Environmentalists Cindy Zipf and Rick Jones gently shook their heads in disapproval Tuesday night as the Rumson governing body adopted, with marginal "yes" votes, the borough’s highly contentious “tree ordinance.”
The adoption was done taking comments “under advisement” to amend, in the near future, definition discrepancies, semantics and typos.
Zipf, also executive director of Clean Ocean Action, and Jones, her husband, had fought for the moment a “tree ordinance” would go into effect, protecting endangered species and guarding against inordinate clear-cutting that they have argued causes flooding and rapes the environment.
The Navesink Avenue couple got into a tussle with the borough last year after they alleged that trees were permitted to be indiscriminately clear-cut by a developer from property bordering theirs, causing flooding problems on their lawn and zapping the environment.
So, while they wanted the environmentally protective mandates such an ordinance would afford, this one just wasn’t exactly what they asked for. Nor, they contended, all that the public deserved.
For one, Zipf told the governing body, “You know this is an issue of great interest to the community. There was promise that there be a public dialogue to help craft the ordinance so that there would be some input, but there wasn’t.”
There was, however, a public comments session, as mandated by state statute, for this and any other ordinance up for amendment and/or adoption.
Zipf’s argument was that there should have been a public forum in addition and more opportunity and time to gauge input garnered from it.
In this ordinance’s public comments session, however, Jones went through the ordinance, section-for-section, in measured tone, calling attention to everything he felt was questionable, from potential conflicts of interest in personnel to typos.
In all, Zipf said, in addition to what she saw as a public airing flaw, there were two other major problems she saw in moving forward with the ordinance as is.
“A certified tree expert as a requirement will greatly advance all of those things (environmentally protective measures) in there (the ordinance),” she said. “It’s important that the person who’s going to make these very important recommendations be certified. It’s a benefit to the town to have the best knowledge there is.”
And that person, she added on a third note, should not be the same person who performs removal work.
In that respect, “concern about conflict of interest is one I know a lot of council members are gravely concerned about; and, that issue has not been addressed,” Zipf said.
“I happen to agree with you on the conflict of interest matter,” Mayor John Ekdahl said.
However, if the governing body voted to first amend the ordinance to include that and other less significant, but potentially confusing language, by the time the amended ordinance passed through the municipal process and came up for adoption again, it would be 2013.
That, officials said, would mean that the governing body would have to go into the New Year with no tree ordinance in effect and start from scratch with the amended version, which, some thought, could be adversely time consuming.
Especially in light of the damage done by the wrath of Sandy, “we also want the protection of an ordinance in place, and we can’t carry an ordinance from year to year,” Ekdahl said. “I do think we have to clean up the expert versus person who does the work (issue). It can’t be the same person.”
With that, the ordinance, taking those considerations under advisement, was adopted.
Officials said it would be revisited in the New Year as soon as possible.