Tree money on its way

Evan Grossman
Staff Writer
EAST WINDSOR – The check is in the mail.
Mayor Janice Mironov said this week the township expects the first reforestation settlement payment from the state "any moment."
The town is due more than $4 million, broken into three payments over the next three years. The first payment from the NJ Turnpike Authority, expected by the middle to end of December, will amount to over $1.3 million.
The state Department of Environmental Protection will foot the remainder of the settlement, which is compensation for the destruction of about 81 acres and approximately 17,000 trees that were torn down as part of the Interchange 6 to 9 Widening Program.
It was a struggle to get the cash. In August, East Windsor, Robbinsville and Hamilton sued the Turnpike Authority and DEP after $15 million earmarked for those communities affected by the highway project was diverted by DEP to keep state parks open.
East Windsor, Robbinsville and Hamilton filed a lawsuit Aug. 11 seeking to stop the actual transfer of the $15 million to DEP. The Turnpike Authority then voluntarily agreed not to transfer the funds until the matter was resolved, and no court injunction was issued.
The three towns argued that the plan to divert the money violated a 2001 state reforestation law, which requires any state agency that deforests more than a half-acre of land to submit a reforestation plan to DEP. Under the law, whenever it is not possible to plant all the replacement trees next to the deforested site, the remainder must be planted elsewhere in the affected municipality or within 5 miles of the site.
The municipalities settled the lawsuit last month.
The first payment to East Windsor was scheduled for Nov. 15, but the township "extended the date a couple of weeks," Mayor Mironov told the Herald.
Earlier this month, the township submitted reforestation proposals to DEP. The proposal included plans for three separate projects in East Windsor. The only stipulation in using the money, Mayor Mironov said, is it must be used for planting trees on public land. Therefore, the proposal included plans to plant trees at the Disbrow Hill Road Open Space/Playing Fields, the Suty Property/Abutting Milford Road Triangle, and Etra Lake Park/Tomberg Farm.
Mayor Mironov said the town is "leaning toward the playing fields."
After the DEP money is received, Mayor Mironov said the next steps would include putting the projects out to bidders by March 2011. Because of the size of the project, there may also be an option to break up the work into multiple components if the township finds that one single bidder is unable to supply all of the trees needed.
The Playing Fields project can host over 4,000 trees, according to plans drawn up by the township. Mayor Mironov indicated the town is targeting April 2011 for the first wave of planting.
"We want to be in a position," she said, " for the spring planting season."
The second installment is expected to be paid by DEP around July 2011. By that time, the township hopes to start exploring the second phase of planting. Mayor Mironov said the town would likely submit those plans before the second payment becomes available. This second phase, she said, should be more detailed than the first, as the township can operate from general to specific as payments are made.
For example, the second phase of the reforestation project could include the addition of decorative trees and a street tree program. The town will have more time to work on those plans than they had for the first phase.
As the township moves forward with the second and third phases of the project, Mayor Mironov encourages anyone in the community with thoughts on the matter to reach out to town administrators with their ideas.