In the midst of so much other crazy national news today, many did not notice that the Department of Agriculture issued a statement supporting the Trump administration in its efforts to overturn a ban of the dangerous insecticide Chlorpyrifos. The EPA had previously determined to be unsafe at any levels. The chemical is especially dangerous to fish and aquatic organisms as confirmed by multiple scientific tests.
The Trump administration overturned the ban after the CEO of Dow Chemical, who manufactures the chemical, had been appointed by Trump to a White House manufacturing working group, and his company subsequently donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration fund. The company’s CEO Liveris met with EPA Chief Pruitt prior to the announcement reversing the ban of the dangerous chemical. The reason given to allow the chemical’s continued use? It increases profits of farmers.
Tony’s personal letter of support and small financial contribution for Dr. Jeff Van Drew’s campaign.
letter to Van Drew for Congress (PDF)
I had an interesting meeting with a well-connected civil engineer on site here at Money Island yesterday afternoon. Hours earlier, I had a long telephone conversation with the Money Island project manager for The Nature Conservancy. Both conversations added valuable insights.
The TNC official echoed an opinion that I hear often from environmentalists: although they personally support Money Island’s sustainability plan, they believe that certain people in mid-level state management at NJDEP do not. Some state employees would prefer that people abandon Money Island to nature. This is commonly referred to in environmental discussions as a “retreat strategy”. The retreat strategy is certainly worth full consideration. Eventually, with three feet of sea level rise, our town and millions of acres of shoreline will be gone. My response is always the same two points:
- More water is actually good for the future of aquaculture! It may not be good for roads, buildings or traditional infrastructure but we can certainly work around that with currently available construction modifications. Our core mission of providing public, industry and government access to local waterways will not be impaired by future water level rise. (I usually continue the conversation to discuss how Rutgers’ most recent forecasts of tidal impact and flooding trends for the next 30 to 50 years are built into our sustainability plan but don’t need to go into that detail here).
- Life is too short to fight the government. If I suspected that the retreat path was the opinion of state leadership, including NJDEP leadership, then I would change course. Life is too short to be in a battle against the prevailing force of government. But this is not the case. Every high-ranking official in NJDEP and state government that I’ve spoken with – probably more than two dozen by now – have all told me that they support the project and urge m to ‘stay the course’. Some warned me that the road will be difficult and that I will need to be persistent and ‘keep fighting’. Many of these government leaders have even given me pep talks to keep me going through this current struggle, pointing out how important this mission is to future generations. That’s what motivates me. That’s why I stick with the project.
The engineer had more pragmatic comments:
- He agrees with the prevailing opinion that NJDEP should not be taking the current prosecutorial actions against marina infrastructure (our docks) that predate the beginning of permitting requirement laws in the 1970s. Granted, there are a lot of factual details that muddy the situation (historic photography, old land surveys, post-Sandy reconstruction law, etc.) but the core fact remains that our original marina and docks were built in the 1930s before land use permitting were required and therefore should be grandfathered to some extent.
- He asked several times “Why are they…?” and my response in each instance was that we don’t have the legal muscle to show where the state has made factual or legal errors in their prosecution of Money Island stakeholders. In contrast, the state has unlimited legal resources and seems intent on using these resources against us rather than negotiate through traditional problem-solving channels. I referred these factual and legal errors in the courtroom but the judge did not seem to give my objections serious consideration. Without a budget for legal defense, I don’t see any reasonable chance of addressing the state’s errors.
- He says that the fundamental underlying problem is that the state has not yet come to grips with the impact of water level rise on our wetlands and the infrastructure resources in these locations. While viable management approaches are proposed, we aren’t making adequate progress toward implementation. We discussed different aspects of thin layer dredge spray that is part of the Money Island sustainability plan. I suspect that not many people are familiar with this proposal so I would say only that it is public policy that makes a lot more sense from a public policy perspective than our current strategy of pumping sand on the Atlantic coast beaches! Workable sustainability solutions are available if we choose to pursue them.
- The usual first step in planning a project like this is called a pre-permit meeting with a wide range of stakeholders. He doesn’t understand why our requests for a meeting were declined. We discussed the thinking of certain department officials and how those have been addressed in other similar projects. His opinion, based on our exchange of bits of facts and third-party conversations, that our project does have the support of the most influential people who have been effective recently in getting the NJDEP to change their thinking about bayshore sustainability. We discussed the cost of this permitting and told me what I already knew: I would need to find a loan to cover the cost of land use permitting. we didn’t discuss that I’m already working on it or my frustration that the process is moving so slowly.
One week ago today the New Jersey Superior Court issued an order that I must apply for a range of land use permits for Money Island within 30 days. The immensity of the task is overwhelming. I’ve heard from others who have experience in the land use permitting business that it will be impossible to meet the deadline but I am resolved to do the best job I can. I spoke with the proposed project engineer and government consultant have not yet responded to my request for work proposal, Most concerning is that the proposed investors have abandoned the project after learning of the strict court order. They envisioned working with a more cooperative government and they view the current action as hostile. I will make applications and appeals for new sources of funding but for now I am focused on completing the permitting process.
Today I spent most of the day on the NJDEP fuel tank permit and Fire Safety issues. It felt good to finally makes some progress with these difficult government requirements. I found government resources to be helpful but my contacts in the private sector to be unfamiliar with the concepts. FOr example, our fuel delivery company was unable to respond to the type of air pollution control system in use at the point of fuel delivery.
For the other issues, the Office of Consumer Affairs controls the fire safety issues and they raised new issues that have not been raised before in decades of annual inspections. These new requirements trigger additional expenses. These are also the subject of a 30 day order but I don’t know what relative authority the two orders have in relation to each other. The point is that I can accomplish both, but don’t have enough money to pay for both orders at once.
I estimate that the fuel tank permit application will cost about $800 and the Fire Safety order will cost about $800. The marina business has no net revenue and has actually run at a deficit for at least ten years. So the money comes from my own earnings or other sources. I’ve budgeted $500 per month for the permitting costs which is all I can possibly contribute. The challenge now seems to be convincing government to give me more time to pay. We’ll see how that goes.
By the end of the summer I expect to meet the new fuel tank permit demands and the new Fire Safety demands. Then we can turn attention to wastewater management, shoreline development, and other unresolved issues.
This cartoon by Darrin Bell of The New Yorker illustrates the obsession we have with the false belief that “bigger is better”. Our State of New Jersey and the Marine Fisheries Council have fallen into the trap that encourages recreational fishermen to harvest the largest breeding stock fish while throwing smaller ones back, often to die.
Scientists know that this practice is unsustainable. Yet we as a society refuse to change it. Yet we are not alone. History provides plenty of example where denial of the facts led to extinction of species, even of humans. One thing we do know about extinction is that it happens more rapidly than anyone would have guessed. We are living dangerously when we focus on “bigger is better”.
Sustainable fishing depends on managing the harvest of smaller and more abundant juvenile fish. Large trophy fish should be protected, or at least should not be the target. There is no shame in that, and in fact should be promoted as a positive approach. I’ve been told directly by industry and government leaders that this practice won’t change in my lifetime no matter how loudly the scientific and environmental communities object.
We live in an age where ignoring and/or denying facts is popular. All I can do is to be a voice for the truth. I am individually committed to encouraging sustainable fisheries and my small business will do what it can to change the current culture of “bigger is better”.
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.