Quick public accusations against farm inappropriate

 

December 29, 2002

 

Editorial, Published in the Courier News. No author provided at originating website address / URL.

 

When it comes to the Cornell Dairy Farm in Piscataway, most rationality seems to have been tossed out the window. And while talk of illegal activities and vendettas may sound like the rantings of the paranoid, it is difficult to escape the impression that township officials have become somewhat fixated on the farm's owners, the Halper family. And that officials won't rest until the farm is safely in the township's clutches.

The latest twist in this land-grab saga are accusations by Mayor Brian Wahler that the Halpers are operating an illegal solid-waste transfer station at the farm. The Halpers deny it.

Let's start by acknowledging that the township could be right. There are no guarantees without an investigation. Wahler said the township has gotten complaints from residents about heavy trucks going to and from the farm, supposedly hauling solid waste. Mark Halper, one of the farm's owners, said there's nothing there but wood mulch and large, empty trash bins. Cheryl Halper, owner of the Cornell Disposal Company -- which handles commercial waste -- says the company has been storing trucks and empty bins at the farm for 25 years.

The township says zoning officials will review permits and variances for the property to determine whether a transfer station can be operated there and whether trucks and roll carts (the empty trash bins) can be stored there.

So we have complaints, questions, denials and plans for a review. So far, there's at least a logical progression in the disagreement -- even if the Halpers feel somewhat targeted by now.

The problem is that Wahler already has said publicly that the Halpers "are operating an illegal solid-waste business" at the farm. If officials are in the process of checking all of this out -- as Wahler said -- it hardly seems appropriate for the Halpers to be accused of breaking the law before an investigation has been concluded.

And it's hardly as if super sleuths are required to root out the truth. The Halpers have said township officials are welcome to tour the farm whenever they want to see for themselves. That could just be bluster, but the Courier News asked for and received a tour at short notice, during which a reporter viewed large empty trash bins, lots of trucks and farm equipment and a big mound of wood mulch -- in other words, what the Halpers have said was there. Certainly there were no obvious signs of an illegal transfer station.

The Halpers and the Cornell Dairy Farm seem to have become Moby Dick to Wahler's Ahab. Wahler's successful mayoral campaign a couple of years ago trumpeted his plans to "save" the farm by assuring its preservation -- whether the Halpers wanted that or not. The township has been threatening condemnation of the land since 1998 as a means of protecting it from development.

Officials say the Halpers have been angling quietly to sell to developers -- thus their reluctance to take part in the farmland preservation program, in which they would sell development rights to the government while continuing to operate the farm. The Halpers at one point agreed to the program, but didn't like the price they were offered for the land, prompting the condemnation sword to be hoisted over their heads again.

The Halpers should not be portrayed as martyrs, but they are effectively being penalized for the land-use decisions made throughout the community for decades.

Because Piscataway has become so congested, officials want desperately to preserve the last big tract of undeveloped land: the Cornell Farm. That's a reasonable goal, but to do so they have unnecessarily portrayed the Halpers as villains for even considering sale to developers.

The transfer-station imbroglio has little to do with the larger preservation issue -- on the surface. But it certainly suggests another effort to, as Mark Halper put it, "kick dirt" on the family name. The complaints about the solid-waste hauling should be examined thoroughly and any appropriate fines levied. But Wahler's quick determination of illegality suggests the township isn't exploring the matter with an entirely open mind. And that's a shame.

 

OUR POSITION:

 

Piscataway officials have been too quick to publicly judge complaints about a possible transfer station operating out of the Cornell Dairy Farm.

 

From the Courier News website http://www.c-n.com 

 

Copyright 2002, the Courier-News. 

 

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