The Sparta Independent won two New Jersey Press Association awards this week, including first place in the Environmental, Health and Science category for its 2016 coverage of Sparta Mountain, lead levels in water and opioid alternatives.

Reporter Erika Norton, who wrote the stories, also took home the Robert P. Kelly Award given each year to a talented young reporter who exhibits expertise in writing and reporting skills for her series of stories on Sparta Mountain.

"This reporter took vital information and presented it in a highly readable and informative way. Her work made a difference for readers," wrote the judges in choosing Norton for the award.

As for the Environmental, Health and Science Award, the judges noted Norton's ability to take national topics and make them local and understandable. Her Sparta Mountain stories covered all sides of the issues surrounding the logging of Sparta Mountain, including the disagreements between environmental groups, residents and government agencies.

"In each of these stories, the reporter is able to process the information and deliver it to readers in a sense they can understand," noted the judges.

“Erika’s terrific reporting and writing on a whole host of topics make The Sparta Independent a more compelling read each week," said Joseph Picard, managing editor of The Sparta Independent.

“We’re pleased the judges of the New Jersey Press Association recognized Erika’s work and the strong commitment The Sparta Independent has to reporting local stories that matter to peoples’ everyday lives.” said Jeanne Straus, publisher of The Sparta Independent.

The Sparta Independent is one of nine weekly newspapers published by Straus News in Sussex and Passaic counties in New Jersey, Orange County, New York and Pike County, Pennsylvania.

To read Norton's stories: "Sparta Mountain plan causes backlash," "How much lead is in your water?" "With end of comment period, enviro groups oppose Sparta Mountain plan," "Sparta Mountain debate continues" and "A groundbreaking approach," go to spartaindependent.com.