Scientific pros lead local green panels in effort to aid community

Vicky Binetti, Leon Lakritz head the Environmental Commission and Open Space Committee

Washington Township’s Environmental Commission and Open Space Committee are separate entities, but they are on the same team when it comes to ensuring the township is heading in the proper ecological direction.

Vicky Binetti is the chair of the Environmental Commission, an appointed body that advises the mayor and council on environmental issues, enhances public education about the environment and reviews property development plans. It gets the word out by participating in events such as cleaning up parks, Super Saturday and Earth Day and Arbor Day.

Binetti is retired, having worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for 30 years as the associate director for water protection for the Mid Atlantic Region. She was in charge of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Within that region, she was responsible for great varieties of water protection and pollution projects with a special emphasis on drinking water regulation, protection and enforcement.

Her previous experience at the EPA translates into her role at the Environmental Commission as one of its responsibilities is to work with the water resources in Washington Township.

On the other hand, the Open Space Committee is committed to preserving land. As it stands, 330 acres of land are permanently preserved. In addition, the committee will do activities such as establishing community gardens and enhancing nature trails.

Leon Lakritz is the chair of the Open Space Committee, and much like Binetti, has a long history in the sciences. Lakritz is a retired research chemist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He conducted a lot of health-related research, such as carcinogens in tobacco smoke, cholesterol and reduction of microorganisms using radiation.

The two teams work hand-in-hand in helping Washington Township become a sustainable and ecologically friendly community. Take, for example, the community garden, which was started in 2016. The community garden took a portion of Washington Lake Park and opened it up to 16 people who get a small plot to plant whatever they want. There are currently five plots in the garden strictly dedicated to growing fresh fruits and vegetables for Mother’s Cupboard, the local food bank. Since 2016, the garden has expanded to hold 30 plots, 25 for township citizens and five for Mother’s Cupboard.

In addition to the community garden, the Environmental Commission is working with Washington Lake Park to renovate the lake and nature trails. Considering there are roughly two and a half miles of trails at the park, Lakritz expressed interest in having proper signage on the trails. The goal is to identify what trees are in an area and what birds and animals are indigenous to that location.

One of the biggest events is the township-wide cleanup event. The next one will take place on Oct. 13 in township parks, fields and roadsides. Afterward, volunteers are invited to Washington Lake Park for a barbecue.

The Environmental Commission and Open Space Committee are always looking for new members. For more information, visit the township’s website, http://www.twp.washington.nj.us, or stop by a meeting. The Environmental Commission meets the first Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building, and the Open Space Committee meets the second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building. Both meetings are open to the public.