Chuck Gullage, a scientist and a resident of the Chathams, told the Chatham Township Committee during its meeting Thursday night that he saw nothing that would have any negative impact on the nearby Great Swamp Watershed.
Gullage is a water quality scientist and trustee with the Great Swamp Watershed Association but emphasized that he was at the meeting only as a resident and not on behalf of the association. He said that he took two separate trips to the property at 461 Green Village Road, which owners Thomas and Debra Bucuk wish to turn into a commercial family farm.
The Bucuks purchased the property in 2010. Their son, Michael, a Rutgers graduate, wants to turn the property into an organic farm and sell the produce at the Chatham Farmers’ Market.
The township committee is considering a potential ordinance to allow small farming operations on properties south of Green Village Road.
Upset neighbors say such a farm would do more harm than good, and allege that the Bucuks have been operating a landscaping business from the property, which is currently zoned as a residential area. Township Administrator Tom Ciccarone has said that he has made sure there is no business operated from the property.
Gullage told the township committee Thursday night that on his first visit to the property, he walked the road next to the property and took pictures and video.
“I saw nothing inappropriate or offensive that would impact the watershed,” he said.
The next day, Gullage met with Tom Bucuk to discuss what the property owner planned to do.
Issues brought up by the neighbors include the need for a 300 foot buffer, the use of heavy equipment with close proximity to the brook on the property that runs to the Great Swamp Refuge, which abuts the proposed farming zone to the south. There also have concerns about salting being done and causing runoff into the brook.
“The 300 foot buffer restriction that was mentioned does not apply,” Gullage said. “That’s a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection specification for a C-1 stream, which this is not.”
Committee member Kevin Tubbs disagreed and said he believe the stream is classified as C-1. Gullage said he is sure it is not, but he will confirm.
Gullage said there is 50 foot buffer for wetlands that applies, but he saw no violation of that. He said the stream is already eroded and unstable and there is evidence that it floods during almost every rain.
Gullage said he has used different mapping programs to see what changes have occurred on the property over the years, and that in 2007 and 2010, furrows had been plowed right up to the stream bed, which he said is a bad practice because it allows runoff from the fields to go straight into the brook, carrying fertilizer and other pollutants with it.
However, he said, he saw no evidence of any agricultural activity. He added that the property owner has been cutting the grass in the lower field adjacent to the brook and had allowed for a vegetative barrier which would prevent runoff from going into the stream. This, Gullage said, is a best practice sanctioned by Rutgers.
He also said he did not observe any salt or salt spraying equipment on the property. He said Bucuk told him he does have salting operations but he stores the salt elsewhere, nowhere near the brook. He said he saw no evidence of heavy equipment on the premises.
Mayor Nicole Hagner told Gullage what would be the most helpful is if he could outline for the committee what he looks for to make sure the Great Swamp is being protected.
“We appreciate your comments, but all the committee is trying to do right now is understand how farming could work in Chatham,” she said.
Gullage responded that he is not qualified to address best practices of water quality, and that such information would be better coming from Rutgers. He did say, however, that he found no evidence of pollution or septic runoff into the brook on the property.
Hagner said the subcommittee working on the issue will be meeting soon with the county and will come back to the township committee with a report at the June 9 meeting.