Widespread shaking was felt across much of South Jersey about 4:50 p.m. Thursday, after an earthquake was reported in Delaware.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 4.1 magnitude earthquake centered 6.2 miles to the east-northeast of Dover, Delaware.
The coordinates of the quake put its center in the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, at a depth of about 5 miles.
The earthquake was first reported as magnitude 5.1 by the United States Geological Survey, but was downgraded twice. According to Michigan Tech, earthquakes with magnitudes between 4.0 and 4.9 are considered “light” and cause only minor damage. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Earthquakes in South Jersey and the mid-Atlantic usually occur when slowly accumulated strain within the Earth’s crust is suddenly released along a fault line. That strain translates into seismic waves that move along the surface and within the earth.
Reports of shaking were felt as far north as Poughkeepsie, New York, to as far south as Richmond, Virginia. South Jersey residents have reported the shaking in Galloway Township as well as throughout Cape May County.
“Interesting geological news coming from our neighbors in Dover, Delaware. Stay safe #SouthJersey & listen to official guidance on aftershocks etc.,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.
Martin Pagliughi, coordinator of the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, said he felt the tremors.
“It seemed like an earthquake because it lasted several seconds,” Pagliughi said. “It was not a sonic boom-type shaking.”
Emergency management officials received many calls after the tremors, Pagliughi said. He said his office was reaching out to the National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey for more information.
Since 1950, there have been nine earthquakes in the mid-Atlantic region as strong as or stronger than what was felt Thursday. Most recently, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook central Virginia on Aug. 23, 2011. This caused buildings to sway across the region and millions of dollars in damage.
Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the USGS’s earthquake information center in Colorado, said he didn’t expect any significant damage from the small quake, which he described as unusual.
“I was talking with the other seismologists and we said, ‘Wow, we don’t ever remember a quake in Delaware,’” he said.
The quake jolted the downtown area of the state capital, Dover, sending a handful of lawmakers and workers in the statehouse outdoors to see what happened as area residents gathered for the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony a couple of blocks away.
Gary Laing, a spokesman for the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said in an email 30 minutes after the quake there were no reports of damage.
In Baltimore, the jolt was strong enough to send some people streaming out of buildings and into the streets.
Husam Albarmawi, a 30-year-old graduate student at the University of Maryland, rushed out of an apartment tower with his wife when they felt two separate jolts about 20 seconds apart in their 23rd-story apartment.
“When we felt it, we looked at each other like, ‘Are we losing it?’” Albarmawi said as he and his wife ventured back to their apartment. “It was actually pretty scary and pretty surprising.”
Sgt. Rene Carberry, a spokeswoman at Dover Air Force Base, said people on the military installation felt the tremor; some went outside to see if something had fallen down. Carberry, who is from the West Coast, said she told co-workers, “I’m pretty sure this is an earthquake.”
Carberry said there were no signs of damage at the base, and no change in operations was expected.
For some area residents, the event stirred memories of the 2011 earthquake. Its impact included damage to the Washington Monument and National Cathedral in Washington, both of which are still undergoing repairs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
ATLANTIC CITY — Attorneys for Atlantic County and a citizens group asked a Superior Court judge Thursday to strike down the state law that changed casino tax payments to a flat rate, even though the county is benefiting under the plan.
Ronald J. Riccio, attorney for the county, said Thursday during a hearing on the constitutionality of the agreement in front of Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez the law allows casino properties to make improvements without having to worry about the tax impacts.
The county claims the agreement is unconstitutional and does not meet federal uniformity code, which states businesses should be taxed the same way.
“This is something that should have been put up for a public referendum, but they knew they couldn’t get the voters to pass,” Riccio said during the hearing. “One of the issues with this legislation is that it was written by the casino industry. This sausage got made by the casinos and the lawmakers, not the people.”
Following more than 2½ hours of testimony, Mendez said he would review the arguments and rule in the future. Both Liberty and Prosperity, a constitutional advocacy group, and the county have sued the state to block the law.
“Every time you single out entities and provided them with something that is different than everyone else, it raises concerns,” Mendez said.
The casino PILOT program requires casinos to collectively pay $120 million this year instead of property taxes. But with higher than expected gross gaming revenues, casinos are expected to pay $130 million this year.
The measure was intended to stabilize the city’s tax-collection base, which had been fluctuating wildly after a rash of costly casino tax appeals. Those appeals led to a massive budget deficit and the eventual state takeover, which is about to enter its second year.
The county claims not receiving a 13.5 percent share of PILOT revenues will lead to tax increases. During the hearing, attorneys for the state said the county did not meet certain criteria for receiving the full share.
Despite their objections, the county received more in tax revenue from the casino industry than it would have under the traditional property-tax payment system, said John Lloyd, attorney for the state.
“The goal of the PILOT agreement was to bring stability to the city and prevent hundreds of millions dollars in tax appeals,” Lloyd said.
Under the traditional plan, the county would have received $11.3 million, but with the agreement, the county receives $12.4 million in tax revenue from the casinos. According to the county, the loss of ratable value caused by removing the casinos from the tax base lowered the resort’s share of county taxes by far more than could be corrected by only receiving 10.4 percent share of the funds. While the casinos paid more, the City as a whole paid nearly $5 million less in 2017, said Gerald DelRosso, county administrator.
A group of volunteers banded a snowy owl at Island Beach State Park on Wednesday, as part of Project SNOWstorm.
It’s an effort to learn more about the birds, which are rare visitors to New Jersey, by putting electronic transmitters on them and following their movements.
Snowy owls spend most of their lives in the Arctic, only rarely flying as far south as New Jersey. But New Jersey Audubon, which had volunteers at the banding, predicts 2017 will be a big year for snowy owls in New Jersey.
A strong Arctic breeding season will force more birds to head south for food, an organization spokesman said.
Project SNOWstorm partners had heard about the snowy owl at Island Beach State Park in Berkeley Township, north across the inlet from Barnegat Light.
They headed there early Wednesday. They trapped the bird in a net, quickly banded and fitted it with a transmitter, then released it back into the wild by 7:55 a.m., a New Jersey Audubon spokesman said.
The bird has been nicknamed Island Beach.
Project SNOWstorm is a national, all-volunteer snowy owl research and conservation organization, of which New Jersey Audubon is a partner. The group was founded in 2013, when an unusually high number of snowy owls spent part of the winter in the United States. Some birds traveled as far as Florida and Bermuda, according to New Jersey Audubon.
“These birds are like little gifts from nature, and no matter whether it’s your first or your 50th, you always get goosebumps when you’re fortunate enough to encounter a snowy owl,” said David La Puma, director of New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, who was there for the banding.
The bird was caught by Mike Lanzone, president and CEO of Cellular Tracking Technologies, which is donating the transmitter, New Jersey Audubon said.
This bird was large enough to handle the transmitter, which weighs about 40 grams — as much as seven U.S. quarters. It must be less than 3 percent of the bird’s weight or it could adversely affect the animal, New Jersey Audubon said.
La Puma said people must keep their distance from the owls, to avoid stressing them. He suggested they remain in their cars, use a spotting scope and a telephoto lens, and watch from a safe distance.
“A good rule of thumb is an owl at rest is an unstressed owl,” he said. “Alert eyes and/or an upright posture are signs that you are too close.”
Transmitters cost about $3,000 each and New Jersey Audubon is raising money to purchase one. The goal of Project SNOWstorm is to install 15 transmitters nationally, and two in New Jersey. Learn more at njaudubon.org and ProjectSNOWstorm.org.
More New Jersey residents have signed up for Obamacare health insurance plans this year over last so far, but it is too early to tell if the final numbers will reveal a rise or drop in the state’s insured population.
The 79,212 plan selections through the Obamacare, or Affordable Care Act, marketplace by New Jersey residents in the first four weeks of open enrollment is up 21 percent from last year, federal data show, indicating people were quicker to sign up than in previous years.
Many national and local experts predicted a shortened enrollment period — only six weeks this year, compared with three months in 2016 — would lead to an overall decline in the number of people who choose health coverage on HealthCare.gov.
President Donald Trump announced in October he would cut off cost-sharing payments for insurers and the White House announced this summer it would cut the outreach and education budget for Obamacare by 90 percent, going from $100 million to $10 million.
Both these changes, in addition to constant turmoil in Washington, D.C., over health-care reform, made health experts worry people who needed insurance coverage through Obamacare would not get it or seek it.
Joel Cantor, founding director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, said based on the preliminary enrollment numbers, New Jersey is not on track to hit the number of people who selected plans last year.
More than 215,000 people would have to reselect new plans or become new Obamacare consumers in the next two weeks before the Dec. 15 deadline.
Although that seems like a lot of people in a short time, Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said many continuing Obamacare consumers will likely get automatically re-enrolled for coverage at the end of open enrollment.
“In New Jersey, since no carriers exited (the marketplace), there are probably more people who will be automatically re-enrolled compared to some other states where people had to pick new plans,” she said.
Hempstead said it is hard to know what the state’s insured population will look like for 2018, especially considering Obamacare’s automatic re-enrollment and the unknown number of people getting coverage in the individual market outside of the Obamacare exchange.
“I think, overall, most people think the market will be down this year ... but no one knows for sure, and I think the environment in the individual state is important,” Hempstead said. “New Jersey’s market situation is not that bad — we got a new carrier and premiums did not go up that much ... so maybe NJ won’t have as much fall-off as some other states.”
Nationally, almost 2.8 million Americans selected insurance plans Nov. 1-25, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Enrollment across the country is up about 30 percent over last year.