Lisa Bregman, Program Associate
Known at the turn of the century as the Venice of New Jersey, the Union County Township of Cranford grew up around the meandering Rahway River. The River has always been a source of joy and pride in Cranford as residents utilized this natural resource as their primary mode of transportation: they would take their boats, which were docked in front of their homes, and travel along the river.
In 1970, as Cranford was becoming more developed, citizens concerned about preserving Cranford’s open space, natural resources and habitats formed the Cranford Environmental Commission. Since its creation, it has accomplished a great deal in Cranford, in addition to collaborating with other town commissions in the area.
Through the Commission’s hard work, for example, Cranford won a 2006-2007 Achievement Award for enacting the first New Jersey municipal ordinance to require sustainable building standards for new township construction and existing buildings, based on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. (You can learn more about LEED on the Dodge website).
In addition, in 2007, the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) awarded Cranford a grant to create a Conservation Element for its Master Plan, which is now completed and awaiting adoption by the town’s Planning Board.
Last year, the Commission encouraged homeowners to choose renewable energy through the Clean Power Choice Program as well as energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), through the ENERGY STAR Change-A-Light Program. At three different events, Cranford distributed free CFLs, with more than 75 people volunteering for the community-wide distribution day. As a volunteer myself, it was great to meet fellow Cranford residents and see their excitement and welcoming smiles as I handed out the free CFLs. I enthusiastically explained and answered their questions about the value of using energy saving CFLs, and they were also happy to be a part of helping to make Cranford, and the environment as a whole, a better place.
More recently, the Commission has implemented My Green Cranford, which aims to increase awareness about sustainability and what it means to the community. You don’t have to live in Cranford to appreciate the information on the site, because you can find upcoming events beyond Cranford as well as helpful resources and suggestions for sustainable living, and a beautiful photo gallery capturing Cranford’s wildlife.
Obviously, preserving open space and protecting natural resources doesn’t begin and end at the town’s boundaries. Often, environmental commissions work together. In Cranford, about five miles of the 30-mile Rahway River snake through the Township; the River has been a source of significant flooding, because of the rapid development of Cranford as well as the surrounding towns. Overdevelopment often leads to stormwater management challenges, and Cranford bears the brunt of the flooding, unfortunately, because it lies downstream from most of the 18 towns along the River.
Over the course of the past several years, with the support of Cranford’s Township Committee and State Senator Kean, Cranford has held a series of meetings, which were attended by more than 50 mayors, municipal engineers, and environmental commissioners from ten communities. As a result of these meetings, the various town commissions worked with the Rahway River Association to create a program of community involvement and education about the River. All of these efforts inspired a 90-page Rahway River Greenway Plan released by the graduate Comprehensive Planning Studio at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in February 2009.
Nelson Dittmar, Chairperson of the Commission, “hopes that a newfound appreciation of the Rahway River prompts the communities to embrace the River by striving to protect its open spaces, improve the water quality, increase access to the meandering waterway, catch a glimpse of its rich fauna and flora, and protect the Rahway River from further human abuse.”
At this point, you might be wondering, “Does my town have an Environmental Commission? Click here and find out – the ANJEC website has this information at your fingertips. If the answer is no, and you’re interested in bringing one to your community,the ANJEC Resource Center provides sample ordinances from other municipalities that have commissions as well as information on the benefits of having an environmental commission, and advice on ways to get the information out – because building a constituency among the citizens of your community is necessary for bringing an environmental commission to your town.
As a Cranford resident (and as an alternate member of the Cranford Environmental Commission for two terms), I am proud to be part of a town which cares about the environment and is so committed to educating and informing its fellow residents about how to protect the environment in a sustainable way.
Canoeing down the Rahway River – Denise Broesler
Great Blue Heron – David DesRochers