On this day in 2011 – exactly one decade ago – the Novak family was on a spring break family vacation together in the Caribbean Islands. That was the last time we went away together like this. Shortly after returning home from this trip I agreed to have Baysave take the lead role in the financial and legal operation of the marina and the related research projects at Money Island. A former investor/owner was discouraged by inability to work with state government and the marina operator lacked the general capacity to deal with government issues. I had a strong track record in those days of bringing government and private sector investors together on environmental issues in earlier efforts in Ocean City. I thought I could do the same here. That’s why I was originally brought to Money Island by an investor years earlier in the 1990s. But my stabilization and recovery tactics drew the wrath of state and local governments that, so far, accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars legal expenses prosecuting me and required me to waste money on expensive defensive responses to counter them. I’ve lost count of the number of complaints and court cases I’ve had to defend that have little or nothing to do with me and everything to do with the history of Money Island. My family and community understands this as a significant career mistake, a point well documented in the recent book “The Drowning of Money Island”. I lost more than a million dollars defending Money Island over time – essentially all of my net worth. While our lawyers, consultants and engineers have repeatedly said that the government made mistakes and violated the law, there was little I could do against the unlimited power and open checkbook that paid for the high powered government lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office and local prosecutors. The government denied all requests for alternate dispute resolution, including a redevelopment plan widely endorsed throughout the region. An appeal by our well-respected environmental consultant directly to the governor’s office on Memorial Day weekend 2018 also failed.
I am grateful to senators Booker and Menendez, former Congressman LoBiondo, former state Senator VanDrew, the NJCPA, NJ Farm Bureau, the League of Municipalities, and many others who lobbied for a positive outcome here. But we were not effective. During that time I was unsuccessful in obtaining any of the required waterfront development permits that we applied for on key infrastructure projects. The plain truth is that we accomplished very little toward sustainability. It was an expensive failed effort. I never learned the names of the individuals who blocked my permit applications, sometimes in the 11th hour, that prevented us from making forward progress toward environmental law compliance and sustainability. I understood that former NJDEP Commissioner Martin had my photos* on his desk when our mayor arrived for a briefing and misunderstood their implication, complicating the discussion. My complaint over 2014 NJDEP interference in a scientist’s report were squashed. Former NJDEP Commissioner McCabe made at least one unannounced visit but did not stop to speak with me (the only person besides the DFW officer who was here that day). But she halted her department’s legal aggressions against the bayshore community that were based on decades-old permit issues. I wonder if my efforts to push our story to the attention of those handling the state’s environmental justice initiative had any effect. Newly appointed Commissioner LaTourette seems to have a more balanced and holistic approach but I remain concerned over the one-sided inputs in Trenton that do not expose the reality of what is really happening here. As far as I know, none of the post-Sandy reports of bad behavior within the department were properly addressed.
Yesterday my only remaining Money Island neighbor discussed that they are celebrating their success in an eight year effort to obtain a waterfront development construction permit to make their home sustainable for the decades ahead. They asked for my help in bridging the current labor shortage that is holding up work on issued building permits here. I expect to speak with the contractor today to discuss possibilities. (Affordable on-site worker housing is one of the key issues I’ve fought for unsuccessfully. Using a transient work force is still not effective for specific types of work in this remote location). This multi-generational family has substantial financial resources and effective personal relationships within state government. Many of the people who worked on their permit application project were the same as those who worked on mine. But this family built personal relationships over the years with specific key state regulators based on personal interests they have in common that have nothing to do with permits. The patriarch built a strong personal bond over time with one regulator who was a key prosecution witness in the false prosecution against me. That’s not the way government is supposed to work, but it did work. It was a smart and effective strategy.
So where are we now? I feel confident that after the state lost it’s expensive multi-year legal case against me last year – solely for not having permits that they failed to issue decades ago and they decline to issue now – their appetite to waste even more money in court on these old issues is faded. Maybe they are more open-minded to my mantra that we should focus on the future and not the past. Our sole problem now is a lack of money to rebuild sustainably. Much of that money was wasted in useless legal maneuvers. Meanwhile, my own operating strategy has shifted to actions that do not require additional government permits. I doubt there will be more litigation over old missing permits. I also doubt that the future will be anything like the past. The businesses that used to operate here – a marina, restaurant, boat rental, etc. will not return under my power due to the depleted financial resources. I endorsed the $30 million sustainable multi-use redevelopment plan led by the township. But that could be another decade in planning. I’ve recently stepped up my legal efforts to hold the state officials responsible for their past errors and crimes. Many of these cases are years old and so the outcome is uncertain. Years of new personal legal battles to recover from these losses is ahead but I’m certain that the government will eventually do the right thing (as we say, after they try everything else first). It’s unfortunate, but I see no other path forward. I will remain focused on probability of success when evaluating any future actions.
Economic momentum has turned and Money Island will clearly be a valuable part of New Jersey aquaculture industry’s future. My best strategy for me is to continue to tell the story – old and new – and continue to build support for a sustainable future here.
*I’ve compiled a collection of thousands of photos of Money Island that may be used in a future publication. I am grateful to former residents and supporters who continue to send photos to document our history.