Update on Money Island Blue Acres buyouts

NJ.com posted an update on the status of the local property buyouts at http://www.nj.com/cumberland/index.ssf/2016/08/state_program_hits_milestone_buying_500th_piece_of.html

Some locals here at the bayshore predicted that this buyout would come eventually after we were caught by surprise by the dramatic effects of the global sea level rise hotspot in the 1990s and early 2000s. It appeared unlikely then that we would have the political will to fund the massive investment in new technology and construction techniques that would be required to keep the island suitable for human habitation. Seperately, I wrote in a 2006 editorial that fiscal sustainability of the local township was in doubt as a result of the declining trend in taxable property values largely attributable, directly or indirectly, to the effects of water level rise. Since then, the township, county and state governments have made major investments to bolster Money Island’s infrastructure. More are planned. BaySave is involved in the process of raising additional infrastructure funding from non-governmental sources. Yet it seems more likely than before that bayside homeowners (those on Bayview Avenue past the bridge) will not be able to sustain the huge costs of private residential property maintenance. Nor is NJDEP likely to issue the waterfront development building permits that would be required to fight rising water levels. As a procedural issue, the DEP requires that past violations be addressed before new permits are issued. The cost of addressing violations exceeds the value of the real estate so it is difficult to see how anyone might be willing to make that investment.

While I am a committed volunteer and cheerleader for a sustainable future for our small bayshore community, we must also recognize that the water level rise forecast and its financial impact is disturbing. There is no clear strategy for funding the survival of our community at this point. Most specifically, there is reportedly no plan to rebuild the Bayview bridge that faces the forces on tidal action diverted by the new adjacent seawall. The basic law of shoreline management physics is that when  you stop tidal flows at one location it causes an increase in erosion on adjacent properties. The project engineers predict that the new bulkhead finished last year will do a great job of protecting the 400+ feet of shoreline on Bayview Road but that it will increase stress on the bridge and the marina jetty. Presumably Cumberland County will eventually be put in the difficult position of either closing the bridge, repairing it, or surrendering it to some other entity. The first seem the most likely of the three options, at least as a short term response to future damage.

In early 2012 before Sandy we proposed to the state a strategy that is used successfully in other NJ communities where the state owns the land and leases it back through its rental program to the residential or commercial operators. At least 17 property owners at Money Island NJ showed interest in the plan at that time. Ar first state officials showed interest in the plan. That discussion was scrambled after Sandy and never regained life.

Now I work as adviser to some of the Blue Acres target property owners here who have recently become aware of apparently inconsistencies within the design of the valuation process whereas it is possible for similar properties with similar values to receive vastly different offers from the Blue Acres program. Apparently this is because each property has a separate appraiser and case worker who is unaware of the comparative valuations and offers on neighboring properties. In one case an owner who wanted to sell withdrew her consent after learning of a higher offer on a smaller property next door.

Blue Acres reports that it closes on 80% of the purchase offers made but the state seems far from achieving this benchmark at this early stage of the buyout process.

Also, we learned only two weeks ago that the state is not interested in acquiring a number of properties that were offered as a conditional gift/sale. The government liabilities exceed the market value of these properties and so they were previously abandoned in federal bankruptcy court before being acquired by non-profit NJ charity BaySave Corporation for conveyance to the state. A written offer of gift/sale of 19 properties was made before Sandy and the state was considering the offer until last month is apparently off the table so it is back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan for sustainability.

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