One Step Forward; One Step Back

1/10/2018 – In our long-term effort to restore Money Island and redevelop the resources for a future of sustainable aquaculture, it often feels like we are taking one step forward and one step back. Today the two extremes hit particularly hard.

“Fall seven times. Get up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

On December 30 Senator Booker sent an online message to Tony saying that he was interested in receiving more information about Baysave’s project at Money Island. That sparked a flurry of follow-up activity, calls and referrals that kept us busy all week. It is clear from multiple sources that the federal government wants to see us succeed. Early this morning I had a scheduled phone call with one of New Jersey’s best business financing experts. She works in North Jersey but was referred by Stockton SBA and has been helping us for several months. She said that she had brought our redevelopment plan to a lender who wants to fund the project and match the USDA’s program to expand aquaculture here. Great news! I worked on some spreadsheets to support the idea and we scheduled another call for Friday.

Then only a few hours later a representative from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Resources called to say that the state declines to discuss a resolution of the old land use and permitting issues that existed before the Baysave project began. She seemed surprised to support the result. We discussed that this is unusual for the state to refuse to participate in alternate dispute resolution. This is copy of the confirmation letter denying alternative dispute resolution: BaySave ltr from NJDEP.

I can imagine no respectable reason why the state would refuse to enter into discussions on resolution of environmental issues under any circumstances. Most personnel in the department support our efforts. I have occasionally been critical of the agency and once even turned in an employee for attempted bribery years ago. This most recent action, unfortunately, represents the agenda of a small minority of NJDEP officials.

In reality, the state’s action today probably has little to do with us and has more to do with swampy politics. Nevertheless, we will continue to work our restoration and redevelopment plan one step at time, relying on the strong support expressed by the many other forces of government and the community.

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

Update: State of NJ vs Novak, et. al.

July 9, 2018 – Today is the scheduled hearing in New Jersey Superior Court for the state’s motion to show cause in State of New Jersey vs. Novak, et. al. Following is a summary of the defense:

STATE OF NEW JERSEY VS. NOVAK, ET. AL.

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT AGAINST MOTION FOR ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE

by Tony Novak, Controller, Baysave Association

 

1)      This is a case of government behaving badly. The state is asking for a court order after having unilaterally broken two agreements with Novak over the past six years after Novak performed in good faith. Then they denied three separate requests for problem resolution in the past year where all of the parties could have sat down and worked on a solution. The state is not entitled to behave this badly and then come into Superior Court to enlist legal muscle in its actions.

2)      This is an unreasonable request. There is a coalition of government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit agencies and industry leaders – more than 20 in all – working on the sustainable and fully compliant redevelopment and compliance of Money Island Marina. Collectively, we have more than 70 active community redevelopment projects under development with more than 30 of them including land use permitting. It is unreasonable to think that any one person or entity can bring the transformation to a sustainable environmental future for this community, let alone develop those plans within a 30-day time frame requested by the state. Novak does not have the legal authority or capability to act unilaterally to take the actions requested.

3)      The facts are in dispute. The state’s filed complaint and supporting certifications are so riddled with errors that it is impossible for us to know what the prosecution intends. We need a process – whether ongoing community-based planning, alternate dispute resolution process or discovery in this ongoing legal action – to determine the facts in this matter.

4)      The admitted responsible parties are not involved yet. In this same Superior Court, before the same Judge, during questioning under oath, another person testified about her willingness to accept the legal and financial responsibility for the NJDEP violations to these properties. We expect that the responsible parties and local government will step forward but the legal process is expected to take another one to two years. It will likely take even longer for government to act on its already approved resolutions that will address compliance issues.

5)      Other parties were not notified. It appears that all pre-hearing notices were sent to Novak’s home address in Money Island New Jersey despite notification that the other parties are not here. Novak is the only resident of the western half of Money Island and there is no indication that any other parties are aware of the State’s legal action. The state is required to make reasonable efforts notify parties before it takes legal action against them.

6)      No environmental damages. The prosecution has presented ZERO evidence of any environmental damage or immediate threat to the environment. We have a stellar reputation and track record for best operating practices and environmental test results. What they are saying is that their paperwork trail wasn’t documented for decades, and internal management process has been flawed for many years before any of us were on the scene. A failure on their part does not equate to a crisis on my part. We all agree on the goal of working toward full land use compliance under new regulations that the NJDEP admits are not even promulgated yet. But this ‘crisis action’ and legal threats are not the way to do it.

7)     A new master compliance plan of action is already underway. The NJDEP Acting Director of Coastal Land Use Planning has already announced the department’s intention to “work closely with this Money Island project to promulgate new regulations that are effective for the bayshore region of Cumberland County”, per our mayors in the past month. Last week the news was released that our new NJDEP Commissioner’s Office had fast-tracked and approved funding for the #1 environmental entanglement: public sewer systems for the nearby towns. We know that we will be included in the next phase and that all parties are working as quickly as possible. There is no need for this current legal action and, in fact, the legal action is slowing down the progress toward full compliance by causing some key stakeholders to remain uninvolved until after the legal action is resolved.

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

“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.