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Ocean City pays $65K for falcons to scare hostile sea gulls from Boardwalk

OCEAN CITY — Ozzy the Eurasian eagle-owl is ready for his new summer job: patrolling the Boardwalk from thousands of feet in the air to scare off hungry sea gulls below.

The gulls in America’s Family Resort have grown more aggressive in their quest for French fries and pizza, the city has said, and now fed up officials are ready to ruffle some feathers.

The city has hired a team of professional bird trainers to deploy hawks, falcons and owls more than 2,000 feet above the Boardwalk (where it’s about 20 degrees cooler) to frighten the gulls and restore order to the popular vacation destination.

“It’s exactly like if a tiger ran in here. ... What would everybody do?” Erik Swanson, master falconer and owner of East Coast Falcons, told a large crowd outside the Music Pier as Ozzy, perched on his arm, began flapping his wings.

The gull abatement program costs $2,100 per day, or about $65,000 until Labor Day, said Mayor Jay Gillian. At the end of the summer, the city will decide whether to renew the contract with East Coast Falcons based on its success.

“We always try to look out of the box, and that’s what I think we’ve done here,” Gillian said before calling the gulls a “public safety hazard.”

How it works is simple, Swanson said.

Hawks and falcons will be set off into the skies every morning at 10 a.m. As predators, their mere presence will make the uneasy gulls flee. Swanson said the trainers control the raptors’ diets, so they’re not hungry and hunting while on duty. Owls take over for the night shift.

At the end of the day, the trainers blow a whistle and the birds return to land and are rewarded with a piece of quail meat. The sea gulls, he said, will go back to scavenging for fish and crab in the ocean.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said P.J. Simonis, holding a 17-week-old Harris hawk.

Swanson said the predators could attack a gull on occasion, but “that’s nature.”

On Monday, the raptors appeared to be doing their jobs well. The normally hectic Boardwalk was largely absent ravenous sea gulls swooping and dive bombing for scraps. The usual cacophony of squawks and kids’ screams died down.

And the masses were pleased.

“Thank you, mayor,” one woman yelled after Gillian stepped off stage.

The city has long had a tumultuous relationship with the shore bird. In 2015, police said a man beat a sea gull to death with a rolled towel to protect his 2-year-old child. A year later, officials passed an ordinance to fine people who feed the gulls in an attempt to limit their unnatural food supply.

Erica Medori, 34, of Marlton, was among the happy onlookers at Monday’s news conference. Walking down the Boardwalk last Thursday, she said, she witnessed a brutal theft: a flock of sea gulls swarmed over a child’s ice cream cone before knocking it to the ground and devouring it.

She hopes the city’s latest action brings peace to the beach.

Still, some are wary of the bird abatement technique.

Elle McGee, who has a summer home in Ocean City, said she was initially worried about where one of the largest laughing gull colonies in the U.S. will relocate to, and about the safety of nesting gull babies.

“It seems disruptive. ... When I first heard them talking about it, I thought, ‘Is this good?’ I don’t know,” said McGee, a birder and member of the Cape May Bird Observatory.

But Eric Stiles, president of NJ Audubon, said it’s a humane and common wildlife management practice. He said similar programs exist at airports and dumps throughout the state, though it is the first of its kind in an East Coast shore town.

He compared it to using border collies to chase Canada geese off of lawns.

“It’s one way to nonlethally manage bird populations,” Stiles said. “The idea is, sea gulls think, ‘If I see this predator frequently enough, I’m going to move on.’”

Judge's decision coming soon in Seaview Harbor's attempt to leave EHT

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Judge Julio Mendez is expected to rule soon on whether the Seaview Harbor community off the Longport causeway may cut its ties with the township and seek to join Longport.

The 92-home community between Somers Point and Longport, valued at $100 million, would also need Longport’s consent to change affiliation, however.

Longport Mayor Nick Russo has said he will put the question to voters via referendum. That would likely happen in 2020, he said.

“If they want to sell it to Longport, they have to stress the benefits (to Longport),” said Russo, adding his town has not done any fiscal analysis, since the judge hasn’t yet rendered an opinion. “In my personal opinion I think it would be good for Longport, because of the value added to the city.”

But township attorney Marc Friedman said Monday whoever loses in the case is likely to file an appeal, which would stop further movement in the case for an estimated 18 months.

In addition to the homes, the Seaview Marina would also become part of Longport, he said.

“It’s the only direct oceanfront marina in the state,” Russo said. “That should be an attraction.”

People who live in Seaview Harbor say it makes no sense for their community to remain part of Egg Harbor Township.

Its mailing addresses says Longport, drivers’ licenses for full-time residents say Longport, and emergency services are already provided by Longport.

“There is nothing wrong with Egg Harbor Township,” said 31-year resident Lolly McLaughlin, who supports affiliating with Longport. “It’s just too far.”

When she and her husband bought their lot, they assumed it was part of Longport, she said. Her house is just one mile from the municipal building in Longport, but more than seven miles from the one on Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township.

She has to drive through Somers Point or Linwood to get to Egg Harbor Township, and rarely goes there. She does most of her shopping in Somers Point and on Absecon Island, McLaughlin said.

“It’s one of those things where you are relating to where you live and close proximity to where you live,” McLaughlin said. “We are not doing it for the taxes.”

But there is no doubt property taxes on her large waterfront home, that overlooks the Longport skyline, would go down substantially if it were taxed in Longport — which has few children and no schools — rather than the township.

Longport’s total tax rate in 2018 was $0.984, while Egg Harbor Township’s was $3.142.

McLaughlin pays more than $36,000 a year in property taxes, she said.

Seaview Harbor is full of large, expensive homes on the bay or man-made lagoons. It generates millions per year in tax receipts for the township. After a revaluation in 2012, the average home there paid a property-tax bill of about $24,000 a year.

If the neighborhood is allowed to leave, the average property bill will likely drop precipitously. The average home, if part of Longport, would pay just less than $7,700 in property taxes, residents have said.

McLaughlin’s neighbor Jackie Norris said it’s always Longport police and fire who respond in an emergency. When she accidentally left her front door open, and someone reported it to 911, it was Longport police who drove over to make sure everything was OK, Norris said.

Russo said the Longport Volunteer Fire Department is often the first to get there, but when Egg Harbor Township fire trucks arrive they are in charge of the fire scene. Longport police respond to 911 calls but do not routinely patrol there, Russo said.

He said Longport supplies ambulance service, since it is so much closer.

Norris, who moved there in 2017, said she is concerned about taxes because it’s more difficult to sell homes when buyers see the tax bills.

“When we moved in we paid $665,000, but our taxes were $28,000 a year,” she said.

She was successful in getting them reduced to $21,000, based on the sales price.

She estimated her tax bill would fall to about $10,000 a year in Longport.

“And Longport has a prestigious name,” Norris said. She said she believes there is only one child going to township schools from Seaview Harbor.

Egg Harbor Township is fighting to keep the high value community within its borders, arguing the services it provides to it are the same as it provides elsewhere in the township, with the exception of emergency services.

The Seaview Harbor Community Club filed the petition to leave the township and join Longport in 2014, saying its members do not feel part of the township and claiming township services are lesser there because of its location.

However, former township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough lived in Seaview Harbor for decades, and the township has argued strenuously that services there never suffered.

McCullough moved to Atlantic City last year, and his house was demolished this summer, along with a house next door, after both were bought by a neighbor who plans to build a dream home on the two lots.

McCullough has said he moved to escape $34,000 per year in property taxes on his waterfront home. He recused himself from decisions regarding the petition.

Two South Jersey men tell their tales of the music business

Two men with connections to South Jersey had their artistic peaks during the 1970s and ’80s in the music business and lived to write books about it.

D.L. Byron, who grew up in Vineland and lived in Cape May and Ocean City, composed the hit “Shadows of the Night” for 1980s rock singer Pat Benatar and wrote a book of the same name.

Robert L. Heimall, a resident of the Villas section of Lower Township, was a former art director for Elektra Records and art director and creative director for Arista Records during the 1970s. He created more than 200 album covers for four different record labels. He recently wrote the book “Cover Stories: Tales of rock legends and the albums that made them famous.”

As an art director, Heimall, now 76, would immerse himself in listening to an artist’s voice and music, and what they were really saying in their lyrics. His job was to visually communicate what their music was about.

“It was not just the lyrics, but what was behind the lyrics, the emotions and everything,” said Heimall, who added he used to drive into work playing the music of whatever project he was working on as loud as he could.

In the case of Carly Simon, a 1970s singer-songwriter, Heimall met her when she was still singing jingles.

“When she came in, she was a little bit shy. ... What I wanted to do was make her sexy,” said Heimall, who added his goal was to project a sexy, but sophisticated look for her.

Heimall did her first three album covers, “Carly Simon” and “Anticipation,” both from 1971, and “No Secrets” from 1972, which contains her only No. 1 pop hit, “You’re So Vain,” and sold more than 500,000 copies.

For Patti Smith’s debut album, “Horses” from 1975, she came in with a bunch of photos that were taken by her friend, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, so Heimall had many options.

“After listening to her music and staring at the picture, I said, ‘This is the image,’” Heimall said.

Heimall chose the photograph that was a waist-high shot of Smith in a white shirt and dark jeans with a black ribbon draped over her shoulders and a jacket slung over her left shoulder as she leans against a white wall.

The straightforward image on the cover matches the minimalist rock and roll on the record.

“Horses” was the first major label punk-rock album. In 2013, Rolling Stone ranked “Horses” as No. 10 on its list of the 100 best debut albums of all time.

Similar to Heimall, Byron did not become famous in his own right, but he used his talents to give a major assist to the career of Benatar and was able to make a living as a full-time songwriter.

Byron, 68, solely wrote “Shadows of the Night,” a song that reached No. 13 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1982. The tune also earned Benatar her third Grammy Award for best female rock vocal performance.

Byron has lived in Cape May, where he met his wife, and had a house until three years ago in Ocean City. He grew up in Vineland and left at age 18 to pursue a music career.

Byron signed to Arista Records in 1979 and released his debut solo album, “This Day and Age,” in 1980. Byron and his band played at now defunct Bottom Line and the former Ritz in New York City and the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. He also opened for Bob Seger.

Byron has released 10 albums, but “Shadows of the Night” is the most commercially successful tune he ever wrote.

The song appears in the 2012 film adaptation of “Rock of Ages,” where R&B singer Mary J. Blige sings part of it.

“I’m really grateful. There was a 10th-anniversary performance of ‘Rock of Ages’ and a 16-week run (this summer on the New York Stage),” Byron said. “I’m really happy that it’s had a long shelf life.”

New Jersey enacts 3 gun violence intervention laws

TRENTON — New Jersey on Monday enacted three laws designed to help victims of gun violence avoid becoming hurt again by firearms or seeking out retaliation.

The new laws add to New Jersey’s growing list of at least 10 gun-related laws enacted in the past year and come after weekend firearm attacks in Texas and Ohio left 31 dead.

The new legislation’s co-author, Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, said the timing of the enactments is purely a tragic coincidence.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver signed the measures Monday at the governor’s office while Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is out of the state on vacation.

The new legislation is designed to combat retaliatory violence, such as gang violence, rather than mass shootings conducted against random people.

One measure requires the Health Department to establish a violence intervention plan to lower the risk of reinjury or retaliatory violence.

“I like the idea of these type of bills, which perhaps get down to the root of the issue of gun violence,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic. “They will help to link victims to new resources, and perhaps break that cycle and get people back on track here.”

Greenwald said in an interview that lawmakers looked at similar programs in Baltimore and at the state level in Massachusetts. He says lawmakers reviewed studies that showed victims of gun violence face greater risks of becoming victims again or seeking out retaliation.

Another new law requires top-level trauma centers to have similar plans in place. The third bill requires the state’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office to partner with trauma centers to get victims into intervention programs.

Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler said law enforcement in the country overall has changed tactics over the past decade in response to mass shootings. Law enforcement previously responded, then set up a perimeter and worked to figure out the situation.

He said that approach is no longer the case.

“One or two officers will make a direct B-line for the threat and engage that threat right away,” he said. “And we know that that has helped extremely to reduce casualties.”

He pointed to the response to the fatal shooting at a festival in Gilroy, California, where three officers confronted the shooter less than a minute after he began the attack and killed him, despite being armed only with handguns.

“That threat was engaged within minutes, and he still was able to do a lot of damage unfortunately, but it would’ve been a lot more if those officers didn’t engage right away,” he said.

Scheffler has done his own work locally to prepare law enforcement and civilians for this kind of active shooter situations.

Over the past year and a half, Scheffler has given 90 lectures titled “Becoming your own first responder” at local churches, synagogues, hospitals and offices.

In them, he helps people consider different threats and consider smaller actions instead of trying to “win the day.” He also teaches courses on bleeding control to maximize survival.

New Jersey under Murphy has enacted a number of firearms laws. In June, he signed a bill to make so-called smart guns that can be fired only by authorized users available in the state. In July 2018, he signed a half-dozen gun control measures, including a bill to cap magazine capacity at 10 rounds, down from 15.

In a statement over the weekend, Murphy called on Congress and the president to pursue gun control legislation.

“Over the past 18 months, we have taken tremendous strides to end the crisis of gun violence in our state, but we cannot have these advances undone by continued inaction and deflection at the national level,” Murphy said.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, said he supports universal background checks in all states, for all weapon purchases. A bill to require them in all cases passed the House earlier this year, but has not yet been taken up by the Senate, he said.

“You are hearing this from somebody who has always been a Second Amendment proponent, who owns guns himself,” Van Drew said. “But there has never been a day that I spoke against universal background checks and better ones.”

Van Drew said he would like to see the law changed to expand the investigations done on would-be weapons purchasers, to include social media checks.

“Most of the time these people literally let us know they were going to do this,” he said of mass shooters. “They have been on the internet talking about it.”

Staff Writers Amanda Auble and Michelle Brunetti Post contributed to this report.