State of New Jersey vs. Tony Novak, et. al.

Baysave was named as a defendant along with its controller Tony Novak in a lawsuit filed May 4, 2018 by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. The lawsuit does not allege that Baysave or Novak or anyone associated with us did anything wrong, but rather that we are in possession of distressed properties where the stabilization, recovery,  transfer, sustainability planning and compliance phases are taking much longer and are proving more complex than anyone had hoped.

The underlying issue is that the entire Money Island marina, in fact most of the small rural port community of Money Island, was built almost a century ago without building permits, land surveys, tideland leases, etc. We assumed these properties would be acquired by the state like other local working waterfronts and that would transfer the issue to the state to deal with (as with other marinas like neighboring Fortescue). But in the years since Sandy, little has actually been accomplished. Apparently the state switched from being a cooperative partner in our restoration efforts to being an adversary. We don’t know why but we suspect the action is not in good faith.

The lawsuit comes down to this: the government has declined at least 15 permit or license applications or pre-application inquiries since Sandy (when Novak legally took over management) and is now suing us because those same permits are not issued.  It is, in our opinion, unconscionable for the state to be both the denier of permits and simultaneously bring charges for failure to have permits that should have been addressed decades ago.

Most significant in this matter is the observation that the NJDEP abandoned its normal problem-solving mechanisms (pre-permit planning meetings, application review and comment and alternate dispute resolution) to opt for decline of applications and direct to lawsuit with no attempt at resolution. One NJDEP program director told me that this was the first time in her career that she saw this pattern of action by her department and so she did not know what to advise me.

Here is:

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One page of talking points for Money Island

I have a series of meetings with regulators, investors and politicians coming up. This one page summary is meant to serve as a list of talking points for these discussions.

BaySave talking points on development

BaySave talking points on development

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

 

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.

Thanks LoBiondo for environmental support

lobiondo-at-mi

Congressman Frank LoBiondo has been a strong supporter of the Delaware Bay region, our environment and our businesses. This photo was taken on his recent visit to Money Island in August 2016 where he spoke about the difficulty in promoting our environmental interests in Washington. His efforts are largely responsible for the EPA-funded restoration projects here.

This week NJ.com recognizes LoBiondo as one of only a few Republican leaders nationwide willing to stand up to the to repeal environmental restrictions on the coal industry.

Earlier in 2016 the Congressmen met with me and a group of other concerned residents still fighting to settle Sandy insurance claims years after FEMA fraud admissions.

I am grateful for Congressman LoBiondo’s efforts and feel blessed to have him represent us in Washington DC.

Agonizingly slow aquaculture progress

For the past eight years I have been working through nonprofit BaySave Corporation on necessary reforms to New Jersey’s outdated land use and aquaculture regulations with embarrassingly little result. During that time we’ve watched Virginia, Maryland and now Delaware soar past us in this blossoming industry that is crucial to a sustainable future here on the Delaware Bay.

In 2010 BaySave became the target of a NJDEP cease and desist order for oyster restoration research and then in 2015 and continuing into this year became the target of local township’s prosecution on Certificate of Occupancy law for our use of a bankrupt marina property as a nonprofit aquaculture co-op operation in Money Island while we are waiting for necessary government permits. This is surprising based on the strong degree of support expressed by state and federal elected officers and their staff. There is no debate about how powerful aquaculture could be in restoring our local economy. The $20 million annual seafood crop coming from Money Island could increase by tenfold with appropriate government cooperation.

At the pace we are moving, I won’t live long enough to see Money Island established as the hub of aquaculture development here in the state. Yesterday I received this email from the well-respected government relations specialist and political lobbyist for the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants:

“Tony, it sounds to me like you are doing almost everything humanly possible to move this issue forward. Very often, stupid regulations are simply never removed, despite the need for it. All I can suggest is that you stay in touch with Van Drew and that you forward your concerns about these regulations to the NJ Red Tape Review Commission. One other thing you might try is to get more people to write to the Governor on this issue. There is strength in numbers and ultimately all rules are repealed or initiated with the input of the Governor”.

I am already working with State Senator Van Drew, the Governor’s office and the Red Tape Commission (through a peer CPA who is a member of the commission) but have not tried to organize any mass public appeal directly to the governor’s office. Perhaps that is something I need to learn next.

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