Conference on local water politics March 2018

water

I was thrilled to join some of the region’s most involved environmental activists under the leadership of Mark Z. for a great program. Some of the take home lessons:

  • make sure the members of your group have strong ‘talking points’
  • emphasize economic impact and size of constituency when talking to government officials
  • video content is best for social media impact

Hearing the stories of other environmental activists makes me feel more confident that we are on the right track here on the bay.

Sustainable fishing: bigger isn’t better

fishing2

This cartoon by Darrin Bell of The New Yorker illustrates the obsession we have with the false belief that  “bigger is better”. Our State of New Jersey and the Marine Fisheries Council have fallen into the trap that encourages recreational fishermen to harvest the largest breeding stock fish while throwing smaller ones back, often to die.

Our fisheries scientists know that this practice is unsustainable. Yet we as a society refuse to change it. Yet we are not alone. History provides plenty of example where denial of the facts led to extinction of species, even of humans. One thing we do know about extinction is that it happens more rapidly than anyone would have guessed. We are living dangerously when we focus on “bigger is better”.

Sustainable fishing depends on managing the harvest of smaller and more abundant juvenile fish. Large trophy fish should be protected, or at least should not be the target. There is no shame in that, and in fact should be promoted as a positive approach. I’ve been told directly by industry and government leaders that this practice won’t change in my lifetime no matter how loudly the scientific and environmental communities object.

We live in an age where ignoring and/or denying facts is popular. All I can do is to be a voice for the truth. I am individually committed to encouraging sustainable fisheries and my small business will do what it can to change the current culture of “bigger is better”.

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

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

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

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT AGAINST MOTION FOR ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE

by Tony Novak, Controller, Baysave Association

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 18. 2018

Governor Phil Murphy

PO Box 001

Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Governor Murphy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Tony Novak, CPA, MBA, MT

Controller

Baysave Association

Money Island, New Jersey

An environmentalist and a engineer talk about the future of Money Island

7/20/2018 – I had an interesting meeting with a well-connected civil engineer on site here at Money Island yesterday afternoon. Hours earlier, I had a long telephone conversation with the Money Island project manager for The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  Both conversations added valuable insights.

The Environmentalist

The TNC official echoed an opinion that I hear often from environmentalists: although they personally support Money Island’s sustainability plan, they believe that certain people in mid-level state management at NJDEP do not. Some state employees would prefer that people abandon Money Island to nature. This is commonly referred to in environmental discussions as a “retreat strategy”. The retreat strategy is certainly worth full consideration. Eventually, with three feet of sea level rise, our town and millions of acres of shoreline will be gone. My response is always the same two points:

  1. Higher water levels are actually good for the future of aquaculture!.It may not be good for roads, buildings or traditional infrastructure but we can certainly work around that with currently available construction modifications. Our core mission of providing public, industry and government access to local waterways will not be impaired by future water level rise. (I usually continue the conversation to discuss how Rutgers’ most recent forecasts of tidal impact and flooding trends for the next 30 to 50 years are built into our sustainability plan but don’t need to go into that detail here).
  2. Life is too short to fight the government. If we suspected that the  retreat path was the opinion of state leadership, including NJDEP leadership, then we would change course. Life is too short to be in a battle against the prevailing force of government. But this is not the case. Every high-ranking official in NJDEP and state government that I’ve spoken with – probably more than two dozen by now – have all told me that they support the project and urge m to ‘stay the course’. Some warned me that the path to enlightened sustainability management will be difficult and that I will need to be persistent and ‘keep fighting’. Many of these government leaders have even given me pep talks to keep me going through this current struggle, pointing out how important this mission is to future generations. That’s what motivates me. That’s why I stick with the project.

The engineer

An civil engineer generally familiar with our issues wrote online “The biggest challenge in fighting climate change is getting our institutions to let go of well-intentioned but obsolete policies”. The other engineer on site had more pragmatic comments:

  1. He agrees with the previously expressed project engineer’s opinion that NJDEP should not be taking the current prosecutorial actions against marina infrastructure (our infrastructure) that predate the beginning of permitting requirement laws in the 1970s. Granted, there are a lot of factual details that muddy the situation (historic photography, old land surveys, post-Sandy reconstruction law, etc.) but the core fact remains that our original marina and docks were built in the 1930s before land use permitting were required and therefore should be grandfathered to some extent.
  2. He asked several times “Why are they…?” and my response in each instance was that we don’t have the legal muscle to show where the state has made factual or legal errors in their prosecution of Money Island stakeholders. In contrast, the state has unlimited legal resources and seems intent on using these resources against us rather than negotiate through traditional problem-solving channels. I referred these factual and legal errors in the courtroom but the judge did not seem to give my objections serious consideration. Without a budget for legal defense, I don’t see any reasonable chance of addressing the state’s errors.
  3. He says that the fundamental underlying problem is that the state has not yet come to grips with the impact of water level rise on our wetlands and the infrastructure resources in these locations. While viable management approaches are proposed, we aren’t making adequate progress toward implementation. We discussed different aspects of thin layer dredge spray that is part of the Money Island sustainability plan. I suspect that not many people are familiar with this proposal so I would say only that it is public policy that makes a lot more sense from a public policy perspective than our current strategy of pumping sand on the Atlantic coast beaches! Workable sustainability solutions are available if we choose to pursue them.
  4. The usual first step in planning a project like this is called a pre-permit meeting with a wide range of stakeholders. He doesn’t understand why our requests for a meeting were declined. We discussed the thinking of certain department officials and how those have been addressed in other similar projects. His opinion, based on our exchange of bits of facts and third-party conversations,  that our project does have the support of the most influential people who have been effective recently in getting the NJDEP to change their thinking about bayshore sustainability. We discussed the cost of this permitting and told me what I already knew: I would need to find a loan to cover the cost of land use permitting. we didn’t discuss that I’m already working on it or my frustration that the process is moving so slowly. Now that partial funding is available for compliance, we decided to try again.

“No retreat”: Pros and Cons

no-retreat-save-the-bayshor

A few years ago the deputy mayor of Downe Township, a former neighbor here at Money Island, came up with the idea and we printed a bunch of bumper stickers and signs that said “No Retreat! Save the bay shore communities”. I say ‘we’ because as far as I know the project was paid for with public funds. I didn’t think that government should be involved in a choice that was essentially a private decision about their home or business. Our properties lie on the border of Downe Township and Lawrence Township. Lawrence Township took the opposite approach and vowed to support its residents no matter what they decided to do in reaction to state government property buyouts. The campaign was a great success as far as bumper stickers go. Several years later I still see the ‘No Retreat’ bumper stickers and signs everywhere. The campaign itself was not so successful. Most of my community, including the former local government official who designed the campaign, sold their properties to the state and retreated inland.

For some the ‘No Retreat’ slogan effectively summarizes the political and financial effort to retain all of our taxable real estate assets. Shoreline properties tend to be taxes at the highest rates within a community. Losing them can be financially disastrous to a community. For others, the slogan simply reflects an affinity for the bayshore community or a natural desire to keep family home. At the core of issue is the question: “Can humans survive the challenges of climate change at the bayshore?” For most, the answer has proven to be ‘no’. The financial demands and threats of government forced the decision for most of our neighbors. For me, the answer is ‘yes, but it requires major changes’. Only time will tell how the financial and government challenges will be met for the few businesses or residents that remain. A book coming out next year from Beacon Press covers this episode of local history.

The problem is that the scientists and accountants among us know that “No Retreat” is not a sustainable strategy per se. Virtually all of us who have been involved in sea level rise response planning recognize that we will lose some of our shoreline properties and communities. A reporter reported on the irony that under the force of a strong new moon tide, he saw the “No Retreat” signs floating down the flooded roadway. Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and other states are heavily involved in stakeholder discussions about how to handle this natural force. New Jersey lags far behind in this process. Some politicians still question the state’s official sea level rise projection that calls for some of our communities to be completely inundated within our lifetime.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of community planners believe that strategic retreat is the best available strategy as a response to sea level rise. We will undoubtedly save some of our present waterfront and technology will allow some businesses – like aquaculture – to survive and even thrive in this new high water environment. But the older homes along the bayshore will eventually be swallowed up by the forces of erosion; the combined effect of more water and higher levels of destructive energy in the water.

The first wave of buyouts here at Money Island is complete. Next month the tear-downs will begin. A second wave of tear-downs will follow.

I predicted this series of events in a blog post and many public discussions. As an early forecaster of the trend, I was sometimes blamed for its impact. I still believe that this section of the bayshore needs to retreat to its commercial roots – fishing, shellfish, and aquaculture – but use new technologies to ensure sustainability for coming generations. The loss of our bayside vacation communities is a sad but inevitable development for many of us.

sunset over Bayview Road in Money Island were houses are scheduled for demolition next month.

Half million dollar sea wall brings 30 year sustainability to Money Island

This post was originally published September 15, 2015.

In 2004 a small group of neighbors on Bayview Road in Money Island gathered together to promote a common cause under the name eventually adopted “Money Island Improvement Association”. The road had already crumbling under the force of rising sea levels and the only way that neighbors could reach their properties was to cut across my front yard. There were clear signs that our bridge would eventually collapse under the pressure of increased water flow underneath the road. Several neighbors had already lost their houses and land.

We lobbied government at every level. Over the past twelve years I’ve personally had hundreds of discussions to promote the project. I handed out flyers and hosted neighborhood meetings. Not everyone was comfortable with my activists efforts to bring attention to the project. I even received a telephone death threat from one official and was physically assaulted by a neighbor as a result of these efforts. Downe Township joined the effort.

Five years later in 2009 a grant was issued. At the grant ceremony covered by NJ.com in October 2009 Downe Township Mayor Renee Blizzard thanked Money Island residents for their persistence and specifically cited me for my patience and support of the project. Downe Township’s current Mayor Campbell took up the cause in recent years.

Now, this week, we finally broke ground with the project. I feel like this is a tangible example of grass roots efforts can really produce results despite the challenges posed by government and naysayers. Our effort is not over yet. The installation of the bulkhead will increase pressure on the bridge and neighboring properties. It will be necessary to eventually replace or fortify these as well. We recognize that it could be an another twelve year effort. But right now it makes sens to take a breather and recognize how far we’ve come.

The bulkhead project was finished in 2016 and is expected to last at least 30 years.

MI grant ceremony 001MI grant ceremony 005bulkhead

Government contact list

This list needs to be updated now that VanDrew is our area’s US Congressman and Andrzejczak is our state Senator.

This is a list of government contacts that we have engaged or hope to engage with Baysave’s work. We maintain a schedule of regular outgoing communications with all these elected officials but this year (2018) only Senator Booker has responded.


Governor Phil Murphy

Twitter: @GovMurphy

Web form: https://www.nj.gov/governor/contact/all/

Phone: (609) 292-6000

Mail: Office of the Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625

 


Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver

Twitter: @LtGovOliver

Same other contact information as the Governor


NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal

Twitter: @GurbirGrewalNJ

Phone: 609-984-5828

Email/Webform: https://www.nj.gov/lps/formmail.htm

Mail: Office of The Attorney General
RJ Hughes Justice Complex
25 Market Street, Box 080
Trenton, NJ 08625-0080


State Senator Jeff Van Drew

Twitter: @jeffvandrew

Phone: (609) 465-0700

Email: SenVanDrew@njleg.org

Mail: School House Office Park

211 S. Main St. Suite 104.

Cape May Court House, NJ 08210


NJ Assemblyman  Bob  Andrzejczak

Twitter: @BobAndrzejczak

Same mail address and phone as Van Drew


NJ Assemblyman Bruce Land

Same mail address and phone as Van Drew


NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe

Twitter: @NJDEPMcCabe

Mail: 401 E. State St.
7th Floor, East Wing
P.O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Phone: (609) 292-2885
Fax: (609) 292-7695


New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney

Twitter: @NJSenatePres


US Senator Cory Booker

Twitter: @CoryBooker

Mail: One Gateway Center
23rd Floor
Newark, NJ 07102

Phone: (202) 224-3224 or 973-639-8700

Fax: 973-639-8723

Email of helpful Aid: Zach_McCue@booker.senate.gov


US Senator Bob Menendez

Twitter: @SenatorMenendez

Mail: One Gateway Center, Suite 1100
Newark, New Jersey 07102

Phone: 973-645-3030
Fax: 973-645-0502

Tim Hillman Aid Direct: 973-645-6640


US Congressional Representative Frank LoBiondo

Twitter: @RepLoBiondo 

Mail: 5914 Main Street Suite 103
Mays Landing, NJ 08330-1746

Fax: 609-625-5071

Phone: (202) 225-6572 or 609- 625-5008

Email: lobiondo@mail.house.gov