A group of West Deptford neighbors from Saxon Drive in The Grande appeared before the township committee Thursday to ask about the status of a retention pond that borders several properties in their neighborhood.
Resident David Keller said the issue is a safety concern for
neighbors in the area, whose children bicycle near the pond.
“If the fence were to be taken down, there could be a 35- to 40-degree gradient” into the pond, Keller estimated, which he described as a man-made, earthen basin.
“It could make things easier for the neighborhood if the township were going to be definitive and enforce the codes that are on the books,” he said.
About an acre in size, and enclosed by a locked fence, the pond has been labeled a “stormwater management basin” by the township, and according to remarks during the meeting, will remain a public area, albeit an inaccessible one.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, West Deptford Mayor Ray Chintall told Keller that the existing ordinances should prohibit any trespassing on the premises.
“The only way you can get inside is to cross the fence and we have an ordinance for that,” Chintall said. “That will be enforced by the West Deptford Police Department.”
But resident Joie Gambino produced a letter from township solicitor, Anthony Ogozalek, that seemed to muddy the proverbial waters.
“Pursuant to thorough review…it is the Township’s decision to permit public access to this body of water,” the letter reads.
“Although this body of water is a storm water management basin that is open space dedicated to West Deptford Township, none of the aforementioned materials and authorities precludes the public from accessing or utilizing this body of water in ways deemed acceptable by current local ordinances and state statutes.
“Accordingly, this decision is not inconsistent with any laws or regulations and therefore the Township will not prohibit fishing, or any other lawful activity in this area.”
Ogozalek wasn’t present at the meeting, attending to a “major, major family emergency,” Chintall said at the conclusion of the evening, as he asked for thoughts and prayers on behalf of the solicitor.
But his stand-in, attorney Lilia Londar, an associate with Beckman Roth Ogozalek & Perez, told Saxon Drive residents, “Nothing’s changing.
“Nothing different is going to happen that happened previously,” Londar said.
But Gambino said that’s precisely the problem.
“Some neighbors have cut their own access into the area,” Gambino said. “We’ve had a neighbor who was robbed there
“There’s many, many children there,” she said. “It’s not graded for recreation purposes. The water quality isn’t safe. It is storm runoff.”
In September, Gambino said, West Deptford Police swept the ponds "in full waders" for a lost child, "which was another big concern to open this up area."
Her Saxon Drive neighbors also reported that someone had installed a paddle boat and boat dock in the basin in 2012, which have since reportedly been removed.
After the meeting, Chintall said that the issue is “a neighborly dispute,” and upheld his position that “there is no access” to the basin.