Environmentalists, watermen and law enforcement

The recently observed bad behavior of local law enforcement officers combined with national news headlines has watermen, local bayshore residents and our guests on edge. Yesterday’s national news headlines indicated that dozens of environmental activists were arrested in public protests against environmental injustice. That number will likely escalate sooner rather than later as civil disobedience in protest to government actions increases locally and across the nation. Locally, a court’s action to effectively block the marketing efforts of a watermens’ cooperative triggered angry talk of retaliation.

Watermen are wary of both environmentalists and law enforcement officers. Many consider their god-given right to work the water as their highest held value. Some feel they have little to lose messing with the law. One told me that he deliberately gets himself into a little legal trouble each fall to get “three squares and a bed” over the winter months.

It is easy to forget that as recently as 1970 our watermen were engaged in violent battles against federal government officials with occasional gun battles on the water. No one wants to see a return to those lawless days. Yet the animosity of ordinary local citizens toward government is at a record high level. Today watermen and environmentalists are equally likely to wind up in unfortunate encounters with law enforcement officers.

Our focus is on protecting ourselves here on site at the bayshore rather than what happens elsewhere in clashes with government. It seems that government visitors have become a daily occurrence at the bayshore lately and it is not easy to know who is being investigated and for what. We anticipate that the incidence of law officer activity will increase. Virtually every published authority we’ve read predicts that clashes between citizens and government will increase dramatically as citizens unite to demand environmental justice.

The tension is compounded by the fact that a high percentage of us in the fisheries industry are not English-speaking natives and almost everyone knows someone who is struggling to get work papers extended or citizenship paperwork processed.

The Water Protector Legal Cooperative published guidance on how to lead with law enforcement officers that we intend to adapt as guidance for behavior of civilians on our own sites.

On first observation of an officer

Thanks to modern security tools, we typically have the advantage of seeing an officer approach from a long distance away. That gives us time to go inside a building or boat cabin and close the door if a law enforcement officers appear on the site. Act respectfully, keep your hands visible, do not engage, and do not open the door.

Use these words calmly but clearly and loudly if an officer is on the site:

  1. “I wish to remain silent”.
  2. “I did not consent to this search”.

If detained or arrested

Ask “Why am I being detained?” and “Am I under arrest?”. In one instance here an officer made a detainment and moved a protester without making an arrest. It can happen but might not be legal. It take a tremendous amount of self-restraint to simply keep quiet and ask for a lawyer.

 

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If uncertain of the identity and purpose of a government vehicle, the best advice is to avoid contact and go inside to avoid engagement. Recent bad experiences with law enforcement here started with casual conversations that turned into fishing expeditions for information to support further improper government action.

Tips for meeting with elected officials

I never imagined that my work would involve frequent meetings with elected officials, but that is an important part of my agenda recently. As an advocate for small businesses, I’ve had the opportunity to meet locally, in Harrisburg, Dover and Trenton as well as Washington DC. Because our bayshore neighborhood is often in the news over environmental justice and aquaculture redevelopment issues, I’ve had the opportunity to host a handful of officials here on our emerging sustainable aquaculture site at Money Island, NJ.

I suggest these tips:

  1. Do your homework before the meeting. Know your representative’s voting history, committee assignments and recent activity (usually available on social media).
  2. Open with clear simple facts.
  3. Paint pictures with short clear stories of how the issue affects your business or industry.
  4. Avoid tipping your bias on politically sensitive issues. Disregard partisan politics.
  5. If the issue involves problems with unelected officials, be sensitive to comments about your legislator’s willingness to get involved. Some are not willing to get involved and will tell you so. Some will tell you that they have a poor track record working with ingrained bureaucracies. That is important information even if it is not what you want to hear.
  6. Wrap up with a clear actionable request. If that includes asking the official to write a letter, offer to prepare the letter draft yourself. Better yet, have it drafted already and offer to send the staff the electronic version.
  7. If you belong to a community group with regular meetings, extend an invitation to the meeting. This is a nice way to wrap up, exit, but hold the door open for follow-up communication.
  8. Leave you business cards with both the representative and the staff.
  9. Follow up with an email and thank you card or letter.
  10. Connect with the representative on social media and be positive and supportive. You’d be surprised how many directly answer tweets.
  11. Donate to the campaign even if it is a small amount. If you donate to an industry PAC, mention that when appropriate.

I am especially grateful to the professionals at the New Jersey Society of CPAs, especially Jeff, for teaching me the basics of advocacy, to my Cape May friend Ed for emphasizing the value of diplomacy and restraint, and to my activist friend George for showing me the power of being loud and fearless. While we may never be certain of the ultimate impact of our own advocacy efforts, I now know for sure that my voice will be heard.

Update on ‘crab king’ case as of 6/9/2019

There were unusual and unexpected actions apparently involving both the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office and the Clerk of the Criminal Case Management office last week. As a result, the hearing originally scheduled for tomorrow, June 10, is apparently delayed. I’ve filed motions to address the underlying reasons. It’s just incredible that so many bad acts by government and court officials could be packed into one frivolous case and this raises larger questions. Here is the update:

On May 30 I filed a motion to exclude a late-filed brief because the deadline in the case scheduling order for the state’s brief had passed. When I filed the motion in person in Bridgeton, I heard from the clerk court that she intended to allow a late-filed brief based on an ex-parte e-mail communication between the Prosecutor’s office and the court clerk. Both of these actions (the acceptance of filing outside of the court-ordered schedule and the e-mail collusion between the two court officers) are violations of criminal court procedure that work against the defendant. I complained to the clerk that the ex-parte communications that disadvantaged me in this case are reportable ethics violations. The clerk literally shrugged her shoulders in response to my objection.

IMO, an ordinary citizen should be outraged that this type of unethical action outside of legal procedure takes place against a defendant. I commented to the clerk that that this type of casual disregard for the law and willingness to place defendants at an unfair disadvantage is why average citizens lose faith in the justice system.

The clerk asked me to wait in the office of Criminal Case Management and within 30 minutes of my filing handed me a revised case scheduling order that changed the details. Apparently the revised scheduling order was an attempt to address my complaint. The prosecutor apparently filed the response brief later that day. I then filed a motion to reject the Revised Scheduling Order on the basis that it was merely an attempt by officers of the court to cover up my complaint.

Both of my motions are unaddressed at this time and I will address them later as appropriate. But based on the latest court order, the new hearing details are listed below:

Oral argument is now scheduled Monday June 17, 2019 at 1:30 PM before Honorable Judge Joseph M. Chiarello, JSC in Court Room 235, Cumberland County Court House, Broad and Fayette Streets, Bridgeton NJ for State vs. Tony Novak, Appeal #2-19. The state will be represented by Danielle Pennino, Esq. of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office. The hearing is open to the public.

This case has unfortunately brought out the worst of our criminal justice system – a frivolous case gone mad. We now have:

  • A demand by a law enforcement officer where the defendant could not possibly comply with the demand
  • A law enforcement officer manufacturing an offense without any witnesses or physical evidence
  • Admission of stalking by a law enforcement officer on social media
  • Admission of entrapment based on the stalking by an officer
  • A municipal court’s lack of familiarity with applicable case law
  • A prosecutor’s willingness to distort a law enforcement officer’s testimony to secure a “win” on a municipal court case
  • Mishandling of appeal paperwork by municipal court office
  • Ex-parte communications between prosecutor and the court
  • Refusal of officers of the court to take responsibility for their own bad behavior

Court filings that are normally available as public (or even restricted) records online are apparently not available for this type of case. I do not know why.  I plan to make the case records available after final disposition of the case, unless legally restricted, if the court does not do so. Other legal observers are looking at this case both in terms of the prosecutorial procedures as well as the potential impact on online marketing  of regulated industries like community-funded fishing.

Unfortunately, this case has turned into a clear example of what is wrong with our criminal justice system today. crabs in basket

Mosquito control at the bayshore

We are entering the peak season for mosquitoes at the bayshore. They will expand rapidly in June and continue until first freeze. Mosquito management here has six components:

  1. Elimination of standing water. This means vigilant turning over of buckets, barrels etc. I think this makes the most difference. I’m known to be militaristic in keeping our community free of standing water containers.
  2. Treatment of standing water that can’t be eliminated. A government-required fuel spill containment area, for example, holds unavoidable standing water. I use bacillus thuringiensis tablets available in hardware stores but have no way of knowing if that actually works. Another visitor suggests that a tiny amount of bleach also works.
  3. Keeping them out of the house and buildings. This is the hardest part for me. They can come in though the often open doors and the doggie door flap and gaps or holes in screens. It’s a constant battle.
  4. Wear long leaves and long pants. Most of my bites are on exposed skin like neck and ankles. I buy specific clothing to wear under different insect conditions, including head masks for some spring work.
  5. Wear repellent. DEET and the natural products seem to work equally well. The problem is remembering to put it on. Of course nobody wears it all the time. We keep a basket of assorted products available for all visitors.
  6. Treat bites. I use meat tenderizer. There are other natural options and plenty of over-the-counter treatment products.

Mosquitoes are one of the six major insect pests here at the bayshore. The others are gnats, green head flies, strawberry flies, ticks and house flies. Each one has its own management strategies that we take seriously. Bayshore residents know that insects are not to be taken lightly. Visitors are likely to hear the local phrase “June is for the bugs”. Outdoor activities are often dependent on having an adequate breeze of over 5 mph to keep most of the bugs away. Bugs are our natural human population control and some have speculated that without the insects our bayshore would be lined with high rise condominiums.

Healthy Fish Chart

This fish choice chart from the FDA is highlighted with the species of our most common Delaware Bay catch. It’s great that our most common species: crab, oyster, perch and flounder, striper, weakfish all make the grade.

fish choice

Thanks for the first $50,000!

Baysave is tremendously grateful to the bayshore community for helping us raise more than $50,000 to help struggling businesses in and around Money Island in Cumberland County over the past three years. We achieved this milemark this past month in May 2019. Most of that charitable grant and donation money during this first decade was spent on state financial demands: permit fees, user fees, taxes, application fees, etc. for environmental problems that were the state’s fault for their failures decades ago. Baysave is a 501(c)(3) formed in 2010 and registered with the State of New Jersey as a public charity. Our funding comes from private donors, private grants and the public.

eagle-on-A-Dock-(3)

We still have a long way to go toward restoration of Money Island with about $100,000 in government expenses still unpaid. Most of this is needed for aquaculture permitting to convert a former marina into docks and seafood handling facilities. We also support a range of public access to waterways initiatives. Our diverse stakeholders include universities, environmental groups, recreational public fishing and naturalists. We believe that the community will continue to support the basic goals of food security, restorative aquaculture expansion and shoreline stabilization.

Why Money Island?

Money Island is New Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port and the target site for a conversion into restorative aquaculture practices. In other words, we’ve taken the challenge of rising tides and turned it into a good thing. We have a “shovel ready” plan of action that has been shared and endorsed by many in state government and the NJDEP. Money Island is also possibly New Jersey’s most remote and most pristine natural environment, surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped space.

The disaster after the disaster

We survived the devastating impact of superstorm Sandy but not the corruption in government that followed in the aftermath of storm recovery.

Prior to Sandy, BaySave had a strong track record of working as a partner with the state and was often cited for our innovative projects. Then a few bad government actors got involved. I personally received threats, solicitations for bribes and, to this day, extortion pressures from government officials. These bad deeds are all reported, a few were investigated, but none were prosecuted.

How the battle to adapt to climate change turned into a battle against bad government

How did Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal show its appreciation for the environmental compliance progress that this rural Cumberland County community has made so far during the first two years of his administration? By suing Baysave, it’s former directors and executive because we are not moving fast enough. State officials have repeatedly refused to reply to requests for meetings and declined to participate in the NJDEP’s statutory alternate dispute resolution procedures. How did our local elected officials respond? Our local government says they are powerless to help against what they repeatedly refer to as the actions of “DEP terrorists”. Our former State Senator said it is too risky to get involved and our current State Senator  and Assemblyman are apparently taking the same position.

Standing firm for our future

Yet we stand with New Jersey’s independent seafood businesses. New Jersey’s small independent watermen are an important part of the future of our food security, shoreline stabilization, restorative aquaculture and sea level rise response. This is an example of government acting badly against its poorest and most vulnerable populations.

We urge the community to continue to stand united with us against bad government for a strong and sustainable future.

#environmentaljustice

 

Resist!

“Resist much. Obey little”. – Walt Whitman

“Resist much. Obey little.”

It’s now been more than 30 years since I first learned firsthand the impact of government corruption, bribery, extortion and plainly bad policy execution on the deteriorated Delaware Bay shore communities. I was living and working in Ocean City, New Jersey and has some initial success is environmental justice issues in our neglected communities on the east coast by building relationships and educating elected officials on relevant issues. A property owner at the bayshore wondered if I could have the same impact here. So now it’s been more tha15 years since I’ve actively worked for better environmental policy in Cumberland County on the west coast of New Jersey. I have no positive results to show for it. I was diverted and pushed into working with federal and state law enforcement investigators instead by reporting crimes, the resulting death threats and even the investigation of a failed attempt to shut me up through attempted murder. As far as I know, none of those crimes has been prosecuted. We hear that a book is coming out soon that covers some of the wild adventure.

Baysave has accomplished much thanks to the generous support of the community. Yet our overall effectiveness was slash at the knees by disingenuous government actors that caused us to lose more time and money to fighting hostile government actions than we could have done if we worked together. By my estimate, the State of New Jersey could have purchased the entirety of Money Island at a lower cost than they will spend fighting against us and limiting the role of other agencies and environmental groups here. It is shocking, maddening, illogical, inefficient and wasteful of public resources.

Meanwhile, over the past six difficult years “Leaves of Grass” has become my most often read and cited source of literature as a source of inspiration. This week I am reminded that little has changed here in our world. There is still evidence that high-powered greed empowered by government controls us. The incidents of government bad behavior in the past month were dizzying and are still confusing. But I’m still here spreading the word; perhaps a bit more selectively than in the old days. Only by speaking up do we have any possibility of escaping the pattern of rich politically-connected individuals trodding down the rights of the majority citizens who call this place home.

Here is the full text of “To the States” by Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass:

“To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist 
much, obey little, Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved, Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever after-
ward resumes its liberty. “

Observed reduction in local pesticide and chemical fertilizer use

We see a favorable long term shift in pesticide use and resulting pollution here at our region of the Delaware Bay in New Jersey. Yet little is published about this trend. We read plenty of material about the Chesapeake Bay and most of our information about pesticide and fertilizer runoff actually comes from that watershed (like in this July 2018 article). The downside of pesticide and fertilizer use at the bay region is well documented. But here is the good news: many or most of the farms in our region of Cumberland County New Jersey have shifted to organic gardening methods over the past few years. The market demand for organic produce caused these farms to switch over from the former corn and soy bean crops that were driven by chemical applications. We’ve seen no published data yet but we suspect that local water quality is improving. 

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This photo shows a Newport, New Jersey farm with a cover crop of clover. Clover provides a natural source of soil nitrogen and prevents soil erosion over the winter season.

Update on restorative development at Money Island

As we approach the Memorial Day traditional opening of the Money Island community’s seasonal activities, there are many different stakeholder groups operating with increased energy here. Lately we see an almost daily parade of dump trucks, construction equipment, engineers and government officials. The total redevelopment project will exceed $30 million and will take years. Yet that’s a small price to pay for the $40 million per year economic benefit of our local seafood industry, not even counting the recreational and public uses, that is expected to grow rapidly in the years ahead. We need to plan for increasingly hostile environmental conditions and rising tides that will soon put all of our land areas underwater at high tide.

Baysave’s role is to help coordinate the efforts of the various stakeholders. That’s not an easy job. Recent events highlight that cohesiveness is lacking and, in fact, some government agencies are actually sometimes working against each other.

trucks at Money Island

We focus our work with the various stakeholders on addressing the problems stemming from the long history of environmental injustice. The combination of neglect, local poverty, incompetence and government corruption have taken a significant toll on our community. Still, we manage to retain the title as the second most productive seafood landing port in the state with the potential of increasing economic contribution by more than tenfold over the coming decade. In order to achieve these goals, we need leadership from the top to end the infighting among government branches. That, in turn, will inspire confidence among private entities to invest in restorative and sustainable redevelopment projects here at Money Island.

These are some of the groups currently active at Money Island:

Group 1. Community redevelopment group – Our local mayor is working with a group to bring investment funds to redevelop the front end of Money Island for some public use (“Bayshore Welcome Center”) or educational use. Baysave is working directly with one University that is planning to expand its coastal resiliency program.  The mayor is working with a second University. We can offer accommodations to either one or both schools. Downe Township officials are clear that they believe that the financial survival of Downe Township may depend on favorable resolution of the Money Island issues. We encourage Mayor Campbell to continue to pursue this redevelopment option but we have not discussed any details. The mayor led the group that completed work on Stage 1 of the Money Island seawall construction two years ago. The future of Money Island quite literally depends on our ability to complete Stage 2 of the sea wall project within the next few years. Without this, we will lose use of our only roadway into the community. On Wednesday April 17 a group of high level people (two in of them in limos) arrived here to inspect the marina property. They did not, to my knowledge, look at the commercial docks.

limos at Money Island

Group 2. New Jersey Attorney General – The NJ Attorney General is working through the local Superior Courts to prosecute the individual members of the restoration coalition. There is no ‘carrot’; this is only a ‘stick’ approach. This legal action caused all of the previously approved redevelopment funding to be withdrawn and triggered the resignation of most of our Baysave board members. My initial concern was that the claims are based on faulty underlying information and misunderstandings by NJDEP staff personnel that has never been discussed in a setting that could lead to resolution. I am certain, based on conversations with the various engineers who have worked here in recent years, that some of the premises assumed by the state are incorrect. We have factual evidence of decades of errors in official documents. Unfortunately, the court process is unsuitable for local stakeholders. We cannot get fair treatment in that courtroom environment while higher powers are operating in conflict. Given the past and ongoing bad acts by some within NJDEP, it is difficult to distinguish between those who are trustworthy and the bad actors. We are advised to be patient until higher level people take control of the matter.

surveyors

Group 3. Aquaculture redevelopment group – An experienced professional group meets regularly with various departments within government and outside government and plans to invite us to a meeting soon. They have a solid proposal supported by strong economic potential.

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Group 4. Environmental research partnership – An environmental partnership led by The Nature Conservancy has obtained grants for ongoing research here and, right now, are the most active users of Money Island properties. They are not owners but have access to a land use agreement at no cost.

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Group 5. The oystermen – Led by the Shellfish Commission, our oystermen have been able to get necessary road repairs completed and recently gained approval for channel dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers. The members have determined that our location is the best site in the state to expand oyster aquaculture but will not move forward while the state has open land use litigation based on decades’ old oversights by NJDEP. Four companies have already asked for docks for expansion after the current litigation is resolved.

oyster boat

Group 6. The crabbers – The crab industry is expanding and it’s no surprise that the older established crabbers do not welcome the younger new harvesters. Most of the new crabbers have temporarily moved away this season due to surprise prosecution by Fish and Wildlife over their cooperative marketing plan. The crabbers generally prefer to act quietly in their own interests and do not welcome the input of other stakeholders. That’s a challenge for Baysave but eventually we will accomplish our mutual goals.

crabs in basket

Group 7. The recreational marina – The marina is closed for this season. A local marina owner has agreed to combine the Money Island Marina with his other existing operation and rebuild/restore the marina with appropriate permits. That agreement is ‘on hold’ waiting for resolution of current legal issues. Various agencies and private parties have expressed willingness to invest in the project after the current legal issues are fully resolved. While recreational boating was important in the past, we expect that it will be only a small part of Money Island’s future.

dock fishing at Money Island Marina

NEW JOBS PAC

Tony Novak CPA will represent Baysave at the 2019 NEW JOBS PAC “The Voice of Business” Annual South Jersey Legislative Reception for the New Job Political Action Committee as a member of the NJCPA and supporter of its PAC. The annual event attracts local lawmakers to discuss local business and economic development opportunities and hindrances.

New Jobs PAC logo

The group focuses on legislation to improve the business climate in New Jersey by supporting pro-business political candidates. Baysave is involved in revitalization of the bayshore economy and last year received funding from the NJ Community Capital THRIVE Grant to promote the local crab industry through a multi-state marketing cooperative. That effort was stymied by legal action by state government.

Baysave is focused on spreading the word about the huge growth potential of our local aquaculture industry, especially blue claw crabs and oysters at the Delaware Bay region. Advanced and technology open the door to a tenfold increase in total seafood production in the years ahead. That growth means moe infrastructure needed, more jobs created and more tax revenue for South Jersey government.