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.
Most of the infrastructure projects at the Money Island Marina community are developed and managed locally but funded through a combination of private and public funds. The most common funding formula is that we fund 100% of a project in advance and then the state uses federal funding to reimburse 75% of the approved costs. Since not all costs are refundable, it usually works out to something like a 50/50 split. We work with governments and other partners whenever possible to reach a level of cooperation that allows important projects to move forward.
While nothing is certain yet, this blog post is simply meant to build a list of the possible consequences of the Republican’s new budget slashing of environmental programs funded directly or indirectly through the EPA that would change Money Island New Jersey operating plan for 2017 and beyond:
- shoreline stabilization projects
- oyster reef recovery research
- dune building research
- channel dredging*
- roadway stabilization*
- waste water handling system
- boat pump out station
- boat ramp extension
- transient vessel dockage
- aquaculture education program
- waterfront development permits for aquaculture
- underground storage tank removal
- oyster safety monitoring program*
- overharvesting enforcement*
* These are 100% government controlled and funded, partially through EPA funds paid to the state.
We will continue to communicate with our partners as well as federal and state agencies to try to keep these projects on track. However, if the funding offer from federal government is withdrawn, we will likely be stalled here for an uncertain time.
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.
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.
I spent about an hour on Friday with a NJDEP official from the Bureau of Tidelands Management. There are vague stories that the prior owners of Money Island Marina did not pay the tidelands lease fees since the 1970s. What I do know is that when the prior owner emerged from the most recent bankruptcy, the NJDEP placed a lien on the properties. The language of the property lien makes it clear that it s due to actions (or inactions) of prior owners and not the current owner. We have been so busy with emergency Sandy repairs for the last four years (that are being worked out still), that I have had no time to work on it until now.
We understand that there are three types of NJDEP violations and one open investigation on these properties. At this point, I have to start with just one of them. The immediate first goal is to quantify and begin the process of paying off the old tidelands lease fees.
So I’ve spent a few hours this week beginning work on this project. The next step may involve a trip to Trenton for some in-person discussion. I will post again as BaySave makes progress.