Without a local debate this year, MercerMe asked questions of candidates running for Hopewell Township Committee based on ongoing community issues in the vicinity. The answers in this article have been provided by Democrat Courtney Peters-Manning, who is running for Hopewell Township Committee.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing Hopewell Township?
The most pressing issue facing Hopewell Township is keeping property taxes affordable while protecting our environment and rural character. This is not just my opinion; I have been walking door-to-door all summer and fall, and these are the two issues I hear most often from voters.
What professional and/or personal skills do you bring to face that issue?
I am the Director of Finance and General Counsel at the Cambridge School, which my parents founded in 2001 to help children with learning differences like dyslexia. At Cambridge, I am responsible for all budgeting, keeping expenses under control, and managing cash flow. I know what it means to keep within a budget in order to make payroll every two weeks. I will bring this financial skill and expertise with me to the Township Committee, which will help me keep municipal taxes under control.
I have been an environmental consultant and an environmental lawyer, and this background in environmental law and policy gives me a deep understanding of the environmental challenges facing our town, as well as how to preserve our critical environmental assets. I currently serve on the boards of the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) and the Lawrence Hopewell Trail, so I have experience working with community partners to preserve land and build trails that greatly benefit our community. I have a track record of putting my time, energy, and expertise into environmental causes, and I will continue that at the Township Committee.
How could Hopewell Township be made more affordable for its residents?
In addition to using my financial expertise to keep spending under control, we need to reduce our reliance on residential property taxes. We can do this, first and foremost, by finding the right, responsible corporate partner to replace BMS when they leave their Hopewell Campus by July of 2020. The first new tenant, PTC Therapeutics, is a great start, but we have more work to do to ensure that this huge chunk of our tax base is replaced with additional new tenants who fit with the BMS legacy of community partnering and environmental advocacy.
I’d also like to do more to attract small business to Hopewell Township. A good step in that direction would be to activate the new Economic Development Committee that has been suggested at the Township Committee but has not yet been formed. With my business experience, I look forward to working with the group to attract small business to our Township.
Do you support running sewer lines to parts of the Township that don’t currently have them?
I am strongly opposed to running sewers up to pristine sections of the Township, as sewers inevitably lead to large-scale development. For example, I do not support running sewers up Route 31 to the Hopewell Valley Golf Club, as that would make it much more likely that large-scale residential development would happen in the area, such as on adjacent properties like Kooltronic and Pennytown.
The HVGC is a beautiful, beloved facility that we all want to see preserved. However, if the site is purchased with taxpayer dollars in order to house a community center, as was proposed by my opponent, the permits that currently cover the septic system likely would not be sufficient to handle the substantial increase in use (this is according to the Township Engineer’s comments at the 9/16 Township Committee meeting). The result would be a multi-million dollar requirement to run public sewers and water up Route 31, on taxpayers’ dime, which would make neighbors vulnerable to large-scale development. I will fight hard to make sure this does not happen.
To be clear, though, there are sections of the Township that need help. For areas (like the tree streets) with failing septic systems that can’t be replaced because of environmental or other constraints, I see no issue in allowing them to connect with sewers. Failing and unfixable septic systems pose a real threat to our soil and water, so the Township needs to do all it can to see to it that this potential environmental problem is addressed.
How have you addressed PennEast’s plan to build underground gas lines through Hopewell Township?
I have been fighting PennEast every step of the way, along with many community partners. I have testified against the pipeline in Trenton in front of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. I have attended many rallies, events (like Pints Not Pipelines), and protests, where I have spoken on behalf of the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS). Further, my training as an environmental lawyer has helped me work on green energy aggregation with other communities along the pipeline route. This is an attempt to address the supply-side demand for fossil fuels that causes these pipelines to be economically viable.
We had very good news last week on the pipeline, when the NJDEP rejected and administratively closed PennEast’s permit application. This happened because much of the proposed pipeline route was over state-owned land (49 parcels!), and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled that PennEast, as a private company, cannot use eminent domain to take state-owned land. Thus, NJDEP determined that because PennEast no longer had legal authority along the full proposed route, their application was incomplete and therefore rejected. It has been inspiring to work alongside my running mate, Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, US Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, US Congressman Tom Malinowski, Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger, Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski, and Committeewoman Julie Blake, and local environmental leaders like Patty Cronheim to achieve this hard-won result. It shows that working together, we can fight for our environment and win.
What solutions would you suggest for managing traffic through Hopewell Township, in particular on Route 31?
The speed of truck traffic on Route 31 is a problem. I would petition the state police for a mobile inspection and weight station along Route 31 to enforce speed limits and weight limits for large tracker trailers. I also think the timing of the light at Route 31 and West Delaware Avenue is a factor, and I would petition the state to adjust it to make the traffic flow more smoothly.
Since the League of Women Voters decided not to have an actual debate this year, what is one question you would ask each of the candidates from the other party?
I would ask Mr. Hart why he took a $5,200 campaign donation in 2016 from GOPAC, a pro-pipeline, national Political Action Committee. He says he is against the PennEast pipeline. Why would a national PAC that notoriously advocates for the fossil fuel industry want to see John Hart elected to the Hopewell Township Committee?
I would ask Mr. Jackowski what steps he has taken to fight PennEast. I have never seen him at a single anti-pipeline event. It’s one thing to say you are against PennEast; it is quite another to take action.