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Op/Ed:

Money Island NJ accountant responds to a neighbor's frustration with lack of government action in response to sea level rise and the neighbor's statement that properties will be worthless:

This except comes from a letter from Tony Novak, CPA, president of BaySave Foundation, to a neighbor at Money Island New Jersey, a small community on the Delaware Bay shore.

"As long as we've known each other, there has been much talk and no action. Nothing has really changed here at Money Island.  

The important thing to consider for our properties is that sea level rise will certainly change the uses as we have known them - i.e. "worthless for development" as you stated in the traditional context but still valuable for other purposes. "Valuable" is yet to be defined, perhaps based on uses and technologies not yet developed.  

Consider the main three things that the state (primarily through NJDEP and to a lesser extend through the Governor's office) is saying about the Delaware Bay shore: 1) we cannot afford to protect many of our bay shore communities, 2) we want to preserve recreational access to the state's natural areas as a public resource, and 3) We will increase aquaculture by tenfold over the next decade. Those three points are key to understanding our future.

As much as we'd like to preserve the status quo of our community, we simply can’t afford it. The amount of money that it would take to preserve the homes on our communities is astronomical and unprecedented as measured per capita both a commercial and governmental perspective. Unless Downe suddenly becomes the favorite getaway of the rich and famous, we are not going to see the dollars necessary to deal with rising water levels.

On the second point, there is no evidence to support viability of eco-tourism or recreational use as a significant economic or political factor in the future of our communities. Our eco-tourism efforts have largely been a bust. Too few people really care about the issue, there are too few dollars and too few votes at stake to really make a difference. Recreational marinas on the Delaware Bay shore like Money Island, Bay Point, Newport Landing, Fortescue and Gandy's Beach that were once supported by recreational fishing have no chance of economic survival going forward. The island will remain a beautiful place to watch birds and go fishing, but we don’t count on that for future economic support.

 Money Island will play a role as NJ expands its aquaculture industry and commercial fisheries. In fact, we could make an argument that the same factors that destroy it as a residential community (declining property values, damaged roadways, lack of building permits, lack of available insurance or mortgage financing, condemnation of buildings, etc.) actually increase its usefulness as an aquaculture and commercial fishery site (expanding inter-tidal zones available for future lease, deeper waterways, more affordable for commercial watermen, etc.) and as a recreational site as witnessed by the state's unwillingness to buy out local marinas and continued funding of clean water initiatives. As evidence, consider that we've seen no "regular" sales of residential properties at MI (excluding related party transfers) since 2005 but sales of commercial docks have been competitive and remain a hot issue even this season.

I've been involved with this issue that is central to our future since the mid-1990s and so far it is only talk. My fiscal prediction a decade ago that Downe township may become one of the first municipal casualties of sea level rise was certainly not popular locally. More recently I've focused my efforts on the transformation of Money Island from its history as a recreational marina community to its future as a working waterfront and eco-tourism destination. Money Island will continue to be here for you to enjoy. No one is forcing you out. It will be expensive to maintain your house and eventually replace essential services that are usually provided by the municipality, but that is up to you.  

You are right that within our lifetime we will see real change and action. To paraphrase Churchill "We can count on our government to do the right thing after they've tried everything else"."

Novak has been a part time resident of Money Island since 1995 and an activist in sea level rise response for communities and businesses in the mid-Atlantic states. In 2003 he predicted that Downe Township NJ may become one of the first municipalities to collapse under the economic impact of sea level rise. In 2008 he established BaySave Corporation as a non-profit educational project and in 2012 assumed a governing role in Money Island Marina. After Sandy, he was forced to relocate to Philadelphia and is uncertain about plans to return to the community as a resident.

 

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