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Lambertville commission discusses Swan Creek, emerald ash borer, canal trees

The Lambertville Environmental Commission delved into a busy agenda at its March 27 meeting.

The Free Press asked for an update on issues surrounding Swan Creek during the public comment period.

Recently, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) designated many new waterways as Category One (C1).

Earlier in March, Lambertville resident and NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club president Jeff Tittel spoke publicly on the “critical” Swan Creek, which lost its C1 status in 2008, and suggested it return to the list.

Mayor Julia Fahl was in attendance, and expressed some concern over a prospective change without first studying the effects on the city’s resiliency and flooding plans, saying it could potentially affect the Swan Creek flood gate project.

It does directly affect what you’re allowed to develop, and we’ve got people’s homes in that flood line,” Fahl said. After conversing with certain DEP officials, she also believed any reclassification process would be “extensive.” 

However, Fahl encouraged the commission to have a public hearing and partner with ANJEC or another nonprofit that deals with water quality, if they felt compelled to pursue this.

Commission member Lauren Kovacs suggested the option of not classifying the entire creek, and working with West Amwell to push for classification up to the reservoir, the source of most of downtown’s water. Kovacs elaborated on what a possible change to C1 would actually mean.

“You’re trying to preserve the functions of the stream, both for wildlife and for human beings,” she said, and continued that adding structures to the creek, like a flood gate, could affect that status.

A change to a C1 stream would create 300-feet buffer to construction as well as stricter wastewater discharges.

Other highlights:

  •  The commission was also asked about the city’s Verizon Smart Communities endeavor, which includes transitioning the city to 5G technology. Some residents have expressed health and environmental worries. When questioned, the commission chair said that the city is in the early stages of this project, so they were “not prepared to comment at this time.” However, after the meeting adjourned, the mayor told the Free Press smart communities were important to her, partly to provide competition to Comcast, but emphasized the undertaking is in the early stages and will try to secure a health expert on the wireless technology by the May work session, if possible.
  • The commission has had an ongoing discussion on what the city’s future might look like with no ash trees due to the regional infestation of the emerald ash borer. Commission member Kelly Kappler mentioned that about 40% of the trees in the Woodcrest development on the south end of Cottage Hill have been estimated to be ashes and will be affected by the ash borer. Recently, the development used association fees to cut down infected trees. Kappler noted money saved from the light winter was used and moving forward said, “the hillside’s going to look a bit different.”
  • Finally, commission member Cynthia Jahn asked about the recent cutting of trees along the canal. Mayor Fahl replied that neither the commission, nor the city, has the jurisdiction to override the NJ Water Supply Authority, who has been removing the trees due to concerns that roots were perhaps damaging the efficacy of the canal wall. Fahl suggested the city could put in a permitting process so they can know when future clear cutting is happening, similar to the recent changes in street opening permits, that affect Suez Water or Elizabethtown Gas, which would include public meetings and letters to residents. She continued, however, that this would have to be worked out with the Delaware Raritan Canal Commission to even see if this action would be viable. Fahl finished by saying the trees cut down was “upsetting, but potentially out of our control.”

About the author

Steve Chernoski

Steve Chernoski is a writer, film director and teacher who lives in Lambertville. Here's his website:

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