Soft footprint housing at the bayshore

One of the greatest challenges to sustainability at the New Jersey bayshore is housing. The conventional and widely supported shoreline management strategy known as “strategic retreat” is likely best social, economic and political strategy. But that doesn’t mean that we intend to withdraw 100% of the people for 100% of the time. We anticipate a continued need for some housing at the bayshore to serve both recreational and aquacultural uses. Baysave intends to support new approaches to the need for housing in ways that conform to evolving standards.

Sustainability means serving the needs of all users and stakeholders. Environmentalists effectively make the point that the best way to sustain any of our natural areas or resources is to simply keep humans away from them. But that’s not realistic and it’s not the goal of sustainability planning. Humans are part of the equation and we need to balance the demands of human use with the best practices to preserve and sustain our natural resources.

One of the requirements of human use is housing. At it’s core, housing is primarily a means to stay protected from the extremes of  weather while also providing us with some level of protection and privacy. At the New Jersey bayshore, considering the current physical environment, available technologies and current laws, sustainable housing in our means soft footprint housing. This blog post considers the goals, current conditions, and future possibilities for soft footprint housing at the bayshore.

Goals

  1. Short term use – We do not anticipate the need for permanent 365 day a year living at the bayshore. It is simply not the best choice for a permanent residence. The overwhelming demand for housing is for short term seasonal use. Increasingly frequent flooding, extremes of weather, lack of public utilities, etc. make future demand of permanent housing here seem unlikely.
  2. Affordable – The bayshore region of New Jersey is a low income area compared to the rest of the state and the rest of the middle Atlantic region. Planners argue that the state’s “one size fits all” approach to land use and building codes is a leading contributor to the current state of economic depression and long term depopulation of the bayshore region.
  3. Legal – Housing at the bayshore is controlled primarily by state laws including the Coastal Wetlands Act of 1970 and subjects us to permit requirement rules known as CAFRA. While there are efforts to update and modernize existing laws, our focus is to operate within the law as it exists today.
  4. Physically resistant – The history of housing at the bayshore is a circular story of building, destruction at the hands of storms and erosion, then rebuilding, then destruction again. We intend to break the cycle.

Current conditions

Land use laws – New Jersey’s bayshore communities face competing laws requiring support for affordable housing, laws that cover private property use and laws that restrict land use to protect the environment. We must seek out the balance point between those. The cost of compliance with existing land use laws at the bayshore precludes the application of a land use permit that would likely more than double the cost of a typical proposed project. This means that our legal compliance strategy must focus on allowable land use that does not require a state permit.

Affordable housing crisis – While New Jersey has a requirement for communities to address affordable housing issues but the local communities have made no progress in this area. The number of housing units within reasonable commuting distance to the waterfront continues to decline and we have no current ability to provide necessary on-site housing to rebuild the local businesses. The closest affordable housing is a 30 minute drive away whereas the aquaculture industry (especially crab shedding) and recreational industry (boat launch management) requires full time 24-hour on site staffing.

Carry-in, carry out – Our current environment demands that we bring in the things we need to sustain a comfortable stay: food, water, electric and other energy sources, internet, and other supplies. We must also carry out our solid waste and wastewater for handling at an approved facility.

Owner-occupied – Current laws do not provide for any multi-unit rental or campground type of use and the rezoning possibility has not been assessed. For now, we are focused on single owner-occupied dwellings.

Tidal flooding – The effects of more frequent tidal flooding must be considered. While wet-proof infrastructure is relatively easy to construct, the long term effects of salt water corrosion on vehicles, machinery and infrastructure is significant. We have a local anecdotal system for measuring tidal flooding that casually monitors the number of times that the roadway is under water and translates that to a percentage of time the local area is flooded. The overall percentage of time we have tidal road flooding is still small (less than 5% of the time) but this condition is increasing at an alarming pace.

Technology – New technologies have not been tested in the bayshore environment due to legal and financial restrictions.

Economic impact – It is clear that the lack of workable housing solution is having a massive adverse impact on the aquaculture and recreational use industries. It is probably accurate to say that this is now the #1 impediment to economic recovery of our bayshore region.

Future possibilities

RVs – Motorized vehicles that provide a short term dwelling and drive away when not used or when threatened with adverse weather conditions. Regulation of these as vehicles and not as dwellings makes this the most “doable” but also most expensive option.

Campers  or trailers – This is the historically popular method. Most of the bayshore’s housing (including the author’s) originally started with a camper or trailer. Current restrictions limit the use of campers or trailers on private property.

Tiny houses – This is a hybrid type of dwelling that legally classified as a trailer but designed more like traditional housing. New Jersey laws are currently not not supportive of tiny houses as long term dwellings. The primary draw of this approach for us is it ability to draw together creative contributors. The popular momentum of the tiny house movement compared to the other options means that this area may see legal change sooner than other types of new dwellings.

Boats and floating dwellings – Almost a third of our former residential land is now below mean high tide level. 100% of our land is occasionally below water in tidal flooding conditions. Both sea level rise and tidal flooding conditions are expected to accelerate. The most common type of floating housing, of course, are cabin-equipped boats and occasionally a houseboat. Cabin boats account for majority of overnight human  stays along bayshores yet these are not common here in our region simply because most users could not afford to own and maintain a boat of that size. We see the possibility of additional types of floating housing. The use of floating housing on lots that are below mean high tide and are therefore sometimes dry but sometimes below water is unresolved. I’ve personally designed and built several outbuildings or structures (including a floating tool shed, a floating deck, and a floating car port) and found that our local building inspector expressed frustration that these do not fall under any clear set of regulations.

Tents or Yurts – Until recently, New Jersey maintained and rented yurts for short term living at its state parks. These were abandoned after reports of mold problems. Tents are still popular as short term use from beaches to woodlands. Conventional commercially available tents tested at the bayshore are unsuitable and are typically destroyed at the first windstorm. More durable tents have not been tested.

Hurricane resistant housing – domed structures on coastlines in other parts of the country offer the possibility of hurricane resistant housing. These structures have not been tested locally despite increased interest after the destruction of superstorm Sandy.

Action plan

Baysave intends to facilitate the development and testing of housing innovations that:

1. Do not require land use permitting.

2. Are supported by public and/or private investors.

3. Have the highest chance of gaining acceptance at the bayshore.


Conclusion

We believe that the most successful bayshore dwellings of the future will likely combine the past methods in ways that incorporate new technology that has not yet been field tested here. There is interest in funding and field-testing new dwelling concepts and we think that this should be an integral part of the sustainability planning for the bayshore.

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This photograph taken in 2017 shows part of a former residence constructed on dry land decades ago that was consumed by sea level rise and storms. It was finally destroyed in superstorm Sandy in 2012. Now the structures are completely removed. Almost 100% of the lot is now below mean high tide line and the state has acquired the property for open space.

Is the future even gloomier than our worst fears?

Are climate change threats even worse than the sustainability experts warned us about? While some politicians who profit from the status quo continue to spread propaganda and deny the severity of environmental stress, climate scientists have migrated to far gloomier forecasts than we’ve become accustomed.

It is shocking and scary that this new generation of books on sustainability are quite different from the last generation on the same topic. Older books like Eaarth, Storms of My Grandchildren, The Earth is Flat, The World Until Yesterday, Hot, Flat and Crowded, and such that held out hope for the next generations aging gracefully as a planet. I’ve read dozens of books on many aspects of sustainability from agriculture to economics and political impact, all with some version of this theme. It is a scary warning but maybe not scary enough.

These new books like The Uninhabitable Earth and Losing Earth forecast a grossly worse future and lack of sustainability: massive death, migration, political upheaval and war; our worst nightmares.

I haven’t read the two latest books but I will soon. I wish everyone would. Yet we know from historical and archaeological accounts of past mass extinctions caused by environmental stress, major segments of the population continue to will deny the existence of the environmental threats until shortly before their mass deaths as a result of the tragedy. Islanders, for example, in past civilizations who starved after they chopped down and burned the last of trees needed to make canoes for fishing required to feed themselves. So what’s the point, really? We really need to ask the tougher questions about how we plan to deal with these new severe threats of climate change in the face of political denial of those in power who profit from its cause. How do we deal with those on our island who chop and burn trees when we really need to be conserving trees and growing forests?

Messaging about sea level rise

I am disturbed by the blanket statements like “Eastern cities would disappear” in presentations like this 2017 example in Business Insider. It’s the wrong message to communicate. More accurately, “Eastern cities will be below sea level and will need massive adaptation and transformation to continue to exist”. It’s not as if we can’t come up with the sea level rise adaptation plans but rather the likelihood, based on current information, that big cities won’t implement them. Just last week New York City announced plans for an ambitious and extremely expensive sea wall around lower Manhattan. To be clear, this is just a small piece of the sustainability plan that NYC will require to survive.

In contrast, rural seaboard communities like mine are making the slow transition from farming to aquaculture and so we might stand a better chance of successful adaptation. That’s the message at the core of Baysave’s communications.

But sustainability for the long term beyond, say, 30 years is all speculative at this point. We are increasingly confident that we can make expensive adaptations to give us sustainability for that period of time and that, IMO, should be the primary message in these types of media presentations. In other words, for our lifetime sustainability of coastal cities is a budgeting issue, not so much a natural disaster issue unless we allow it to be so. Planning beyond that I’ll personally leave to the sharper minds of younger generations.

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

A history of NJ environmental injustice

This is a draft copy of part 2 of a two part response to a request for comments to the environmental justice executive order 23 issued by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. The final compiled and submitted comment is available here.


Statement of Tony Novak, Money Island, New Jersey

I’ve had an unfortunate history of 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” that says (emphasis added):

New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color have been exposed to disproportionately high and unacceptably dangerous levels of air, water, and soil pollution, with the accompanying potential for increased public health impacts. In addition, E.O. 23 recognized that communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation often face other serious problems beyond environmental issues, including health risks and housing challenges”.

The Guidance cites the EPA definition of “fair treatment”:

“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. The examples listed below clearly show that the state has not met this standard of fair treatment. My examples show how the NJDEP is placing an unjust and impossible burden of compliance on the people most damaged by climate change effects at a time when we are least able to raise the funds necessary for legal representation to address these attacks and to meet the state’s expensive land use permitting fees.

The location of all of the examples is Money Island, Downe Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey, a small rural community noted in the Department of Community Affairs’ Municipal Revitalization Index as a low income and otherwise disadvantage community.

This listing of  examples of environmental injustice intentionally omits names, dates, site references and case numbers. Those details have already been provided to appropriate investigators.

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 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

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 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 admitter privately that an unnamed NJDEP oficial blocked our participation.

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

No response from state executives

I’ve personally made calls, emails, web forms 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. None of my communications have been answered.


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 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 financial resources to immediately meet state land use requirements.

Tony Novak

Baysave

March 22, 2019

Send lawyers guns and money

The redevelopment of Money Island, New Jersey, will take plenty of professional help, construction materials, equipment and lots of money. Right now we are a blank canvas, the stipped down sleepy seafood landing port that has the potential to be a regional force in sustainable aquaculture in coming decades. With removal of the former residences, and more home demolitions likely over the next couple of years, the remaining tiny marina community and working waterfront are now just positioning with the next generation of users to build a sustainable future. We are pulling support from a range of sources: private aquaculture investors, government, people with recreation/tourism business interests and local business people making in-kind contributions of time and materials. Educational institutions and nonprofits continue to play a major role in ongoing activities but, so far, are not involved financially.

The legal format and operational plan that works best here is to form a series of limited partnerships for each project as it develops and then offer the stakeholders the option to convert to qualified small business stock if they want to stay for the long term. This effectively creates a community capital fund by pooling the resources of different stakeholders with widely different interests. The first stage typically offers a fast up-front tax shelter. The second format offers long term tax-free capital gains. Nonprofit and government stakeholders have their own well-defined requirements and goals. We are especially excited about the opportunity to offer local small business people the opportunity to be equity stakeholders here based on a contribution of material, work or equipment.

We plan to host a series of meetings soon that will be open to the public to discuss progress, upcoming projects and opportunities to get involved. Meanwhile, contact Tony to learn more about the progress.


*Guns of course are a sensitive topic and already a reader questioned my choice of the title phrase and some may not be familiar with the origin of the pop culture phrase. I intended the word “guns” as metaphorical for “equipment” as was integral to the post. But I do like a the brashness and tone of the current generation of the young environmentalists this week with a revolutionary spirit who do not agree to do things the docile compliant ways of the past. I’m not saying they should take up guns per se, but maybe Greenpeace isn’t so radical on a longer term perspective. If you actually consider the narcissistic context that Warren Zevon coined the famous phrase in his lyrics, it is antithetical to this use and most contemporary uses of “lawyers, guns and money”, especially by environmentalists and lawyers.

Baysave internships 2019

Baysave Internship

Baysave is seeking volunteer student interns who have an interest in the outdoors and the bay, learning construction-related work skills, and are willing to put in hard work to help us physically rebuild a local marina and its recreational waterfront areas. This is a hands-on, get dirty, move stuff, fix stuff, build stuff, learn new skills type of experience where every day’s project is likely to include something new. At a minimum, interns will learn the opportunities and challenges of operating several types of businesses and gain an appreciation for the wide range of skills needed in this outdoor waterfront environment. Driving, operating equipment and boating may be included, depending on the intern’s skills, interests and licensing.

About Baysave

Baysave is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 2010. Read more here. The primary work location is Money Island, New Jersey. Money Island is the region’s second most productive seafood landing port and that industry is expanding.

Goal

The goal of this internship is to foster an interest in bay work and develop skills leading to ability to work in an outdoor career on the waterfront, the construction industry, or in retail management. We intend to teach and use a range of valuable work skills in return for benefitting from the intern’s physical labor needed for our type of endeavor. During and after the internship we intend to serve as a reference and a referrer to other businesses that may be of interest to the intern. In our experience, skilled laborers with a personal endorsement from a current or former supervisor are in strong demand in the local area. Our ultimate goal is to find and support entrepreneurial young people who want to make a career running their own business as a waterman, managing a marina or a running a related business.

Pay

These are volunteer positions without pay or benefits. However, at the completion of 30 hours of service we will award interns $200 cash stipend and at the completion of an additional 40 hours of service we will award interns with a cash stipend of $350. This stipend is a maximum of $550 is a discretionary gift based on approval of the Board of Directors and not a contractual obligation. Continuation with us beyond the initial 70 hours of service is encouraged and in that case the pay will be negotiated on an individual basis.

Side benefits

Interns and their families will have access to the marina facility as members and any equipment including boats that they have been properly trained, licensed and permitted to use.

Safety considerations

Safety first! Marinas and waterways are inherently dangerous. Work with power tools and heavy equipment is also risky. We request that candidates verify in writing that they have adequate medical insurance, provide emergency contacts and, of course, parental or guardian approval if under age 18. We have never had an accident or injury and we want to keep it that way!

Duties

This internship requires outdoor work, heavy lifting (sometimes more than 50 pounds), using power tools, and work on boats or docks. Specific duties will be tailored to the individual intern’s demonstrated skills and pace of learning.

Schedule

The schedule is flexible through the spring and summer of 2019, based on the intern’s availability, but is weather-dependent. We only work during nice weather days and typically for 4-6 hours in a day. Busiest days are Saturday and Sunday when we typically work as a small team. On other days work may be just a team of 2 or 3. Since work schedule and weather conditions change often, specific day-to-day work plans are coordinated by group text message.

Transportation

Transportation may be available. Parent or guardian approval is required for interns under age 18.

Instruction and supervision

Interns will be under the direct personal supervision of Tony Novak. Novak has a background as a high school sports coach, formerly involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and has mentored other students and young adults in similar situations at this site. Instruction will focus on personal awareness, safety first, understanding the project objectives, learning about the larger challenges we face with climate change and the bayshore environment, and picking up practical work skills throughout every day.

Equal opportunity

We are committed to offering an equal opportunity work and recreational environment with support for all stakeholders. Please raise any concerns directly with the on-site manager.

Contact

Tony Novak, cell/text 856-237-9199

Federal government removes report on flooding and climate change

On January 22, 2019 the U.S. Department of Defense issued a startling report of findings of the impact of climate change on the nation’s military bases. The issuance of report is required by law as part of the government appropriations process. Especially significant to us was that this new report clearly and decisively confirmed that more severe recurring flooding is a greater problem on the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. than previous reports predicted. (The report includes Virginia Navy facilities but apparently not Dover AFB that is closest to us across the Delaware Bay). In other words, our observations of more severe flooding are not ‘in our heads’, as some politicians contend, but are actually documented at most military bases across the country.

One of the most significant findings of the report was that frequent flooding is now an issue at 2/3 of the nation’s military bases and is already costing us more money and loss of use. The flooding impact now is at the level that was previously forecast for 2040. In other words, flooding is a more serious problem than earlier forecasts. This confirms our anecdotal observations on the Delaware Bay coastal shoreline.

In the past week other news reports said that the President’s office intends to hide or challenge this information by offering positions of power to a few people who oppose the prevailing scientific views on climate change. We would have dismissed this as the usual political bantering except that now the official government report now seems to be removed from the Department of Defense web site.

The report was originally published on the official government site at: https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/18/2002081124/-1/-1/1/https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/18/2002081124/-1/-1/1/FINAL-CLIMATE-REPORT.PDF. That repot has been removed.

An archived copy of the report is still available on a non-governmental archive site: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5689153-DoD-Final-Climate-Report.html. The archived report appears to be based on a scan, not a PDF document, so some features are lacking.

We join with scientists and other data-driven public policy decisions makers to denounce the hiding of facts and information for political purposes.

Social determinants of crowdfunded investment decisions

A new article published this week in the Journal of Business Finance and Accounting takes a step forward in the path that has been unfolding for those of us working at the intersection of community projects and private investments. The paper abstract says (emphasis added): “We investigate determinants of investment decisions in investment‐based (equity and bond) crowdfunding campaigns, using a novel investment‐, investor‐ and campaign‐level database, where equity refers to investments in entrepreneurial start‐ups and bonds to large real estate projects. We find that investors who have higher social interactions invest more. Social interactions are important in an equity crowdfunding context but do not affect participation in bond investments. This is consistent with the view that investors’ social networks help reduce information asymmetry. Women invest less in the riskiest (equity) investments but more in safer ones (bonds). These findings are better explained by differences in risk aversion than differences in overconfidence between men and women. Overall, the findings contribute to the understanding of how investment‐based crowdfunding can be a viable source of entrepreneurial finance and how entrepreneurs’ campaign decisions affect investor participation in this new form of entrepreneurial finance.”

What this means for us, simply, is that Baysave equity crowdfunding strategy should focus on men who are active is social media platforms or otherwise well-connected in their communities. Other lower risk debt-based projects like private mortgage might be more interesting to female and institutional investors.

This research finding appears to be consistent with earlier research and our own observations. Specifically, it addresses the ongoing conflict where the larger private investors want to discourage us from publicizing news of bayshore redevelopment while, in contrast, I see public media and social medial more frequently as a source of strength. Whenever publicly disclosed information is used against us in a marketing or legal situation, I hear a “told you so” from investors who prefer to remain private.

This is a useful reminder to us as we revise our 2018 strategic plan documents for 2019.

NJ sustainable seafood hits a snag

An adverse court decision yesterday poses a temporary setback to local small seafood businesses at the Delaware Bay. The ruling will be appealed and brought to the attention of local lawmakers.

crabs in basketBaysave, along with our partners, is involved in several projects to improve the financial and business security of the bayshore region’s watermen. We recognize that environmental sustainability goes hand-in-hand with economic sustainability of the local communities along the Delaware Bay. There must be a balance in considering the needs of all stakeholders. Imbalances historically lead to disaster in all types of ecosystems.

One sustainability initiative involves the need to bring local commercial crabbers access to wider markets and better product pricing. We initiated a number of projects: a shared use storage cooler, formation of a multi-state harvesters cooperative, and online lead generation systems to connect buyers and sellers through online and social media. In 2018 Baysave engaged two professional marketing firms and several volunteers to post social media messages across a broad multi-state network to promote crabbing. Direct-to-consumer sales result in significantly higher price to the crabber. Of course, this effort is not popular with seafood wholesalers, powerful regional businesses with a reputation of using ‘muscle’ to force the crabbers into submission. The wholesaler controls the volume of harvest, the price and often acts as banker for smaller crabbers. The local New Jersey crabbers compare their industry to the feudalistic systems of generations ago using them as indentured servants who never quite get out from under the control of their dealer.

In other states these independent seafood harvesters have increased sustainability by forming cooperatives. Baysave proposed this idea and received funding in 2018. Within days the wholesaler retaliated with a complaint. Fish and Wildlife demanded to see records of crabbers who provided crabs to us last fall. The state didn’t seem to recognize that we didn’t sell any crabs at all. Even though we explained that Baysave is an online lead generator for members of the cooperative, and not a party to any transaction involving crabs, Fish & Wildlife believes that current state law does not make a distinction. If we reveal the identities of the crabbers who participate in the cooperative, they would face retribution from other buyers. Past threats against the crabbers and co-operative members are well documented but not prosecuted.

The system of feeding sales leads to crabbers worked well until yesterday. Regional Court Justice ruled that the activity of Baysave’s volunteer controller falls under the definition of persons required to keep records. Novak admits to ordering and leaving cash at the marina in advance to pay for 4 to 5 bushels of crabs over the course of the season for personal consumption at barbecues but that he did not drive to NJ on weekends where the barbecues were rained out. He suggested that the crabbers attempt to resell the crabs to minimize the financial loss. He posted messages on social media offering the crabs that were available at the marina but had no involvement in either the buying or selling transactions.

A sign advertising crabs was posted at the marina, in fact has been posted for more than a decade, advertising crabs. Fish & Wildlife does not allege that Novak had any involvement in posting the sign but apparently the law enforcement officer feels that he should be responsible for the transactions that crabbers May have conducted for the crabs that he originally purchased for personal consumption. This legal issue has never before been raised for the many decades and millions of dollars that are caught, landed, and sold at Money Island. We suspect that Fish & Wildlife is acting to protect the large wholesalers at the detriment of independent crabbers who wish to advertise and sell their crabs. This posting of signs by crabbers at marinas is a common practice statewide. We are not aware that any of the other marinas that posted crabbers’ signs have ever been prosecuted.

Fish & Wildlife Division demanded records of these transactions if they occurred. Novak had no records and no information of whether transactions actually occurred. He called the people who he suspected might have bought or sold the crabs but all denied involvement. It seems clear that they are afraid of retaliation by the wholesaler if their name is reported. F&W issued a citation to Novak for his remote role in the cancelled crab deliveries but did not cite any parties on site in New Jersey.

Judge Van Embden ruled that Novak’s actions in advertising the crabs by sharing Facebook posts made him legally responsible for keeping records of the crabs despite not taking delivery of them and having no knowledge of the identities of the crabber(s) or details of possible transactions. Novak said that he intends to appeal the ruling based on both technical errors at trial and the merits of the case.

Representatives of the new seafood cooperative met with local legislators recently to discuss the need to prevent these restrictions on seafood marketing. We believe this court ruling may provide additional support for our request for legislative action.

Meanwhile, Baysave will resume discussions with our state legislators on the need to change the state law to protect off-site seafood sales lead generators. This will help our local crabbers who do not otherwise have access to the type of online marketing support that a cooperative can offer. The cooperative lead generation system is working well for crabbers in Delaware and Maryland. We think it is just a matter of time until New Jersey clarifies it’s applicable law. In the meanwhile, Baysave will focus only on out-of-state fisheries products and will not promote any New Jersey fisheries product.