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. “

A history of NJ environmental injustice

This is a draft copy of part 2 of a two part response to a request for comments to the environmental justice executive order 23 issued by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. The final compiled and submitted comment is available here.


Statement of Tony Novak, Money Island, New Jersey

I’ve had an unfortunate history of exposure to environmental injustice by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and, more recently, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office. The purpose of this writing is to supplement a verbal statement I gave on March 11 at a Listening Session focused on Governor Murphy’s Executive Order No. 23 on environmental justice. My stories below offer timely comment in response to the “Environmental Justice Executive Order No. 23 Guidance” that says (emphasis added):

New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color have been exposed to disproportionately high and unacceptably dangerous levels of air, water, and soil pollution, with the accompanying potential for increased public health impacts. In addition, E.O. 23 recognized that communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation often face other serious problems beyond environmental issues, including health risks and housing challenges”.

The Guidance cites the EPA definition of “fair treatment”:

“Fair treatment” means that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies. The examples listed below clearly show that the state has not met this standard of fair treatment. My examples show how the NJDEP is placing an unjust and impossible burden of compliance on the people most damaged by climate change effects at a time when we are least able to raise the funds necessary for legal representation to address these attacks and to meet the state’s expensive land use permitting fees.

The location of all of the examples is Money Island, Downe Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey, a small rural community noted in the Department of Community Affairs’ Municipal Revitalization Index as a low income and otherwise disadvantage community.

This listing of  examples of environmental injustice intentionally omits names, dates, site references and case numbers. Those details have already been provided to appropriate investigators.

Rejected bribe attempt

My first unfortunate exposure to NJDEP injustice began in 2010 when a woman who did not know me came to my house to dispute the verbal instructions I was given by other NJDEP officials and our local building inspector. I was fixing a broken dock and bulkhead. A short time later, maybe 2-3 weeks, a man came who obviously knew who I was said he could fix it with a direct payment to him. I reasoned that there was no way he could no of my predicament without ‘inside’ connection to the NJDEP person who visited me earlier. He specifically said that he represented the NJDEP and that the payment must be in cash. He did not give an amount that I was supposed to pay. I recognized it as a bribe and said that I would have no part in that scheme. A neighbor later told me that he was facing the same type of attempted bribe solicitation. That combination of interactions led to my application for a “Zane exemption” to avoid the need for permitting. That application was eventually denied, several years later, for the implausible reason that me and all my six neighbors moved our bulkheads from their original position. Our former State Senator wrote a letter asking the NJDEP commissioner to open a line of communication to negotiate this misunderstanding. I challenged the plain lack of credibility of the NJDEP excuse with a higher level official. He did not dispute my points said he would get back to me. He never did. He was then transferred to another job and says this matter is no longer in his jurisdiction. Over the years I’ve told the story of attempted bribery to many people in government and law enforcement. Almost no one seems surprised and nobody ever offered to take any action.

NJDEP entrapment

The second disastrous integration came in 2012-2013 in the month before and after superstorm Sandy. I made a written proposal for the state to acquire land that I proposed to buy from a bankruptcy trustee for transfer to the state at my inherent cost. I saw this proposal as a way where the state might acquire open space property at a lower than market price and I might be able to recover what the former owners owed me that I wouldn’t otherwise recover in the bankruptcy. Officially the proposal was under consideration but in private verbal communications the NJDEP officials gave every indication that the proposal would be successful. The state kept the offer open for about five years before declining interest in the properties. They declined interest in the properties on the same day that they notified me of their intent to prosecute Baysave for violations on the properties offered. I referred to this as “NJDEP entrapment” in later court filings.

Participation with US attorney’s investigation

Following superstorm Sandy there were a handful of investigations of credible accusations of government fraud. A neighbor said that he was working with a US attorney from New York and asked if I would give a supporting statement. I gave an interview by telephone but never received interrogatories, a subpoena or anything else in writing related to this. The interview focused on an earlier death threat I received that claimed to be from a government official. I told the investigating attorney of the death threats I received, I gave her the caller ID where the one telephone threat, and indicated how they could verify my report with an earlier NJ state police report. I never heard anything more except that my neighbor said the US attorney decided to not prosecute the case “because there was not enough money involved”.

Ignoring erosion and altered water flow risk

From 2004 until 2014 I was involved as a citizen in the planning of a bulkhead intended to save our community from sea level rise. The original engineering plans were modified around 2015 “because we didn’t have the money”, according to the project engineer. A different private engineer said the altered plans would have devastating erosion effect on the adjacent properties (my properties) due to increased water flow past the adjacent property. I expressed my concerns in a formal timely comment on the project submitted to NJDEP. Initially the project engineer offered to add some features to mitigate the damage of the altered project design. Later he told me that he that a superior in government prohibited from speaking to me. NJDEP never answered the erosion risk inquiries that I submitted by certified mail and follow up telephone calls. The visible damage in 2017 and 2018 resulting from this lack of appropriate project risk management is shocking to those who have lived here for many years.

Manipulated water quality report

In 2014 the NJDEP issued an odd local water quality report. Having an educational background in natural sciences and some aspects of this water testing field, I recognized the testing methods as scientifically unsound. The preliminary issued report was loaded with factual errors. It appeared to be more political propaganda than science. I spoke with the report’s author several times who promised to discuss the matter after the final report was published. I arranged an interview for the scientist with a local reporter. The scientist then said he was forbidden from talking to me or any reporter about the false water quality report. Downe Township later hired its own researchers to oppose the obviously bad findings of the state’s report.

Denial of arbitration

NJDEP launched a series of ‘notice of violation’ complaints against properties owned by Baysave (later owned by me). Some of the complaints are valid and some are errors. Several people inside and outside of government told me that these matters are typically resolved through arbitration. I made a formal application for arbitration. The NJDEP denied my application for arbitration. The NJDEP official who runs the arbitration process said this was the first time in her long tenure that the state had denied an arbitration hearing. I do not know the reason that

Ganging up with the Attorney General

The NJDEP is using the virtually unlimited manpower, budget and legal muscle of the state’s Attorney General to bully me nd make it impossible to fight their past misdeeds and false claims. In late 2018 the NJDEP and the Attorney General teamed up to close our businesses because I did not have the money to advance pending land use permit applications. As a result, the six or several water-based small businesses that operated from our property are now closed. We were financially ravaged by superstorm Sandy and have not yet recovered. The timeline demanded for payment of legal permitting costs demanded by the Attorney General are impossible.  We all agree that we all want the same outcome – full compliance with all land use permit regulations – but we disagree on the consequences of that process taking longer than the state demands. I am using this story as a textbook case of environmental injustice; bad behavior by government against its most vulnerable people.

Denial of participation in related programs

NJ Clean Marina Program – In 2014 I took a lead role in engaging local residents, business owners and visitors to participate in New Jersey’s Green Marina Program. It was important to our educational mission to change the culture and thinking of the local waterfront community to be more aware of environmental issues. It took about two years and cost Baysave and its neighbors about $3,500 to complete the program that transformed our local operations. At the completion of the final inspection, the program administrator told me they “had run out of funding” and could not certify us under the program. Two years later he admitter privately that an unnamed NJDEP oficial blocked our participation.

New Jersey Sea Grant Pump Out Station Program – The most basic need of humans in a waterfront community is a wastehandling system. In 2013 we patnered with professional firms firm to design a waste handling system like those used at similar marinas. We had trouble getting final approval to construct the system. In 2017 the program administrator admitted that NJDEP official blocked the approval but declined to name the official who took this action.

No response from state executives

I’ve personally made calls, emails, web forms and letters to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General asking for a opportunity to address these concerns of unjust actions by state officials. None of my communications have been answered.


I am asking the Governor of the State of New Jersey to “call off the dogs” of hostile legal action by the Attorney General against the state’s most vulnerable citizens, a community noted as a low income outlier in the Department of Community Affairs’ Municipal Revitalization Index, struggling with the devastating effects of climate change. Instead, we should resolve this through negotiation. I am asking the NJDEP to come to the negotiating table ready to discuss sources of financial resources and a realistic timetable to reach the end result that we all want: full compliance with all land use regulations. This is a solvable issue. There is no need for the state to be ruining lives and businesses simply because of the slow pace of post-Sandy economic recovery here at Money Island. It is wrong and unjust for the state to treat those of us who contribute so much to the long term sustainability our environment as common criminals simply because we lack the financial resources to immediately meet state land use requirements.

Tony Novak

Baysave

March 22, 2019

Goodbye Bayview Road

Tomorrow my neighbors’ houses on Bayview Road at Money Island NJ will be torn down by a state contractor. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me “Why?” Yet even with as many times as I had to respond to this question, I still don’t have a neat concise answer. More disturbing, I don’t have an answer that I really believe. Some former homeowners here would say they were unable to handle the high costs associated with rising water levels. Others, like our mayor, call it “NJDEP terrorism” as the state threatened massive fines against us without offering any source of funds to address the new environmental challenges. At least a few of my former neighbors would say they were just scared away by what they saw happening around them.

I still wonder about the thought process that went into my neighbors’ thinking about selling and moving out that caused them to act differently when negotiating with the state compared to what they told me in person when we talked last. I was surprised  and apparently the local government was equally surprised that 100% of the neighbors across the bridge elected to sell their properties. The overall buyout completion rate is 80%, according to NJ Blue Acres office, indicating that normally a few houses remain after a buyout. It might have had to do with the bridge itself that was badly corroded and appeared to be collapsing prior to the buyouts. Ironically, the bridge repair and seawall construction were completed after the buyouts were planned.

No doubt this is am emotional and sad time for many. Looking at the photos, I think of the happy times I’ve had as a guest in many of these neighbors houses in earlier times.  I also think of the few neighbors who later blamed me for causing the state to acquire these houses.  I try to not think too much about the bizarre events that led to death threats and even an attempt on my life by an angry neighbor and a politician for my role in trying to preserve this community.

After tomorrow only two houses will be left on Bayview road. My home office is one of the two and this site is proposed as a research/educational facility for the future. The only reason these two properties were spared the devastating impact of higher and more violent wave action is because we are protected by a half million dollar sea wall, sand berms, and more sturdy pilings that elevate the buildings.

Many other questions come up at a time like this. Is the state’s strategic retreat policy sound? (Surely we can’t afford to relocate our entire New Jersey coastal population inland!)  Will we be besieged by another round of ‘disaster tourists’ after the tear downs (like after Sandy)?  Or will the area’s use as a nature preserve bring positive change? Will the state step up it’s legal harassment against the two remaining homeowners?  How will we cope with wilder wetter weather and the flooding ahead? What physical accommodations will be necessary to accommodate higher water levels and more damaging erosion?  Will my floating barge-based infrastructure construction designs  gradually become accepted under state regulations or will  I continue to clash with the older dry land building codes? We just do not know the answers to these questions yet.

We do know that the future of Money Island is bright. It is the region’s second most productive seafood landing port. The local seafood industry is now entering a significant growth phase based on new technology and changing water conditions. Money Island remains an important research and recreational spot. Millions of dollars are being spent here to sustain and redevelop the area in a sustainable future.

We also know that we won’t be the last residential community to grapple with these strategic retreat questions related to the removal of homes. I just wish we weren’t among the first to have to figure out where to go from here.

NJ building code change applies to bay structures

In March of 2018 the Uniform Construction Code was modified to exempt many types of minor work from permitting requirements. This is important because many bay structures do not qualify for building permits. Find the details here.

This change in building permit requirements does not affect other laws like CAFRA and NJDEP requirements.

Tuesday October 30 grant ceremony

For immediate release
Contact: Tony Novak, 856-237-9199

CRAB INDUSTRY REVITALIZATION GRANT CEREMONY TUESDAY OCT. 30

Baysave is pleased to announce that a grant ceremony will be held Tuesday October 30, 2018, 11:00 at Money Island, New Jersey to present a check from New Jersey Community Capital THRIVE grant. The grant is focused on revitalizing the local blue claw crab industry. The press release from the donor is posted here.

Money Island, located on the bayshore in Cumberland County, is New Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port. The tiny working waterfront community is struggling for survival under government-imposed costs in the midst of ongoing regional economic depression. Climate-related events, including massive costs from superstorm Sandy recovery, further hurt the recovery of the local seafood industry.

The Delaware Bay blue claw crab population is healthy yet about half of the 312 commercial crab licenses issued by the State of New Jersey are underutilized. Many licensed crabbers are not happy with current economic opportunities so they stay off the water. Baysave proposed establishing a shared use physical facility for the landing, storage and processing of crabs by independent harvesters as well as helping to organize a watermen’s cooperative to improve the marketing and business operations of crabbers to increase their bottom line.

The majority of the grant award will be used for state permitting costs. While the local industry has been in operation for more than seven decades, none of the docks or supporting infrastructure, have ever been permitted by authorities. “New Jersey has a ‘one size fits all’ fee schedule for land use permitting that works well in the northern part of the state but has been impossible for the economically deprived bayshore region. The permitting costs exceed the land value here. Only now are some of the region’s largest seafood companies beginning to tackle this expensive legal requirement” says Tony Novak, CPA Controller for Baysave.  By having a fully permitted crab landing and storage facility for smaller independent crabbers, Novak expects that more investment will then be available for crab processing, marketing and distribution systems to boost income for the local industry. Baysave has already announced plans to offer financing of equipment for crabbers who want to expand their production and hopes to offer vessel financing soon.

Novak notes that this grant is only 1/6 of the amount of funding needed to transform the waterfront community to a sustainable operation but is a welcome positive first step that, he hopes, will draw other investors to the opportunities in regional seafood industry expansion.

“We are grateful for the efforts of Cumberland County Economic Development Director Kim Ayers and the help of Jeff Kaszerman New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants for working with us to find this opportunity”.

Baysave is a 501(c)(3) association registered as a New Jersey charity. The mission is to connect government, educational, nonprofit and industry resources to support sustainable aquaculture.

“No retreat”: Pros and Cons

no-retreat-save-the-bayshor

A few years ago the deputy mayor of Downe Township, a former neighbor here at Money Island, came up with the idea and we printed a bunch of bumper stickers and signs that said “No Retreat! Save the bay shore communities”. I say ‘we’ because as far as I know the project was paid for with public funds. I didn’t think that government should be involved in a choice that was essentially a private decision about their home or business. Our properties lie on the border of Downe Township and Lawrence Township. Lawrence Township took the opposite approach and vowed to support its residents no matter what they decided to do in reaction to state government property buyouts. The campaign was a great success as far as bumper stickers go. Several years later I still see the ‘No Retreat’ bumper stickers and signs everywhere. The campaign itself was not so successful. Most of my community, including the former local government official who designed the campaign, sold their properties to the state and retreated inland.

For some the ‘No Retreat’ slogan effectively summarizes the political and financial effort to retain all of our taxable real estate assets. Shoreline properties tend to be taxes at the highest rates within a community. Losing them can be financially disastrous to a community. For others, the slogan simply reflects an affinity for the bayshore community or a natural desire to keep family home. At the core of issue is the question: “Can humans survive the challenges of climate change at the bayshore?” For most, the answer has proven to be ‘no’. The financial demands and threats of government forced the decision for most of our neighbors. For me, the answer is ‘yes, but it requires major changes’. Only time will tell how the financial and government challenges will be met for the few businesses or residents that remain. A book coming out next year from Beacon Press covers this episode of local history.

The problem is that the scientists and accountants among us know that “No Retreat” is not a sustainable strategy per se. Virtually all of us who have been involved in sea level rise response planning recognize that we will lose some of our shoreline properties and communities. A reporter reported on the irony that under the force of a strong new moon tide, he saw the “No Retreat” signs floating down the flooded roadway. Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and other states are heavily involved in stakeholder discussions about how to handle this natural force. New Jersey lags far behind in this process. Some politicians still question the state’s official sea level rise projection that calls for some of our communities to be completely inundated within our lifetime.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of community planners believe that strategic retreat is the best available strategy as a response to sea level rise. We will undoubtedly save some of our present waterfront and technology will allow some businesses – like aquaculture – to survive and even thrive in this new high water environment. But the older homes along the bayshore will eventually be swallowed up by the forces of erosion; the combined effect of more water and higher levels of destructive energy in the water.

The first wave of buyouts here at Money Island is complete. Next month the tear-downs will begin. A second wave of tear-downs will follow.

I predicted this series of events in a blog post and many public discussions. As an early forecaster of the trend, I was sometimes blamed for its impact. I still believe that this section of the bayshore needs to retreat to its commercial roots – fishing, shellfish, and aquaculture – but use new technologies to ensure sustainability for coming generations. The loss of our bayside vacation communities is a sad but inevitable development for many of us.

sunset over Bayview Road in Money Island were houses are scheduled for demolition next month.