Contrary to the implications recently advanced "by David Slavin, president of the Sparta Township Board of Education, landowner Wendy Stamer has never indicated an interest in selling her 200-acre property located along Woodport Road. She is adamant that she will never willingly allow the land to be developed for any purpose including as the site of a new public high school. The Sparta property has been home to Mrs, Stamer's family for four generations and was first acquired by Mrs. Stamer's grandfather, David Wakeman, in 1925. The Stamers fully intend to preserve the land in its unspoiled natural state and they are outraged that the Board has threatened to take from them a significant portion of their homestead by wielding its power of condemnation. This is not the first time the Board has threatened to condemn the Wakeman/Stamer farm. In 1957, the Board attempted to pass a referendum to acquire a 25-acre tract of the Wakeman farm for a new high school. Mrs. Stamer's parents resisted the Board's efforts, which were also met with strong opposition from the public. Sparta residents voted in record numbers and overwhelmingly rejected the Board's referendum. Ultimately, the Board abandoned its efforts to condemn Mr. Wakeman's land and elected to build a new high school at its present location along West Mountain Road. Nearly fifty years later, the specter of condemnation once again looms large, and the Stamers are ready to fight to preserve their family homestead at all costs. A number of environmental concerns weigh heavily against developing the site, including the preservation of a pristine, Category 1 stream flowing directly across the property from Lake Saginaw to the Wallkill River. The property is also a natural habitat to myriad forms of wildlife, including bears, coyotes, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, great-horned owls and Pileated woodpeckers. Additionally, with the new construction of an adjacent 120-unit housing development already underway, and no additional sewer allocation available, the sewerage needs of the proposed school are a major environmental issue. Professional engineers estimate that it may take two to four years to acquire the necessary wastewater treatment permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. Many Sparta residents fear that a new public high school along Woodport Road will also create a commuting and traffic nightmare. As the Sparta Township population grows by leaps and bounds, Woodport Road, one of the community's only access points to Route 15, continues 10 experience heavy traffic flow during the morning and afternoon rush-hour commutes. The installation of at least one new traffic light, as well as the anticipated number of vehicles driven by school staff and a projected student body of 1,600, will severely compound the problem and make the morning commute an absolute torment for township residents. Of even greater concern to residents is the impact on the ability of local firefighters to gain access to the new, multi-million dollar firehouse on Woodport Road in emergency situations. Township volunteers fear, and common sense tells us, that it will be nearly impossible for them to readily access the firehouse to respond to fire emergencies during times of heavy traffic and sporting and special events at the new high school. Thus, the proposed school location poses a very real and legitimate threat to the safety and welfare of the community at large, especially in the wake of the recent closing of two smaller firehouses and the establishment of the Woodport Road facility as the main firefighting hub. Beyond the fact that concerns for the environment, public safety, and public convenience argue against the selection of the Wakeman/Stamer property, the Stamers believe the Board of Education has ignored compelling issues of cost. The taxpayers of Sparta township already bear a heavy tax burden and the Board's recent circulation of floating an $83 million dollar bond issue would severely strain the budgets of many homeowners. For all of these reasons, the Stamers question whether the Board has performed its due diligence and considered all other viable options for construction of a new public high school. The Stamers maintain it is simply a matter of the personal desire, rather than public necessity, that is driving the Board's yearning to acquire their undeveloped property. "It was bad for Sparta fifty years ago, and it is bad for Sparta today," says Peter Stamer of the Board's plans to condemn the family property. Notwithstanding the Board's threats of condemnation, the decision to acquire and purchase the Stamer property ultimately rests with the Township's voting taxpayers, who will be compelled to bear the brunt of the millions of dollars in construction costs if state funding cannot be procured. There is some indication from both Board and Township officials that the Board will lose millions in available state funding if a site is not selected by summer 2005. The Stamers, however, will have no alternative other than to litigate and defend their property if the Board actually follows through with its threat to take their land through the exercise of its power of eminent domain. It is the Stamer's dream to preserve the land as a nature sanctuary/park, which will eventually benefit all the citizens of Sparta.