional six months. That request was granted by the DEP in October 2011.

By January 2012, Sapp wrote, Jackson officials filed a diversion pre-application that listed the amount of land to be diverted for use as a composting and recycling site as about 2 acres. That proved to be inaccurate, Sapp wrote, as a more accurate measurement of the facility’s actual area, including its access road, covered nearly 8.4 acres.

In addition, offers by the township to replace the needed property with 40 acres were rejected by the DEP because the value of that property, $140,000, did not meet the value of the composting site at the Vista Center, which was $365,000.

In light of the newly proposed land diversions, Schlegel did not say whether the land being offered in the new plan is equal to the land value of the Vista Center.

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said officials received Jackson’s most recent proposals prior to the Jan. 15 deadline the department imposed.

“Green Acres received a proposal from the town for properties to be preserved,” Hajna said, adding that program administrators are reviewing the proposals.

In addition to Jackson’s use of the Vista Center for composting and recycling operations, a 2005 lease agreement between the township and the Jackson Soccer Club was listed as a violation of Green Acres regulations.

A notice from David Smith, of the Green Acres program, stated that the lease agreement was on a portion of property funded by Green Acres.

According to state law, the initial term for any leases of funded parkland “shall be no longer than five years.” Only leases for “good cause shown,” such as substantial capital improvements, can provide for a longer term of up to 25 years.

However, the current lease has a 50-year term with no plan to invest in the property.

Sapp said the DEP did not receive notice or a copy of the lease until 2014. Because the agreement was completed without notice to the DEP, she wrote that the agreement was void and held no legal ground.

In addition to the charge of an improper lease agreement at the site, Sapp wrote that the Jackson Soccer Club and the township have been improperly restricting use of the Green Acres parkland.

A sign posted at the entrance on Jackson Mills Road restricts the use of the soccer complex from 4 p.m. to dusk on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to dusk on weekends.

If those hours are found to be excessively restrictive, Sapp said, the township would be in violation of Green Acres regulations because any funded parkland needs to be offered with “reasonable public access.”

Sapp also wrote that the construction of the Crawford-Rodriguez Elementary School on Larsen Road and the widening of New Prospect Road resulted in the encroachment of 0.5 acres of Green Acres funded land.

In response to the DEP’s concerns, the township has offered a portion of the Camp Joy property that currently has a vacant first aid squad building on it.

Sapp said the DEP is willing to work with Jackson officials to resolve the issue. She said efforts to address the problem date back to 2008 and are affecting lands valued at $15,000.

Over the last few months, Jackson representatives have offered three municipally owned properties that are currently used for recreation and conservation purposes as replacement land for the Camp Joy and Vista Center diversions, she wrote.

Those offers, Sapp wrote, were not valid because current parkland is not eligible for that use.

In addition, none of the three properties are listed in Jackson’s latest Recreation and Open Space Inventory, despite their designations as parks or recreation areas.

No comment was provided by Schlegel in regard to any of these issues.

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