Letter to Senator Van Drew

This is a copy of an email and the attached letter sent to State Senator Van Drew today. Our community working to sustain Money Island believes that Senator Van Drew is in the best position to influence the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to address the inconsistent and possibly illegal internal actions of a relative few staff members who do not support the larger redevelopment and compliance plans of Money Island.

“Dear Senator Van Drew:

I’ve attached a letter drafted with the help of our community advisers to call your attention to the mean-spirited and sometimes illegal actions of the NJDEP in blocking the sustainable recovery of Money Island, New Jersey since superstorm Sandy. We believe this issue can be resolved by your influence in pushing NJDEP to negotiate with me and our community leaders.

Money Island is the state’s second largest seafood landing point and the planned site of future aquaculture expansion. We serve five local universities and a range of recreational users and environmental tourists. We have a viable plan for a sustainable and fully compliant future as the region’s second largest seafood landing. We are poised to support the anticipated tremendous growth as an aquaculture site. Yet NJDEP has blocked 10 of our 11 attempts at obtaining state permitting over the past five years and now taking legal action against those committed to Money Island’s recovery. I’ve been financially crippled by the Department’s actions and their unwillingness to even hold discussions. This pattern of behavior is not in line with the best interests of public policy nor the leadership of the NJDEP so we think that stronger action is required to address this problem.

I thank you and your staff for your long term support on bayshore issues and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss how we can make this a ‘turning point’  in recovery of our bayshore regional economy and, specifically, the environmental and economic future of our small working waterfront community of Money Island, New Jersey.

Tony Novak, CPA, MBA, MT

Cell/text: 856-237-9199

 

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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.

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”.

Water politics

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.

One step forward, one step back

In our long-term effort to restore Money Island and repurpose the resources for a future of sustainable aquaculture, it often feels like we are taking one step forward and one step back. Today the two extremes hit particularly hard.

“Fall seven times. Get up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

On December 30 Senator Booker sent an online message to Tony saying that he was interested in receiving more information about Baysave’s project at Money Island. That sparked a flurry of follow-up activity, calls and referrals that kept us busy all week. It is clear from multiple sources that the federal government wants to see us succeed. Early this morning I had a scheduled phone call with one of New Jersey’s best business financing experts. She works in North Jersey but was referred by Stockton SBA and has been helping us for several months. She said that she had brought our redevelopment plan to a lender who wants to fund the project and match the USDA’s program to expand aquaculture here. Great news! I worked on some spreadsheets to support the idea and we scheduled another call for Friday.

Then only a few hours later a representative from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Resources called to say that the state declines to discuss a resolution of the old land use and permitting issues that existed before the Baysave project began. She seemed surprised to support the result. We discussed that this is unusual for the state to refuse to participate in alternate dispute resolution. This is copy of the confirmation letter denying alternative dispute resolution: BaySave ltr from NJDEP.

I can imagine no respectable reason why the state would refuse to enter into discussions on resolution of environmental issues under any circumstances. Most personnel in the department support our efforts. I have occasionally been critical of the agency and once even turned in an employee for attempted bribery years ago. This most recent action, unfortunately, represents the agenda of a small minority of NJDEP officials.

In reality, the state’s action today probably has little to do with us and has more to do with swampy politics. Nevertheless, we will continue to work our restoration and redevelopment plan one step at time, relying on the strong support expressed by the many other forces of government and the community.

Learning to speak climate at the bayshore

My work involves speaking with a wide range of people about observations in nature. I am clear that this is the largest issue affecting our lives, our community’s future and our society but this ‘heavy stuff’ is of course not the message of day-to-day communications. More likely, I get questions like “Why are the fish coming in later?” or “Why can’t I get a building permit?” These are not simple topics to discuss. Like many others in a similar position, I struggle to find the right words to use to communicate the extent of what I observe on a day-to-day basis here at the bayshore. I’ve had more formal training is science in general, and climate science in particular, than most people. Some call it indoctrination. I call it command of facts. But that’s not necessarily an advantage when it comes to leadership. A leader must engage a wide community group base but how is this possible on the issue of climate?

When I think about local media coverage like last June’s front page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer where I was one of several intelligent, educated and well-informed business owners (I know them all pretty well since this is such a small community) who deal with climate issues on a day-to-day basis at the core of their businesses. The writer chose to give more print and apparently did not make any attempt to fact check the statements of the local mayor who said “There is no sea-level rise, and it’s a bunch of hogwash”. The mayor admits that he has no training in science or climate issues. Yet his statement as given more prominence that the considerable better-informed sources. Why would a major newspaper allow this? Would they have printed the story the same if the mayor said the earth is flat or that the planet was created 5,000 years ago? If not, then what possible basis are we using to justify the public expression of these unchallenged false climate statements? This is just one example. I am also aware of a local book writer whose work in progress seems to give credence to climate deniers.

I know that certain words trigger an angry response, can cause our businesses to lose customers and may even cause us to lose government infrastructure funding. I’ve been physically assaulted and verbally threatened for my talk about climate-related issues. Yet I’ve been clear that climate denial is not a logically or legally defensible position. In fact I would be willing to be a witness for the prosecution in future cases that challenge climate change deniers.

In our local market dominated by trumpist thinking, even mention of the term “climate change” in print sets off angry responses. Other words like “strategic retreat”, “inundation”, “sea level rise”, “fact”, and even “science” itself are controversial.

So how then do I talk about the things I see and the things I can’t explain without an understanding of climate issues? It his latest book Thomas Friedman1 offers some suggestions from his conversations with Greenlanders:

“Just a few years ago,… but then something changed…”

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before…”

“Well, usually, but now I don’t know anymore…”

“We haven’t seen something like that since…”

That’s all climate-speak—“surpassing,” “highest,” “record,” “broken,” “biggest,” “longest.”

The fact is that the impact of climate change, acidification, sea level rise and warming temperatures affect me and my industry more than anything else. It would be nice to be able to talk about it.


1Friedman, Thomas L.. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (p. 162). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Post-Sandy conflict continues at the NJ bayshore

Renewed threats by NJDEP while waiting for infrastructure updates at Money Island NJ

In the months after Superstorm Sandy many of the government agencies, environmental groups and local citizens pulled together here at the NJ bayshore. We attended countless planning meetings discussing priorities and a game plan toward environmental and financial sustainability. For us here in Money Island that meant changing our game plan to aquaculture.

We never anticipated the difficulties that would follow: insurance fraud, denial of all government aid, and years of delays. Yet it seemed that all the stakeholders were willing to keep working to do what it takes to rebuild our community recognizing the reality of sea level rise and increased flooding. All o the stakeholders were working together except one: certain individuals in the NJDEP. Most NJDEP officers supported our recovery plans but a few emerged as antagonists.

Today I received another nasty-gram from one of the antagonists. I thought that we had reached an agreement last summer when I met with these officials. I agreed to a short list of immediate corrections and they agreed to be patient until the Cumberland County infrastructure upgrade plans were complete. Apparently not so. Today’s message threatens a number of more immediate actions with response times of 20 to 35 days. Last night we heard an update that the water and sewer project is moving forward, but we are still talking about years until resolution, not days.

This was the email I received from NJDEP today:

Dear Mr. Novak:

Attached is an Administrative Order (AO) issued by the Department for violations at properties owned by Baysave A NJ Nonprofit Corporation, including at Money Island Marina.   A hard copy is being mailed to you as Baysave’s  registered agent as well as to Baysave’s bankruptcy counsel.   

Please read the attached document carefully.  Contained within the enclosed document are instructions for requesting an Administrative Hearing.  Each statute cited has different timeframes within which the hearing request must be received by the Department and failure to request a hearing per the instructions will result in loss of your right to a hearing for violations pertaining to that statute.  The Department does not have the authority to extend those statutory timeframes.  Specifically, the timeframes are as follows:

  • For violations cited pursuant to N.J.S.A.  58:12A-10(d) and N.J.A.C.  7:10-3.5 et seq., as described in paragraphs 13, 15, and 30e of the attached AO, a request for a hearing must be received within thirty-five (35) days.
  • For violations cited Pursuant to N.J.S.A.  58:10A-10d(2) and N.J.A.C. 7:14-8.4 et seq., as described in paragraphs 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 30a through 30d of the attached AO, a request for a hearing must be received within twenty (20) days.
  • For violations cited Pursuant to N.J.S.A.  26:2C-1 et seq. and N.J.A.C. 7:27-8.3(b), as described by paragraphs 16 and 30f of the attached AO, a request for a hearing must be received within twenty (20) days.
  • For violations cited Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 et seq., N.J.S.A. 13:19-18(b), N.J.S.A. 13:9A-9(d), and N.J.S.A. 12:5-6(e), as described by paragraphs 19, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 30g through 30l of the attached AO, a request for a hearing must be received within thirty-five (35) days.

Please reply to this e-mail so that I know that you received the document.  If you have any questions concerning the enclosed AO, you may contact Ginger Benckert of my staff at (609) 614-3655 or at ginger.benckert@dep.nj.gov.

Very truly yours,

Mary Simpson, Chief

Southern Bureau of Water Compliance and Enforcement

I always try to be positive and emphasize that we should all be working together to solve these environmental challenges. I also often remind government people that I came into management of this specific situation after Sandy and serve as a volunteer, not a paid employee, in contrast to the DEP officers. My response today:

Mary:

I received your email addressed to Baysave Corporation about violations at Money Island. Yes, addressing these issues remains our major challenge and the focus of our mission toward environmental sustainability.

As you heard in our last meeting, Baysave accepted the challenge of resolving decades of missteps by various public and private stakeholders at Money Island that became evident by the early 2000s. The total amount of property-based liabilities exceed the land value at Money Island by a factor of 10:1 so a private stakeholder solution is simply not possible. I’m sure you know that neither Baysave nor I created any of these problems but that we have worked very hard to resolve them for many years. In 2004 I proposed a public/private partnership to address the infrastructure issues at Money Island and in 2010 Baysave was formed as the lead organization for environmental sustainability.

Baysave’s trustees remain fully committed to resolving these issues as soon as humanly possible. We have raised tens of thousands of dollars since Sandy to address these and many other specific issues of concern. A large portion of our fundraising is for the purpose of paying for various state permits, applications and inspections. We have made significant progress so far toward environmental sustainability in the face of overwhelming challenges. Even since we met last summer, I have worked with various agencies and, as far as I can see, have taken every known path towards resolution of these overwhelming infrastructure issues.

I remain committed to resolving the remaining issues as soon as humanly possible. I hope you recall that when we met last I agreed to and followed through with all of the specific action steps you requested.

As far as the wastewater issues, various public officials have directed me to refer these questions to Mayor Campbell who has taken the lead on this issue. He has the authority to speak for all of Money Island stakeholders who share these same concerns. We are currently revising our wastewater handling plan and will continue to work with all authorities until the issue is resolved.

I am copying Mayor Campbell, State Senator Van Drew and Representative LoBiondo who lead the movement toward environmental sustainability here. We must continue to rely on the combination of public and private efforts to reach the end goal of a clean, sustainable and fully compliant working waterfront community at Money Island.

I also tried to reach Ginger Benkert as you suggested for further information, but the telephone number listed in your email appears to be an error.

We look forward to working with your department to resolve these concerns.

Tony Novak, CPA, MBA, MT

www.tonynovak.com

Mobile/Text: 856-723-0294

Skype: novak.tony

I continue to believe that sanity will eventually prevail in this battle and that we will reach a solution that works for all stakeholders. Baysave and the other NJ bayfront communities have a solid plan for recovery, compliance  and sustainability. We have the technology and the drive to transform into a clean water-based economy. Many other aquaculture communities up and down the east coast of the U.S. have already done it and serve as our models. All it takes is time and money.