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.

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.

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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. “

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

Public comment to Environmental Justice Executive Order No. 23 Guidance

This is the full text of the comment submitted today to  eo23@dep.nj.gov.

Thank you for allowing me to make a public comment at the Bridgeton NJ meeting on March 11, 2019 . Please allow me to add this written comment to summarize and highlight the shortcomings of environmental justice in New Jersey that I hope to bring to the Governor’s attention. I’ve had an absurdly unfortunate first-hand 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”.

Lack of Environmental Justice for Money Island NJ

Executive Order No. 23 signed by Governor Phillip D. Murphy on April 20, 2018 recognized that, historically, New Jersey’s low-income communities have been disproportionately affected by environmental degradation that often leads to other serious problems beyond environmental issues, including housing and quality of life challenges and disproportionate burden of compliance with state regulations.

The NJDEP issued an Environmental Justice Draft Plan in January 2019 (hereafter “Plan”) and invited public comment on that plan to implement environmental justice policies in the state. This comment is submitted during the 60-day public comment period to receive input on the proposal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The EPA has further explained that:

“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.

Money Island, Downe Township, Cumberland County

The small rural community known as Money Island New Jersey, is the smallest of five communities that make up Downe Township. We are located on the southwestern tip of the state, in rural Cumberland County that has historically been denied fair treatment with regard to environmental justice. The residents of this community are typically low income individuals who have not had access to meaningful involvement with respect to the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. As a result, the community has born a disproportionate share of the negative consequences resulting from governmental operations and policies.

MRI Score and its implication

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs utilizes a Municipal Revitalization Index (MRI) scoring system referred to in the Plan. Our local municipality Downe Township has a 2017 MRI Distress Score of 43.7, ranking it as #63 of the 565 municipalities (11th percentile most at risk) ranked by highest to lowest overall risk. Downe Township ranks as the #36 lowest per capita income municipality in the state (6th percentile lowest income). The data shows that our community falls within the category of those facing a disproportionately high burden of the issues related to environmental justice. Specifically, we recognize that our higher exposure to risks combined with our local lack of financial resources to deal with these risks exacerbates and compounds the problem.  Anecdotally, I occasionally speak with senior NJDEP officials in informal settings who acknowledge this disproportionate burden and the need to address it, yet I am not aware of any actual progress by the Department in doing so.

Lack of affordable housing

Lack of affordable housing in environmental justice communities is identified as one of the challenges recognized in the Plan. Our community has experienced rapid devaluation of properties due to the combination of environmental stress, lack of government responsiveness and lack of financial resources to address the problems. My own house went from a certified appraised value of $186,000 in 2006 to $5,000 in 2017. That’s a 97% devaluation. At the same time, we were hit with the massive costs of storm repair, including Sandy recovery, increased insurance and taxes and a lack of available programs to provide housing rehabilitation funding.

Lack of engagement by NJDEP

The Plan seeks better community engagement by state agencies. In 2014 then State Senator Van Drew wrote a letter (copy attached) to former NJDEP Commissioner Martin documenting the difficulties I had establishing communication and engagement with the Department with regard to the planned sustainable redevelopment of Money Island.

In 2017 I requested alternative dispute resolution to help address these issues of lack of engagement. NJDEP declined to participate in alternate dispute resolution to the surprise of the officials who run that program. I can’t think of a more pronounced example of lack of engagement of NJDEP than this. These examples, combined with my many other experiences, add up to a pattern of deliberate intent to disengage from the community’s efforts to address compliance and sustainability challenges.

Capacity building assistance for communities

The Plan seeks to improve capacity building assistance for communities. Please consider that our community have been lobbying the NJDEP for more than a decade on basic issues like the need for water and sewer infrastructure, telephone and internet and more sustainable roadways. I see nothing to indicate that NJDEP intends to build the capacity in our community.

Goals of Environmental Justice Plan are ignored here

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th stated goals of the Plan are  “2. State agencies will routinely consider environmental justice impacts of their programs when developing and implementing program plans, regulations and policies”, 3. “State agencies will work together, through an inter-agency environmental council and cross agency workgroups, to develop and carry out targeted action plans to address environmental justice challenges and to leverage opportunities for improving conditions in environmental justice communities”, and “4. State agencies will coordinate their activities to provide effective communication and collaboration with environmental justice communities”.

Unfortunately, my experiences indicate exactly the opposite history:

A) The NJDEP’s actions have not considered environmental justice impact. Most recently, for example, the Department’s use of NJ Attorney General Grewal’s Office to prosecute those who are recovering from Sandy and financially unable to rebuild quickly caused a number of small businesses to close or move out of the state. The state admits, for example, that Baysave’s contributors have made signifanct contributions to the recovery, sustainability and compliance efforts of this community yet seems to have o qualms in suing the company and its volunteers.

B) My experience is that one office of NJDEP does not know what the other offices are doing. Often Department officials disagree and contradict each other As a practical matter, it has been impossible to confirm a statement made by one NJDEP official. In one instance, a NJDEP official and the local code enforcement officer told me that no permit was needed to repair a bulkhead. When the repair was complete another NJDEP official issued a violation notice for not having a permit. Then I applied for a Zane exemption after two officials said it would be granted. One gave verbal assurance that my application was  approved but never sent written verification. When I followed up

C) At a recent on-site meeting at Money Island with high level NJDEP officials they plainly stated that they see a lack of coordination among agencies and departments and admitted that the end result – and its impact on me – is nonsensical.

My personal experience with environmental injustice by NJDEP

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 action of leading me on as a trap for enforcement action 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 the request was denied. I only know that it is rare and unjust.

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 environmental 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 admitted privately that an unnamed NJDEP official blocked our participation in this program.

New Jersey Sea Grant Pump Out Station Program – The most basic need of humans in a waterfront community is a waste handling system. In 2013 we partnered 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.

I suspect, based on third-hand reports, but have no proof that NJDEP bad actors played a role in our difficulties gaining acceptance into other programs that would otherwise lead to environmental compliance and sustainability.

No response from state executives

I’ve personally made calls, emails, web forms, tweets, 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. The number of attempted communications exceeds 20. In 2018 I asked the former State Senator’s office for assistance in reaching the decision makers on environmental injustice but that request was denied. None of my communications have been answered. It seems clear that the pattern of neglect shows willful intent of state government at the highest levels to avoid addressing these issues of environmental injustice.

Suggestions

The Plan makes recommendations for each department or agency within NJDEP that include:

“Identification of existing programs that have a significant impact on environmental justice communities.” – In our community of Money Island, the program that would make the most immediate impact is approval of the NJ SeaGrant pump up station application. I have submitted this application four different times: 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. At first our engineer said we were making progress but now I’m told that the application is blocked by an unnamed person at NJDEP. Improved wastewater handling for the boats and marina is critical to our community. I urge the Department to identify the person blocking this critical infrastructure application and have them speak with me and our engineers.

“Identification of opportunities to improve engagement and collaboration with environmental justice communities and to improve conditions in those communities”.  – We see a plain and easy opportunity to improve engagement and collaberation with simple common-sense steps:

  1. Answer our repeated calls, emails and letters sent by my and the mayor of our municipality asking for clarification and direction on critical compliance and permitting issues. We can’t move forward without the Department’s input.
  • When and if Commissioner McCabe visits Money Island again, I would welcome the opportunity for a casual discussion. I understand that she came and went this fall without speaking with any of us on site. I have met individually with many other higher level NJDEP officers here. Elected officials ranging from Senator Booker, former representative LoBiondo, former state Senator VanDrew, current state Senator  Andrzejczak, Assemblyman Land, several former Assemblymen, our County Freeholders and our Mayor and many others have all been involved in advising, planning and implementation of our community’s sustainable future. We are grateful that all of these leaders have taken the time to visit and advise us on the steps to help secure the future of our community. Yet I feel that top-down leadership from within NJDEP is still lacking on the specific Environmental Justice issues that we discuss.
  • Deal with us directly rather than through the Attorney General’s office. Suing the modest income residents like me and taking away valuable time and financial resources simply because they can’t get permits issued fast enough to satisfy the state is despicable behavior in itself. The wasted time and money takes away valuable resources that would otherwise go toward our community’s compliance and redevelopment. But more importantly, it is counterproductive to achieving our common goals. It is the very opposite of Environmental Justice! We all want full compliance and a sustainable community as soon as possible. But the Department’s willingness to sue us with its virtually unlimited budget for lawyers and prosecution – scared away all of the interested and willing sources of redevelopment funding in our community. In short, the state’s shortsighted plan of taking legal action rather than work with us shot the state in the foot. I urge the Department to settle its legal actions against us and resume problem-solving through normal process of community planning meetings, application reviews and candid discussion.

In summary, 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 pattern of environmental injustice 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 full financial resources to immediately meet state land use requirements.

We have the resources, know-how and commitment to work together through the Plan to address this environmental injustice. All it takes to get started is leadership from the top to interrupt the pattern of bad behavior.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss or provide more information on any of these points. Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.

Tony Novak

Controller of Baysave Association

Money Island, New Jersey

tnovak@baysave.org

(856) 447-3576