Love Where You Live

Yesterday I heard an excellent presentation on behalf of the Cumberland County NJ economic development office for a project called “Love Where You Live”. I wrote to thank the presenter and followed with this comment:

For most all of my adult life I’ve been committed to improvement of our small rural community at Money Island. It started out with small projects like cleanup of road trash in the 1980s and then grew to other areas like shoreline stabilization in the 1990s. In the early 2000s I helped rally my neighbors to lobby various levels of government to construct a sea wall where I live (It was just completed 9 years after we initially organized a strategy for it). The project was cited as an example of public/private cooperation. During those years I developed an interest in community-based sea level rise response and have gained insights from other eastern seaboard communities in other states through my travel and involvement in these environmental conferences.

In 2010 I formed BaySave Corporation, a small but growing NJ charity focused on education and advocacy of bayshore issues. Both the NJDEP and EPA cited our exemplary work in living shoreline restoration but have put restraints our plans for oyster reef restoration and shell recycling from Pennsylvania. Simultaneously, I am working with several commercial watermen, aquaculturists and harvesters here to evolve our commercial businesses at Money Island for long term sustainability. Many people in government are supportive but there are still massive obstacles to overcome.

Then in March 2012 I was retained by a private investment group to prepare some financial projections about the economic future of our community. The results were shocking and much of the disastrous forecast in my 2012 report has in fact come true since then. Real estate values and local population have dropped sharply over the past decade. Some properties here were recently assessed at about 15% of their 2006 tax assessment level. Taxes and real estate related prosecutions against homeowners and businesses have increased sharply. Outside investors advised by the NJ League of Municipalities were not been able to make headway with local government that would have led to an economic redevelopment plan here. Last month I was surprised to learn that the State of New Jersey apparently has no programs or legal means to revitalize communities where the collective amount of government liabilities exceed the collective value of the community’s real assets (as is the case here at Money Island). I am currently working with Senator Van Drew’s office on this issue.

Local news organizations like WHYY Newsworks have portrayed my statements as “gloom and doom” and positioned them in direct contrast to Bob Campbell’s cheerleading positions for the future of the community. In reality, we are all working toward the same goals and need to work together on all these issues.

Now BaySave is preparing for a next round of financing for environmental projects that will likely involve some crowdfunding projects. Soon Nantuxent Corporation is expected to seek financing for aquaculture expansion here. As a CPA, I have a professional duty to explain the financial facts in as candid terms as possible. The financial picture here is not pretty. The 5-10 year future projections are even worse. The longer term forecast calls for our entire community to be inundated by water level rise and NJ and EPA regulations do not yet even provide any means that would allow for our continued existence. I am professionally bound to express doubt over the private or municipal prospects of our future as a going concern. Yet I’m frustrated by being labeled as the ‘naysayer’ simply because I conclude, based on the available data, that there is visible reason to express economic optimism.

In 2012, before Sandy, I proposed a possible plan for the sustainable future of our community that is endorsed by the majority landowner stakeholders at Money Island. The plan is based on state ownership of the land with leases to private stakeholders; a strategy that works well in other environmentally challenged communities. I shared that plan with Freeholder Director Derella and many others in government and business. Yet there has been no action taken in several years and so I have no reason to believe that we will move in that positive direction.

I would welcome any thoughts as to how I might be a more effective endorser for the community while upholding my professional duties for candid assessment of our financial future.

Certainly I love where I live. But that doesn’t change the fact that the scientific and economic forecasts suggest that we will face huge, unprecedented and difficult issues ahead.

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