State of New Jersey vs. Tony Novak, et. al.

Baysave was named as a defendant along with its controller Tony Novak in a lawsuit filed May 4, 2018 by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. The lawsuit focuses on properties acquired for stabilization and sustainable aquaculture redevelopment after Superstorm Sandy under a gift/sale to the state. The State does not allege that Baysave, Novak or our associates did anything wrong, but rather that we are the current titleholders of the distressed properties after the state decided that it did not want the properties. The stabilization, recovery,  transfer, sustainability planning and compliance phases are taking much longer than expected and the issues are proving more complex than anyone had hoped.

The underlying issue is that the entire Money Island Marina campus, and in fact most of the small rural port community of Money Island, was built more than a half century ago without building permits, water well or septic system permits, land surveys, tideland leases, etc.

Before Superstorm Sandy, we agreed with the state on a solution to these issues. We assumed these properties would be acquired by the state like other local working waterfronts and that would transfer these issues to the state to deal with (as happened with other local marinas like neighboring Fortescue). Our verbal and written communications indicated that the state would acquire these properties at our cost and lease them back to local watermen just like Fortescue State Marina. But in the years since Sandy, none of this has actually happened. The state switched from being a cooperative partner with Baysave in our restoration efforts to being an unreasonable adversary. We don’t know why. We suspect the action is not taken in good faith.

The lawsuit comes down to this: the government has declined at least 15 permit applications, license applications or pre-application inquiries since Sandy and is now suing us because those same permits are not issued.  It is, in our opinion, unconscionable for the state to be both the denier of permits based on false assumptions and simultaneously bring charges for failure to have permits that should have been addressed decades ago.

Most significant in this matter is the observation that the NJDEP abandoned its normal problem-solving mechanisms (pre-permit planning meetings, application review and comment and alternate dispute resolution) to opt for decline of applications and direct to lawsuit with no attempt at resolution. One NJDEP program director said that this was the first time in her career that she saw this pattern of action by her department and so she did not know what to advise.

Public officials like State Senator Van Drew wrote letters on our behalf to urge the state to act reasonably to communicate and negotiate a solution. Public support and political endorsements have had minimal impact.

We are asking the State to the legal prosecution of this case to allow time for consideration of the issues in dispute. We are asking the Governor’s office to force the NJDEP to discuss the errand assumptions underlying their complaints and discuss ways to resolve the problems that does not include suing the people trying to recover from Superstorm Sandy.

Here are the legal documents:

Government relations priorities for 2019

Blue Claw Crab Industry

  • The fishery is healthy. Crabs have the biological capacity rebound quickly after our worst environmental challenges.
  • Blue crabs are the only commercial species in New Jersey expected to benefit from the long-term effects of climate change.
  • We have a great local crab research resource from Rider University.
  • Expansion of infrastructure markets and local processing is planned
  • A $15,000 grant in 2018 from New Jersey Community Capital allows for development of an independent crabbers cooperative facility

Bottleneck: Of the 312 commercial crab licenses issued in New Jersey, far less than half are utilized. The state restricts transfer of idle licenses except within a family. Senator Van Drew believed this would change years ago but this remains the #1 artificial restraint on the industry. Without licenses, growth in the industry is stalled.

What we are asking: Increased pressure by the legislature on NJDEP to implement the license transfer policy previously approved to allow for use of idle commercial crab licenses.

Oyster Industry

  • The Nantuxent Creek at Money Island is identified as the #1 preferred choice for a productive type of oyster aquaculture called “FLUPSY” (floating upweller system) that acts as a nursery. This technology has the potential to grow the industry by more than tenfold, as it has in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Several oyster companies are considering expansion of aquaculture at Money Island New Jersey. The NJDEP blocked initial efforts to obtain infrastructure permitting in 2017 and now Attorney General obtained a court order to shut down half of the docks.
  • Approval of dredging plans for the Nantuxent Creek was recently announced.

Bottleneck: In 2017 NJDEP discouraged a major seafood company from submitting a permit application, saying that such redevelopment permit would not be issued based on lack of permits at other nearby sites.

What we are asking: State government to redevelop on a site-by-site basis one step at a time rather than a whole community basis.

 

Recreational and educational use

  • Money Island is called the ‘unpolished gem’ of New Jersey’s Delaware Bay shoreline. It is the smallest and most remote shore point in rural Downe Township.
  • Money Island Marina was the region’s most diverse, inclusive, affordable and accommodating public facility managed by Baysave with public donations and modest member dues.
  • This location offered the only floating docks open to public fishing, is a preferred spot for bird watching and kayaking, picnicking, etc.
  • Money Island is the preferred location equidistant between C&D canal and Cape May for a DOT transient boat dock program primarily funded through the federal government.
  • All five local New Jersey universities in this region and even two universities from Pennsylvania conduct marine and environmental research here.

Bottleneck: A lack of funding for permitting applications has caused a delay. The Attorney General recently obtained a court order to close the facility to the community to public use until permitting is applied for.

What we are asking: A commitment by government to allow more time for funding of dock permit applications and to support Baysave in forming a public/private partnership for multi-use facilities at Money Island.

What’s ahead at Money Island?

We are excited about the future of Money Island, New Jersey as a host site for a wide range of bayshore users. In the fall of 2018 the Money Island Marina was closed for permitting and redevelopment and all but two of the houses on the eastern side of the island are being removed. By spring 2019 an expanded natural area will take their place. We expect to host new research projects and are planning for expansion of new private uses for 2019 that do not require government permitting. Government is considering the addition of a “welcome center” at the site of the marina but no deal has been reached yet. Meanwhile Baysave will continue many of membership-based activities that are consistent with the new planned uses of Money Island. We anticipate a decline in recreational fishing but an increase in overall tourism and an increase in other types of recreational boating activities.

Over the next few years most of the houses on the western side of the island will be removed while commercial operations expand in the creek. Money Island will dramatically grow in both financial importance to regional aquaculture.

Since 1990 we’ve lost about half of our dry ground at Money Island due to rising water and sinking land. We’ve taken dramatic action to address it: installation of a 440 foot seawall, redevelopment of stronger commercial boat docks, raising of the roadway and parking areas, rebuilding key infrastructure. Now we must embrace the inevitable future of higher waters. Future community planning will be water-based rather than land-based. Wet flood proof facilities and mobile infrastructure are already the standard for new projects here. That shift in reality will require massive change in thinking that will pose challenges to traditional systems and government.

Money Island NJ

Recreational boating activities have been in decline here for many years. Over the past eight years he marina was partly supported by Baysave’s charitable donations (mostly from me and my family) until the state ordered the facility closed in 2018. Because of slow progress on required engineering and permits. We have previously proposed converting to a state marina like Fortescue State Marina. That would allow us to pay an annual lease fee that is based on revenue rather than the current unworkable charges for permitting, property taxes and tidelands lease fees that are much larger than the marina’s maximum possible revenue. Another proposal is to operate like Spring Garden Marina that replaced its floating docks with a boat lift. Both of those options have been proposed as long term solutions for the marina but first we need to resolve current community planning issues.

Commercial aquaculture is at the beginning of a boom growth phase. We could easily see Delaware Bay production grow by ten-fold or twenty-fold simply by adopting simple technology widely used in the Chesapeake Bay. We don’t want to give the impression that Money Island is “going away”. It will certainly be different, but will remain an important part of this region’s culture and economy.

Baysave remains committed to serving a wide range of user groups ranging from sightseers, bird watchers, dog walkers, recreational fishing, commercial netters, oyster harvesters, crabbers, recreational boaters, research groups, and many more. We recognize the challenge in keeping everyone happy and welcome your input into our future.

Baysave announces 2019 environmental priorities: permitting and plastics

At its December 2018 meeting, the Board of Directors of Baysave Association resolved to take additional steps toward cleanup and legalization of previously abandoned properties at the New Jersey bayshore. The resolutions include an approach to federal and state government permitting and an approach to addressing plastics in local waters. These two programs – permitting and plastics – will be the focus of Baysave’s 2019 environmental agenda.

A strategy to approach permitting on a site-by-site basis was approved to allow us to partner with, sell, or gift land to others who may have similarly aligned environmental and sustainable community redevelopment interests. It is unclear whether the NJDEP and NJ Attorney General will agree to this plan since in the past the department has taken an unusual “whole community” approach at one cleanup location and has declined pre-permit requests for addressing individual site cleanup issues. The Controller is authorized to lobby local and state government to support this more practical cleanup approach.

A plan was approved to remove waste plastics that are already in our waters as well as to reduce overall future reliance on plastics in the future. This past year the NJ Fish and Wildlife bureau and some Baysave members noticed a problem with plastic shell bags used in oyster reef restoration.  We will discontinue the use of these bags on our sites and advocate for their replacement in other sites. The board resolved to commit funds and volunteer labor to remove Styrofoam floats from the water and replace the Styrofoam with more sustainable materials. This program will need additional funding. The Board authorized its Controller to seek additional grant funding for this project.

Baysave renewed its commitment to run its multi-user facilities at Money Island New Jersey provided that funding is available through future grants. The former Money Island Marina community is being converted to a nature preserve through combined action of the NJDEP Blue Acres Program and the NJ Attorney General. Public access will continue to be based on membership, however support for boating and docking activities is discontinued until and unless allowed by law.

For more information, contact Tony Novak, Controller, at tnovak@baysave.org.

 

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.

Slow pace of aquaculture development at Money Island

11/6/2016 – For the past eight years we have been working through the nonprofit BaySave Corporation on necessary legislative and policy reforms to New Jersey’s outdated land use and aquaculture regulations with very little governmental result. During that same time we’ve watched Virginia, Maryland and now Delaware soar past us in this blossoming industry that is crucial to a sustainable future here on the Delaware Bay.

In 2010 New Jersey oyster-focused nonprofits became the target of a NJDEP cease and desist order for oyster restoration research and then in 2015 and continuing into this year became the target of local township’s prosecution on Certificate of Occupancy law for our use of a bankrupt marina property as a nonprofit aquaculture co-op operation in Money Island while we are waiting for necessary government permits. This is surprising based on the strong degree of support expressed by state and federal elected officers and their staff. There is no debate about how powerful aquaculture could be in restoring our local economy. The $20 million annual seafood crop coming from Money Island could increase by tenfold with appropriate government cooperation.

At the pace we are moving, I won’t live long enough to see Money Island established as the hub of aquaculture development here in the state. Yesterday I received this email from the well-respected government relations specialist and political lobbyist for the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants:

“Tony, it sounds to me like you are doing almost everything humanly possible to move this issue forward. Very often, stupid regulations are simply never removed, despite the need for it. All I can suggest is that you stay in touch with Van Drew and that you forward your concerns about these regulations to the NJ Red Tape Review Commission. One other thing you might try is to get more people to write to the Governor on this issue. There is strength in numbers and ultimately all rules are repealed or initiated with the input of the Governor”.

I am already working with State Senator Van Drew, the Governor’s office and the Red Tape Commission (through a peer CPA who is a member of the commission) but have not tried to organize any mass public appeal directly to the governor’s office. Perhaps that is something I need to learn next.

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Letter to State Senator Jeff Van Drew Urging Action

At the time of republishing on October 22, 2018 the Senator’s office had not replied to the letter or email. A follow-up phone call urging response did not trigger any further response.

May 23, 2018 – This is a copy of an email and the attached letter sent to State Senator Van Drew today. Our community working to sustain Money Island believes that Senator Van Drew is in the best position to influence the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to address the inconsistent and possibly illegal internal actions of a relative few staff members who do not support the larger redevelopment and compliance plans of Money Island.

“Dear Senator Van Drew:

I’ve attached a letter drafted with the help of our community advisers to call your attention to the mean-spirited and sometimes illegal actions of the NJDEP in blocking the sustainable recovery of Money Island, New Jersey since superstorm Sandy. We believe this issue can be resolved by your influence in pushing NJDEP to negotiate with me and our community leaders.

Money Island is the state’s second largest seafood landing point and the planned site of future aquaculture expansion. We serve five local universities and a range of recreational users and environmental tourists. We have a viable plan for a sustainable and fully compliant future as the region’s second largest seafood landing. We are poised to support the anticipated tremendous growth as an aquaculture site. Yet NJDEP has blocked 10 of our 11 attempts at obtaining state permitting over the past five years and now taking legal action against those committed to Money Island’s recovery. I’ve been financially crippled by the Department’s actions and their unwillingness to even hold discussions. This pattern of behavior is not in line with the best interests of public policy nor the leadership of the NJDEP so we think that stronger action is required to address this problem.

I thank you and your staff for your long term support on bayshore issues and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss how we can make this a ‘turning point’  in recovery of our bayshore regional economy and, specifically, the environmental and economic future of our small working waterfront community of Money Island, New Jersey.

Tony Novak, Controller of Baysave Association

An letter to Governor Murphy on the bayshore’s ongoing struggles

(An electronic version of this message was submitted through the nj.gov web site on July 20, 2018. As the republishing date October 22, 2018, the Governor’s Office has not responded to calls, emails, tweets, online submission or mailed letter).

 

July 18. 2018

Governor Phil Murphy

PO Box 001

Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Governor Murphy:

According to the most recent census data for the year 2016, the median household income in Cumberland County, NJ declined to $49,537. That compares to over $76,000 average in New Jersey where the average household income is growing at a healthy 5.5% rate overall. Our local property values continue to fall year after year, and are now less than half of the state average.  A 2016 study by Rutgers showed that the poorest and most rural areas of New Jersey get the least support from state government. I didn’t need the study to know that; we are still waiting for telephone lines, internet cables, public sewer, waste management solutions, water, police, etc. Yes, we are hurting and the economic gap continues to widen.

Many of us have not yet recovered from the “disaster after the disaster” of Superstorm Sandy where not only did state government exclude our county from essential recovery assistance, but then came in with increased regulation, enforcement and prosecutions of citizens that made our existing struggles much worse.  The combination of incompetence and corruption that we saw join forces in post-Sandy governance devastated many of my neighbors. Many of my neighbors have given up and moved away.

Yet we continue to build toward a better future. This week I met with the president of a local federal savings bank on behalf of a small business client. I mentioned that our local government is concerned that there is no bank in our township and this is hurting our chances at economic recovery. His response was clear: there isn’t be a bank here because “there isn’t any money”.  It’s true. We don’t have much money. Yet our people are extraordinarily resourceful. We’ve been described as a “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps crowd” that can overcome any challenge except the ongoing oppressive force of government corruption and shortsightedness.

Yesterday I struggled to find the money for a small business state permit application fee. The permit application fee is greater than the annual gross revenue of the project requiring the permit! While the fee would be manageable in other parts of the state, it is an economic deal killer here in rural Cumberland County. During my 20+ years of working here I have come to conclude that our largest problems are excessive taxes and over-regulation. Our property tax rates – measured as a percentage of property value – are perhaps the highest in the country. The percentage of gross revenue our small businesses pay to government is astronomically high. Despite this, we struggle without basic government-supervised services like telephone lines, internet, trash disposal, or public water and sewer. We pay the same but get far less in return. On a daily basis, we suffer the effects of bad public policy and ongoing unreasonable government harassment.

As long as the state government continues to use a “one size fits all” approach and continues to treat us in Cumberland County the same as the rest of the state, we will be locked in this downward spiral. Continuing to use the same failed government tactics will not work! Our county is packed with innovative hard-working citizens who only need the chance to be allowed to crawl from beneath the weight of onerous state government burdens. We can and will rebuild our Cumberland County communities. We simply need to get state government to stop  holding us down.

I urge you to immediately empower your administration to fast-track an alternate resolution procedures to allow our citizens to address our struggles with state government in a fair way that considers both the goals of your administration and the reality that is Cumberland County today. Please immediately stop the prosecution of local businesses like our that are trying to cooperate with the state. Please recognize that the overwhelming majority of local government officials and business leaders here are not OK with the state’s current policies toward Cumberland County.

Sincerely,

Tony Novak, CPA, MBA, MT

Controller

Baysave Association

Money Island, New Jersey