Superstorm Sandy Update at 5 1/2 Years

The government-created “disaster after the disaster” continues to dominate our lives. Virtually all government cooperation is still lacking at this point five and a half years after Sandy.

We have recently crossed the five and a half year mark since superstorm Sandy devastated our community and much of the damage has not yet been repaired. Fraud, mismanagement and red tape within the government systems that administer post-Sandy rebuilding programs are mostly to blame. We have plans and funding ready now but lack government approval to proceed. Many of the local people who initiated the “No retreat – Save the bayshore communities” campaign have sold their properties and moved out over the past year. Those who remain are deeply entrenched in a battle with government to negotiate a plan for recovery and sustainability.

Some of the issues that specifically hamper Money Island, New Jersey recovery are:

  1. New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance declined to investigate sales practices of insurance companies that sold inappropriate and inadequate coverage.
  2. The National Flood Insurance Program admitted fraud and mismanagement in handling flood insurance claims but continued to deny payment on those claims anyway. Policyholders have been forced to settle for lesser amounts or give up die to high legal costs of pursuing their claim in court.
  3. Most recovery programs were denied to homeowners and businesses on the New Jersey bay shore region. We read that 98% of all post-Sandy Small Business Administration loan applications were denied.
  4. Almost all of the applications, pre-application meetings and project proposal applications for post-Sandy recovery work at Money Island have been denied.
  5. The Trump administration announced the removal of funds promised and approved by Congress for post-Sandy mitigation programs. Citizen activists like me believe that the Trump action is retaliatory against east coast states like New York and New Jersey that are suing Trump and his government in multiple actions. Both of our New Jersey Senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, as well as our Congressman Frank LoBiondo and other states’ Senators, opposed the move and sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asking for a one year extension for projects that are underway but not yet complete. The letter is part of a bipartisan effort of Congress to keep the projects funded because we have simply not had enough time to meet all the rebuilding requirements.
  6. On June 8, 2018 the Trump administration reversed course and announced that it will not pull back previously approved funds.
  7. On Monday June 11, 2018 when NJ activist Doug Quinn addressed FEMA administrator Brock Long about specific policy provisions at the National Flood Conference in Washington, DC on Monday to address the Congressman’s’ letter this week, NFIP administrator Brok Long said “I’m not going to answer that”, then shut down the meeting to questioning and walked off the stage. Quinn later wrote that the event “was a learning experience. We have no friends there”.
  8. On the same day, June 11, 2018, at the public meeting of Downe Township Committee mayor Bob Campbell said that FEMA officials admit that post-Sandy projects they intend to see completed are still incomplete here in our township. There was no discussion of a timetable for the federally funded projects.
  9. Last month the New Jersey Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Tony Novak and others for failure to make progress on post-Sandy recovery despite the track record of more than ten applications and pre-application proposals to do so.

Given the history of what we call “the disaster after the disaster” I am not optimistic about any immediate change in government’s role in our future recovery. We will continue to push for our recovery and long term sustainability at a grass roots level for years to come. We are able to rebuild under the various regional and local recovery plans but we need government permission and cooperation to do so. We also need funding for those aspects of the recovery projects that benefit the public interest rather than just private businesses and homeowners. Virtually all government cooperation is still lacking at this point five and a half years after Sandy.

I anticipate at least two more years will be required to settle existing litigation and appeals and then return to the process of rebuilding. The legal battles are a waste of time and money that only enrich the lawyers on both sides but we don’t think that it is likely that government will act responsibly or come to our aid anytime soon.

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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:

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