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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.