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Volunteers to tackle Gardner's Basin trash

ATLANTIC CITY — Frustrated by a lack of response to what they consider an “emergency situation,” a group of volunteers has organized a cleanup for Gardner’s Basin next week., a group of environmentally conscious young people founded by brothers A.J. and Dorian Elmore, 17 and 21, both of Egg Harbor City, will lead a garbage collection and waterway cleanup at the mouth of the Baltic Avenue Canal in Gardner’s Basin on Aug. 23. The brothers, along with other like-minded volunteers, recently completed two other garbage collections in the Atlantic City area — near the Humane Society on Route 30 and the Marina District beach near Harrah’s Resort.

On Tuesday, while standing next to the canal — which had visible trash sitting on the pipe’s edge waiting to be forced into the water below after the next rainfall — the Elmore brothers said there is no more time to wait for government to correct the problem.

“Those birds, those crabs, those fish don’t have time for the government to take care of it,” AJ Elmore said. “Nature doesn’t have time for waiting and paperwork. It needs to be done now.”

The brothers and their small army of volunteers are targeting Gardner’s Basin because of the massive amounts of trash that started to collect after the city turned on the canal last year. The 100-year-old Baltic Avenue Canal, which flushes stormwater from 775 acres of urban streets directly into the body of water beyond Fisherman’s Park, is an underground flood-mitigation system.

Residents and business owners along Gardner’s Basin have brought their concerns to city officials. So far, nothing has been done and they have resorted to using fishing nets to collect trash themselves.

First Ward Councilman Aaron “Sporty” Randolph, who represents Gardner’s Basin on the city’s governing body, previously told The Press of Atlantic City that he would look into the situation. On Tuesday, Randolph did not respond to a request for an update.

Absent a response from officials about what the plan is to stop the pollution from going directly into Gardner’s Basin, and eventually the ocean, Shore2Pickup is doing it themselves.

“It’s the only way to do it,” Elmore said.

Frank Becktel, a resident who lives in a waterfront home once owned by his grandparents, said he filed a complaint recently with the state Department of Environmental Protection. A spokesperson for the DEP confirmed the agency had received a single complaint regarding trash in Gardner’s Basin.

“We knew this was coming,” Becktel said. “As soon as they opened that floodgate, we knew, because we live on an island, we knew that anything that goes into a storm drain has got to come out somewhere. And it comes out in Gardner’s Basin.”

However, the stormwater system is not violating any state or local regulations, according to the DEP.

Atlantic City has its own littering ordinance and is responsible for enforcement.

Secondly, drain inlets must be designed to reduce the amount of trash and debris that can pass through them, but many of the inlets in the city were constructed prior to this requirement and have larger openings. The DEP requires the inlets be retrofitted to a smaller opening whenever a street is repaved. The city says about 45% of its inlets have been retrofitted.

Lastly, the state requires monthly street sweeping for city-owned roads that have curbs or storm drain inlets, a speed limit of 35 mph or less, and are located in a predominantly commercial area. In 2017, the city removed 3,707 cubic yards of material via street sweeping, according to the DEP.

Until something changes, the Elmore brothers, and whoever can help them, will continue to clean up the trash in Gardner’s Basin.

“It’s never going to be fixed (like this),” Elmore said. “This is not a solution. But we’re just going to keep coming back until something is done.”

Galloway Township's Ram's Head Inn for sale for $3.5 million

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When the Ram’s Head Inn closed in January, no one knew whether it would reopen and whether the Knowles family would still own the establishment.

Seven months later, one thing is known.

The Knowles family no longer wants to own the White Horse Pike venue and has put it and the more than four acres of land it sits on up for sale for $3.495 million.

“The reason why we are excited about it is that it gives us a lot of opportunities here. You have a restaurant dwelling with very capable wedding venues with plenty of parking and additional ground for expansion with the possibility of a hotel,” said David L. Bonanni, president of Mercerville-based Bonanni Realtors, who has been hired to sell the property.

The serious and extensive problems with the restaurant’s sprinkler system that closed the facility have been fixed, and the property has been up for sale for two months, Bonanni said.

Kurt Knowles, one of the co-owners of the Ram’s Head, said the selling of the business is bittersweet for the family, who have owned the restaurant for more than 40 years.

“It’s sad. Restaurants are living things that evolve and change with the times,” said Knowles, adding it took from January until last week to fix the sprinkler system.

Since its closing in January, the Ram’s Head has been frozen in time. Menus are visible inside the restaurant. Introductions to the waitstaff are still written on a chalkboard.

The Ram’s Head employed 25 full-time and 35 part-time staff and hosted about 60 weddings a year with an average size of 125 to 175 people, according to the Realtors.

Potential buyers have been coming in, and last month, there was an average of three showings every two weeks, Bonanni said.

Interest has been generated in this state, Pennsylvania and among business owners in other coastal communities, Bonanni said.

The business model of the next owner will determine whether the Ram’s Head would return as a restaurant open to the public, Bonanni said. It is possible the venue could reopen for weddings, corporate and private parties and catering jobs only, he said.

The building also does not have to reopen as a restaurant and banquet facility, Bonanni said. It could be used for the medical field, adult care or educational facilities, he said.

With a sale price of nearly $3.5 million for the building and surrounding property, it would cost $8 million to rebuild the Ram’s Head from scratch, Bonanni said.

“It needs an upgrade. There is a tremendous opportunity for the right person,” he said.

The Ram's Head property is included in the township's latest redevelopment area, Mayor Anthony J. Coppola Jr. said. This allows for incentives for developers to do improvements to the property and apply for an abatement on any added tax associated with that improvement, he said.

Having a viable operation there is important to the township in many ways, not only for the tax revenue, Coppola said. The property could potentially employ 100 people or more and have a positive impact on the hotels in the area, he said.

"It is one one of the iconic properties in the township that we would love to see flourish again," Coppola said. "I see opportunity where others don't. That property is a great opportunity for someone."

Bonanni said his company is working hard to sell the property. He believes it will be sold during the fall, with the closing taking place between January and March.

The state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control and the township will have to approve the transfer of the liquor license, Bonanni said.

For the past 90 years, there has been a business operating at the site of the Ram’s Head. It was a roadhouse during the 1930s and ‘40s, followed by a family-style, Dutch-themed restaurant until the mid-1970s, when it became the Ram’s Head after being purchased by Fred and Ethel Noyes.

A look back at the Ram's Head Inn

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

The area where the Ram’s Head is located on the White Horse Pike is a redevelopment zone, which could open a buyer up to tax incentives, Mayor Anthony J. Coppola Jr. says.

Matt Rourke//  

Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, right, and Nick Foles celebrate after an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 32-30. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Caesars Entertainment parts ways with top executive for three Atlantic City casinos

ATLANTIC CITY — The top executive for Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s three Atlantic City properties is no longer with the company.

Kevin Ortzman, who had served as regional president of Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City since 2017, parted ways with the casino gaming company late last week, according to multiple sources who spoke with The Press of Atlantic City on condition of anonymity.

The move comes against the backdrop of a civil lawsuit filed by a former employee claiming wrongful termination and the multibillion-dollar sale of the gaming company to another regional operator.

Ortzman, 53, did not respond Tuesday to a message seeking comment.

A regional spokesperson for Caesars said the company does not comment on personnel matters.

Ortzman was also president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and served on the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s 17-member executive board as one of two appointed casino industry representatives. The governor is responsible for appointing casino representatives to the CRDA board.

The Casino Association did not immediately respond to questions about filling Ortzman’s vacated position.

In May, Ortzman was named in a civil lawsuit filed in federal court by a former marketing executive who claimed she was wrongfully terminated. In the lawsuit, Jocelyn Agnellini-Allison, a former regional vice president of marketing for Caesars, alleged two employees who reported directly to her witnessed Ortzman “making out” with another employee after a work function in 2017. After Agnellini-Allison reported the incident to corporate, she became the target of retaliation and was ultimately fired, according to the lawsuit.

Caesars filed a response to the lawsuit July 30 and denied the allegations.

The New York Post first reported the story Monday night and said the lawsuit triggered an “internal investigation” that led to Ortzman’s departure.

Caesars is in the midst of finalizing a sale to Reno, Nevada-based Eldorado Resorts, the parent company of Tropicana Atlantic City, reported to be worth $17.3 billion. The newly formed gaming company would keep the Caesars name while operating under Eldorado’s corporate ethos and control four of Atlantic City’s nine casino properties.

The deal is subject to shareholder approval as well as that of federal and state gaming regulators.

Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg has said the company would generate nearly $500 million in “near-term synergies” upon completion of the Caesars deal. Industry experts and analysts expect a majority of those cost-cutting measures to revolve around eliminating repetitive executive positions within the two companies, as well as property sales in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Eldorado acquired Tropicana in 2018 as part of a $1.85 billion deal. Reeg, in a recent conference call with analysts, said the company has already realized nearly $40 million in operating efficiencies at Tropicana.

State rejects 3-year plea offer in Mays Landing human trafficking case


MAYS LANDING — A human trafficking charge typically carries 20 years to life in prison.

Prosecutors on Tuesday rejected a plea deal from a Mays Landing man indicted on five trafficking counts in which he would only serve three years in prison.

El Joshua, 36, who is accused of holding at least two women captive and forcing them into prostitution, stared forward Tuesday morning as the state rejected the offer from his attorney.

Joshua, who pleaded not guilty in June to a nine-count indictment, including five counts of human trafficking, was silent after telling Judge Patricia Wild “good morning” when he appeared before her in Atlantic County Superior Court for a hearing that lasted less than 2½ minutes.

At a court appearance last month, Kate Weigel, Joshua’s defense attorney, countered the state’s last plea offer with three years in state prison on third-degree criminal restraint and fourth-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and imitation, court records show.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Danielle S. Buckley rejected that offer Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors allege Joshua held the women captive and forced them into prostitution and domestic servitude through violence, threats, coercion and by providing them with heroin.

According to the affidavit, Joshua held the women in a Pearce Road home in Hamilton Township, where they had to ask permission to use the bathroom and endured threats Joshua made using an airsoft gun.

Joshua arranged “dates” for them at Atlantic City casinos and along Atlantic Avenue, forcing them to have sex with customers in exchange for heroin, court documents show.

On Dec. 19, one of the women escaped through a window while fending off an attack from Joshua and told Hamilton Township police she was being held against her will.

In addition to the five human trafficking counts, Joshua was indicted on charges of criminal restraint, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (imitation) and terroristic threats.

Also during the hearing, the attorneys spoke about the exchange of evidence in the case, which is still not complete.

Weigel asked for a four-week postponement so Joshua could review video evidence in the case, which Wild granted.

Joshua was remanded to the Atlantic County jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 10.