Parts of Money Island were under more than a foot of water during the recent winter storms, a situation that residents of the small Delaware Bay community have dealt with for decades.
But just how long those residents will remain on Money Island, and whether the community on the low-lying bump of land in Downe Township along the Cumberland County shoreline will survive into the future, is being debated.
Money Island is the new target for the state’s Blue Acres program, a post-Hurricane Sandy endeavor under which New Jersey buys properties in flood-prone areas. The state Department of Environmental Protection has offered to buy six of the 43 targeted properties. Two of the offers were accepted, the DEP said.
Jeanne Vanveldt, one of Money Island’s few year-round residents, said she doesn’t plan to sell her property, the condition of which she admits grows worse with each bad storm. She nonetheless worries about what will happen if enough Money Island residents sell out, contending it will give the state less incentive to protect the residents who choose to stay.
“Where am I going to go?” she asked.
The sea is rising. The land is sinking. Entire mid-Atlantic communities are anchored in betw…
Downe Township Mayor Robert Campbell said the proposed Blue Acres buyouts on Money Island could have a devastating financial impact on his poor, rural community.
The Delaware Bay communities of Money Island, Gandys Beach and Fortescue make up about 68 percent of the township’s tax base, he said. The township faces an estimated $9 million in lost ratables if all the targeted Money Island properties are sold, he said. Replacing that tax base would be difficult, as about 85 percent of township land is tax-exempt and under some kind of government protection, he said.
“For me, it’s the nail in the coffin of Downe Township,” Campbell said of Blue Acres.
There also could be a spillover effect to Cumberland County’s estimated $200 million Delaware Bay oyster industry and commercial and recreational fishing industries, he said. Money Island is home to part of that oyster fleet, he said.
Blue Acres proponents stand firm in support of the program.
“The Blue Acres buyout program is committed to … moving residents in flood-prone communities to safer ground so those families can enjoy their homes and live without fear of additional flooding and damages,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “Keeping residents safe is just one part of our multipronged approach to make New Jersey more flood-resilient.”
Environmental groups such as the New Jersey Sierra Club argue the state should spend more money on Blue Acres purchases, including in Money Island. Club Director Jeff Tittel contends Campbell is being “shortsighted” and that Campbell’s Blue Acres opposition is “leaving people in harm’s way.”
“If you do not buy out these flood-prone homes, you’re putting the people and property in danger,” he said. “When their homes get destroyed in the next storm, the towns will lose their ratables anyway.
“It’s not only risky for the people living there, but also for the first responders who have to rescue them,” he said. “Then you have to consider the cost to the taxpayers when you have to rebuild yet again.”
Campbell and some other Money Island residents also worry that Blue Acres could result in Money Island becoming another of Cumberland County’s lost Delaware Bay hamlets.
The caviar docks at Bayside in Greenwich Township were consumed by the bay many years ago. The bay’s encroachment forced the evacuation in the 1990s of the now-abandoned communities of Thompsons Beach and Moores Beach in Maurice River Township. The state also bought the properties of Fairfield Township’s Sea Breeze residents after a storm washed out a protective bulkhead in 2007.
Money Island resident Meghan Wren said losing too many of her neighbors could leave a “hole in the community” that leads to Money Island’s demise, which would deprive Cumberland County of another place “where you get people to care about the bay.”
Money Island is one of two places in Cumberland County where Blue Acres is buying up property. The DEP is also offering to buy 43 properties in Bay Point in Lawrence Township.
The offers — 30 of which the DEP said were accepted — are part of an overall $10.2 million plan to convert the area into a wildlife habitat.
Many Bay Point homes were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. DEP officials said Bay Point’s access road continues to flood.
As for now, Campbell said his township has hosted Blue Acres meetings about Money Island and cooperated with the state. He said the state shouldn’t take that as a signal that everyone in his municipality is happy about the program and what it could mean financially for local government.
“We can’t pay our bills if we don’t have a paycheck,” he said. “Our paycheck is the revenue we get from property taxes.”