In support of open space manager
For years Milford's environmental groups have lobbied for a Natural Resource Manager to monitor over 1,000 acres of our city's unsupervised open space and coordinate efforts for its protection. The answer always came back: We can't afford it. Because the city has relied on a very small cadre of volunteers, our open space has been devastated by increasing encroachment from invasive species, AVT's, illegal hunting and dumping.
In the early '90s, when Milford was considering another city-wide initiative — recycling — we looked to Branford, a city that had implemented a viable plan. When asked for the key element of their success, Branford couldn't have been clearer: Hire a coordinator. One paid person can make all the difference.
Aware of this maxim, the Milford Environmental Protection Initiative, also known as MEPI, decided to apply it to protect open space. Last October MEPI offered a small, short-term grant to a volunteer who wanted to make a difference. His mission was to protect the 102-acre Solomon property, which was being torn up by ATVs and trucks. The results of the project validated Branford's approach.
The difference between the grantee's constant oversight and the occasional tour by concerned volunteers was immediately evident. The grant made it possible for the temporarily-paid coordinator to liaise with the city police, public works, planning and zoning, the MIS department and the inland wetlands agency, as well as ask relevant state agents for help.
Once they became aware of the situation — illegal dumping, hunting ladders, ravaged wetlands, paintball wars, lack of signage, unmarked borders and the many access points available to the vehicles causing destruction — these agencies partnered with the grantee to take various actions.
Hidden and handheld cameras helped identify ATV riders and vehicles. Neighbors were sent letters asking for their cooperation. New Jersey barriers were added to block vehicular access. Over an acre of land used by a business for storage was cleared: Vegetation and wildlife have returned to that area.
The grantee removed truckloads of trash and the fallen trees that were blocking the trails. He used GPS technology to create a detailed trail map to guide police to the scenes of illegal activities. A month or so ago, the police made their first two arrests and the number of infractions has been greatly reduced.
Long term plans for such a coordinator include the education of our community as to the value and the opportunities created by open space. Volunteer projects and activities could transform our open space with programs for passive recreation, wildlife habitat enhancement and ecological studies.
So what have we learned from the results of the MEPI grant? That one dedicated person, paid and accountable, can have a huge effect on protecting open space. The mayor and the Planning and Zoning Board are now convinced of this and hopefully, on September 10, the Board of Aldermen will decide that the benefits of hiring a natural resource manager far outweigh the costs of leaving our open space untended. The position, if approved, will not be paid for by taxpayers. Instead the salary will be drawn from existing open space funds accrued from fees charged to developers in lieu of set asides for open space.