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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Pesticide Use at the Center of Winery Fight in Upper

A picture

By Camille Sailer

BEESLEY’S POINT – The Ocean City Winery in Upper Township, proposed by Mike and Robin Halpern, continues to hit barriers in its effort to open.
Neighbors near Route 9 and Bayaire Road reacted positively to the Sept. 30 dismissal of an appeal related to the Halperns’ plans. The appeal was made to the state’s Agricultural Development Committee. The state body owns the parcel where the Halperns want to open their winery. The appeal was dismissed as “premature;” the board said the appeal can be refiled after a final decision is rendered by the county-level Agricultural Development Board.
Some neighbors told the Herald they are advocating for the total rejection of the winery. They believe any potential operations will be disruptive to the tranquility of their peaceful section of Upper Township and damaging to property values because of noise and other impacts from operations. Some also argue it presents safety concerns for pedestrians, children and pets due to the increase in traffic. 
Rae Jaffe is especially concerned that the dangerous pesticides the owner is using on a regular basis are carcinogenic and include ingredients that are known to be dangerous. 
“While regulations from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) seem to indicate that these chemicals are ok to use, it is our understanding that they are only approved for farms that are designated as a commercial farm which we believe this is not. These chemicals are so damaging to the health of all, especially the many children who live in our neighborhood. And not only that, but the nitrites used are also getting into the soil and our well water and contaminating both,” explained Jaffe.
To make her point, Jaffe showed a photo of the farm’s owner, Halpern, in a hazmat suit spraying a field of grapes. 
“Obviously, the fact that he is in such protective gear is very telling. These chemicals, as the photo clearly shows, drift over wide areas, over and beyond his fields. He is spraying in the morning when most people are at work so no one is there to see what is going on,” Jaffe said.
She said they have called the DEP when they’ve spotted it, but that the spraying is always over by the time the officials arrive. 
Mike Halpern, for his part, responded to the Herald’s request for comments about the situation. He says there’s nothing to Jaffe’s concerns about the chemicals.
“There are a lot of common misconceptions about agricultural spraying, but only a handful of facts apply when it comes to the safe use of the materials and protection of the environment,” Halpern said.
 “First, the operator needs to be licensed by all the appropriate agencies. This is my third decade of holding those licenses. Second, only materials that are EPA-labeled for grapes can be used on or around our vines. The label contains all the conditions and practices that, when followed, constitute environmentally safe use. Third, there is a set of compliance regulations known as the Worker Protection Standard Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) that very specifically delineate compliant spray practices, regardless of the material being used. Fourth, it is a combination of the label and the AEZ that dictates compliance. If we are compliant with both these standards, then, we, by definition, are operating in an environmentally safe fashion,” Halpern explained.
He says that all those standards have consistently been met, despite the dozens of complaints he says have been submitted to the DEP.
As far as his place in the neighborhood, Halpern also didn’t mince his words.
“This farm predates almost all the surrounding houses, and we have owned it longer than many of our neighbors have owned their properties,” he said. “Over the last 50-plus years, it has been a tree farm, a registered nursery, a preserved farm, a horse farm, and since 2016 a commercial vineyard. Facts matter. We live here too. There would be no advantage to us and our growing family for the reckless behavior we keep being falsely accused of.”
A long road lies ahead for both the neighbors and the Halperns. Even the township has hired legal representation for the matter. Until there’s some kind of resolution, each party will continue its efforts to win the legal battle over the winery. 
Thoughts about the proposed Ocean City Winery? Email csailer@cmcherald.com.

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