Environmental Commission integrity under attack
I am writing this letter to the editor for only one reason: to set the record straight. I am deeply troubled and offended by recent articles I have been reading over the past two weeks. It seems that some individuals in Vernon are questioning the integrity of the entire Vernon Environmental Commission over a stock photo used to exemplify a representation of what the Camp Sussex property currently looks like, and what the potential vision could be.
On May 4, Environmental Commission Vice-Chairwoman Diane Wexler and I began to look inside some of the existing buildings at Camp Sussex. We stumbled upon what we now know is the infirmary. At that time, we had only our cell phones to take pictures and did not expect to find hypodermic needles inside a very dark building. We took what we thought were good pictures. However, when we sat down to create the first PowerPoint presentation it became apparent that our pictures were just too dark or blurry, and because of a time restraint, I decided to use a stock photo from Getty images, knowing full well that we would go back and do a photo shoot as soon as we both had the time.
When presenting the PowerPoint on May 12, we never stated the needle pictures where either stock or not. We were simply showing a representation of the property as it sits today while trying to convey a potential vision for the camp in the future. Many of the photos in our presentation were stock images. The mayor was aware of what we had found in the buildings and we originally told him and the Environmental Commission that we had taken our own pictures. Neither the commission nor the mayor knew of the last-minute change, and we also did not remove the stock name from the image. At no time did we set out to deceive or trick the public, nor did we misrepresent the current state of the property and we have dozens of dated photos that verify the condition of the property.
Here is a quick list of what is being misrepresented to Vernon residents, which I have personally heard at the supermarket where signatures are being gathered on a petition.
1. “The camp has underground oil tanks” — This is FALSE. There are no oil tanks on the property.
2. “There is a dam that will cost Vernon a fortune in the future.” — This is FALSE. There is no dam on the property.
3. “There are currently numerous liens and fines on the property.” — This is FALSE. There are currently no liens or fines on the property.
4. “The camp's previous owners left the property with hypodermic needles on it.” — This is FALSE. A company was contracted and hired to clean the camp of debris and garbage starting in 2008 through 2009. We have been in contact with them, and they have verified the infirmary had been cleaned out.
5. “The open space fund will be depleted if we acquire the property.” — This is FALSE. The open space fund will not be depleted by the acquisition of Camp Sussex, not even close.
6. “In the past when open space money was to be spent, the public decided on the properties by a ballot vote.” — This is absolutely FALSE. None of the properties purchased by Vernon Township for open space with open space funds was done by vote of the public.
7. “I was not sure how to spell scourge.” — Well, they may have me on this one.
The mayor and I have permission to be on the camp property. The Vernon Police have documentation that verifies that. On May 12, the Mayor made a statement inviting people to come tour the camp. This statement was made in reference to a letter of invitation that was going to the neighbors residing around the camp property; only those residents were invited at that time. Any other unauthorized entrance onto Camp Sussex property would constitute illegal trespassing, and that is the way it should be. As it is, an incident of illegal trespassing has already resulted in significant misinformation being put out to the public. As the dated photographs I submitted prove, there have already been additional acts of vandalism since that trespassing.
I invited the Herald to come see the property three times over the past two months, but they showed no interest and never called me. On the other hand, the Advertiser-News immediately responded and took a tour with me.
Being someone who spends half my time fighting for environmental justice, I am a big fan of the first amendment. However, when asking the public to sign their names to a petition that freedom of speech allows you to promote, one should be honest and exercise utmost responsibility. Unfortunately for Vernon residents I have witnessed quite the opposite. I simply ask all Vernon residents to give the mayor and council the opportunity to tell you the truth before you put your name on a petition to stop the acquisition of Camp Sussex. Do not settle for second-hand fabrications. You deserve better.
Chairwoman of Environmental Commission
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