Town Council, environmentalists vow Eagle Ridge opposition

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    WEST MILFORD-The final voice heard at the township council meeting, Jan. 12, on the passing of a resolution urging defiance to house builder K. Hovnanian and the Department of Environmental Protection was that of Councilman Paul Bailey saying, "Kill it." The death urged by Bailey and the council is for the well permit application sought by Hovnanian for the proposed Eagle Ridge development close to Cahill Cross Road. Water Allocation Permit PI 5083 currently sits pending on the desk of the Bureau of Water Allocation within the Department of Environmental Protection while they conduct their review process. The permit would be the final obstacle for Hovnanian to clear before proceeding with Eagle Ridge and its proposed 288 homes. It would allow the builder to drill three new wells to accommodate the new development as well as those of nearby existing residences. The Eagle Ridge development had its origins in 1985 and since has been the source of extensive debate. In 1999 a Superior Court settlement between the township and the property owner ordered the town to accept the project however the current council members vow not to go down without a fight. The resolution was unanimously supported by all council members and asks state officials to join the township in pleading a case to the DEP to deny or delay the issuing of the well permit. Council President William Gervens said of the township authority in this action "We have to stand together here as a council." Council member Joseph Elcavage said, "We've had the courts decide what's best for the citizens of West Milford and that kind of bristles with me just a bit. It's not right." The most damning argument however came from Councilman James Warden saying "West Milford has accepted the Highlands Commission recommendations to protect the water supply to the majority of New Jersey. At the same time the DEP and the state legislators must step to the plate and protect West Milford's water supply, to do less is political hypocrisy." As well as the concern over water, the council has also expressed alarm over the likely increase in taxes if the homes are built. An inability to cope with the possible rise in numbers of children seeking school enrollment has been cited by council members. Calls to Hovnanian's Spokesman, Doug Fenichel, were unreturned. Department of Environmental Protection Spokeswoman Karen Hershey said of the permit "No decision has been made yet and is not likely until approximately late February." Hershey also said "There were over 1,000 comments made at the public hearing on this matter all of which are considered." On the resolution, Hershey said, "The public portion of this process has passed and therefore no further comments will affect the outcome of this decision." Hershey did say however "There is a 20-day appeal period after the permit application has been decided." While the battle for Eagle Ridge rumbles on and council members' protestations ring all the way to Trenton the belief voiced by council member Elcavage was "I believe the granting of the permit will happen." Like the certainty of death and taxes, the approval of the water allocation permit and the appearance of 288 new homes in the town appears inevitable. But the issue is far from over, as environmentalists see it. An e-mail from Philip De Rea of the N.J. Audubon society advises a demonstration is planned for Jan. 29. "We are planning a major demonstration in West Milford on Jan. 29 to tell the DEP to oppose a grandfathered, 280-unit high density housing project, K. Hovnanian's Eagle Ridge. There is also not even enough groundwater to support the existing homes in the area, per two separate independent studies, let alone 280 new homes," asserted the e-mail.