Update on local ‘listening session’ and comments on NJ Environmental Justice Draft Plan

Last month the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced a series of meetings it calls “listening sessions” to its recently published “Environmental Justice Draft Plan”. The purpose is to talk public comments and respond to those comments in a thoughtful organized process with the end results published in official state records.

Some local government officials who regularly battle with NJDEP call these “feel good bullshitting sessions”. They may be right. Even so, I think that participation in the process is important. The tension between NJDEP and its rural southwest communities cannot be overstated; the NJDEP is viewed by many as a step below the Jersey Devil for the Department’s history of corruption, bribery and slighting of rural communities.

The local meeting planned last week in Bridgeton was cancelled due to threatening weather. No rescheduled date has been announced. There is an alternate way to submit public comments. Written comments may be submitted through email until Friday, March 22 to eo23@dep.nj.gov.

I recommend that anyone with interest in NJ environmental issues may want to read the plan and take advantage of this opportunity to offer feedback. I expect that my strongly worded feedback will be published separately here on this blog in the next several postings.

300 word summary of Baysave

We were asked to provide a 300 word summary of Baysave as part of the on-boarding process for a community project. Here it is so far (revisions are likely):


The professionally written version:

BaySave is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association formed in 2010 and based at Money Island, Cumberland County, New Jersey. Past projects include living shoreline stabilization, oyster shell recycling, marina repair and management, crowdfunding, educational programming, and community seafood events. Baysave was cited by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection for exemplary dune grass replanting projects.

Baysave is registered as a New Jersey charity with a mission of advocacy, stabilization, restoration, and sustainable economic redevelopment of the Delaware Bay and communities along its shoreline. Baysave operates in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with some programs reaching Maryland, New York City, and Virginia. Our unique value is in making measurable progress toward common goals by bringing together recreational users, environmentalists, commercial watermen, elected officials, and community leaders. This allows us to combine the resources of diverse stakeholders in government, industry, nonprofit, and education.

In 2018 Baysave received funding from the NJ Community Capital THRIVE Grant for the redevelopment of the local recreational crabbing industry to provide infrastructure, marketing innovation, and an organizational framework to operate as a cooperative with greater autonomy and opportunities. Those efforts continue into 2019.

Our 2019 priorities are: 1) influencing New Jersey legislation and regulations associated with sustainability, fisheries and aquaculture management, 2) transitioning local commercial and recreational marinas into compliance with existing state regulations, and 3) expanding funding sources to meet the remaining unmet requirements for existing partially-funded projects.

Baysave is proud to be a member of the Millville Chamber of Commerce and the Vineland Chamber of Commerce. We are grateful to have received assistance from the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, the NJ League of Municipalities, and the NJ Society of Certified Public Accountants. We have also been offered a site license for long term projects to a coalition of environmental groups led by The Nature Conservancy.

 


 

BaySave is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association formed in 2010 and based at Money Island, Cumberland County, New Jersey. Baysave is registered as a New Jersey charity with a mission of advocacy, stabilization, restoration and sustainable economic redevelopment on the Delaware Bay and communities along its shoreline. Baysave operates in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with some programs occasionally connecting to Maryland, New York City and Virginia. Our unique value is in the ability to combine the resources of diverse stakeholders in government, industry, nonprofit and education in making specific progress toward common goals by bringing together recreational users, environmentalists, commercial watermen, elected officials and community leaders.

Past projects include living shoreline stabilization, oyster shell recycling, marina repair and management, crowdfunding, educational programming and community seafood events. Baysave was cited by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection for exemplary dune grass replanting projects.

In 2018 Baysave received funding from the NJ Community Capital TRIVE Grant for the redevelopment of the local recreational crabbing industry to provide infrastructure, marketing innovation and an organizational framework to operate as a cooperative with greater autonomy and opportunities. Those efforts continue into 2019.

Our 2019 priorities are: 1) influencing New Jersey legislation and regulations associated with sustainability, fisheries and aquaculture management, 2) transitioning local commercial and recreational marinas to comply with existing state regulations, and 3) expanding funding sources to meet the remaining unmet requirements for existing partially-funded projects.

Baysave is pleased to be a member of the Millville Chamber of Commerce and the Vineland Chamber of Commerce. We are pleased to have received assistance from the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, the NJ League of Municipalities and the NJ Society of Certified Public Accountants and offers a site license for long term projects to a coalition of environmental groups led by The Nature Conservancy.


The website is www.Baysave.org. Contact controller Tony Novak at 856-447-3576 or tnovak@baysave.org for more information.

Qualified Opportunity Zones vs. Qualified Small Business Stock at the bayshore

Community redevelopment or industry revitalization plans historically rely heavily on tax incentives to attract investment. Our local fisheries and aquaculture industries are likely to require large commitments of investment capital over the coming decades. A government program that abates taxes or exempts gains from taxation can make a project significantly more interesting to investors. Such programs can exist at the local, county, state and federal government level. This blog post focuses on the two most prominent options available at the federal level for the revitalization of the New Jersey bayshore. This blog does not attempt to explain each option, but rather focuses on the differences between them and briefly lists how I see each of them contributing to the bayshore community’s long term revitalization.

The first federal incentive programs are the Qualified Opportunity Zone authorized as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This program is geographically restricted to a few blocks in downtown Millville and large parts of Bridgeton. Advisers see this program as most attractive to larger investors.  This program could primarily help us with commercial real estate projects in those locations, especially equipment manufacturing and seafood processing, and aquaculture equipment financing for the region. This is the investment format being considered by some institutional investors. More information is available on this new web site.

The second program is Qualified Small Business Stock. This has been around longer as Section 1202 of the Internal Revenue Code but its attractiveness is strengthened by a series of recent tax changes. Investments may provide immediate tax benefits. The long term attraction is that smaller investors can achieve tax-free gains of up to $10 million (or more) by committing to the investment for at least five years. This is the business format that will be used by Nantuxent Corporation for the revitalization of commercial fishing and aquaculture at Money Island.

There are risks with either program. The first risk is that the investment may not achieve the gains expected. The investments could lose money. The second is that the investment might not be liquid at the time the investor wants to cash in. The third risk is that the expected tax result may not be achieved either because tax laws change or because the management of the investment did not meet the legal requirements of the incentive program.

I am happy to discuss how either option might fit into your investment plans.

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 proposed 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. What little documentation that may have existed based or is referenced in other documents now appears to be missing from the local government and county offices.

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:

Serving a cash-based community

One of the challenges facing the local bayshore community is the lack of electronic banking. There are no bank branches or full service ATMs in our township. Banking typically requires a 25 minute ride into a neighboring larger town. We have no high speed Internet and cellular connections are not always reliable.

The effect is that much of the local economy is based on cash. That brings additional challenges and expenses. Businesses that try to move to electronic transactions face challenges and may alienate parts of the customer base, especially lower income people. CBS News covered this topic today in an article bringing fresh insight into the issue.

We recognize this issue as just one more challenge facing the businesses in our region. There is no easy answer.

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.

 

Local aquaculture hopes to coordinate efforts with state government in 2019

From a local aquaculture perspective, 2018 was not a productive year for legislative action. At the end of 2017 we had plans to move forward on a number of issues but that just did not happen. The recent campaign where our state Senator Jeff Van Drew was elected to the US Congress was apparently a big part of the reason for lack of focus on our intended issues. The legislator’s staff told me that their just wasn’t time in the schedule. I hope to change that in 2019. I just sent this e-mail message to Assemblyman Bruce Land and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak in hopes of scheduling a meeting.

At the beginning of 2018 we had high hopes of progress in a number of aquaculture-related issues that I’ve previously discussed with Senator Van Drew and communicated with Jon Atwood. Unfortunately with the recent election and other distractions, we saw little progress on local issues. We would like to get your input and opinion on these open issues:

– A master plan for sustainable redevelopment of South Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port.

– Coordination of private and public community redevelopment funding that has been out-of-sync lately.

– Stalled regulation reform for transfer of commercial crab licenses.

– State’s treatment of the new watermens’ cooperative.

I would welcome the opportunity to come to your office to discuss the local industry planning for 2019 to ensure that our efforts are in sync with legislative priorities.

Tony Novak, Controller

Baysave

Aquaculture, by its nature of existing on state-controlled waters, must coordinate closely with state government. For years now major aquaculture investors have been waiting on the sidelines for a sign that state government will support expansion of the industry. The reverse effect – the demonstration that the state attorney general was willing to sue aquaculture companies with pending or stalled permit applications – sent shivers through the local industry. The last word I heard from an industry lobbyist was that his clients planned to wait and see what happens with us at Money Island before venturing forth with their own money.

We appreciate the ongoing efforts of Downe Township and Cumberland County officials. But we really need the state government to be on-board with the local and regional planning and funding to allow us to move forward.