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Sea Isle City native killed in Ethiopia crash known for giving back

Matt Vecere was all about helping others.

Whether it was teaching children to surf in Sea Isle City or providing relief to victims of an earthquake in Haiti, the Ocean City High School graduate and former Stockton University student dedicated his time and energy to aiding those in need.

His dedication ultimately cost him his life.

Vecere, 43, was among 157 people killed in an Ethiopia Airlines crash Sunday on its way to Nairobi, Kenya.

“I just heard about it (Tuesday) morning, and it broke my heart,” said West Cape May’s Lisa Roselli, co-director of the South Jersey chapter of the East Coast Surfing Association. “Matt was a wonderful guy, a super compassionate person, and you could see that by the way he lived his life. He was an accomplished surfer, but that wasn’t what drove him. He always wanted to do more in life. He was a very special person. I’m heartbroken.”

Vecere’s mother, Donna, in a statement, said charity drove her son. He provided relief following numerous natural disasters, especially in Haiti, including after the 2010 earthquake, and was there “as recently as two weeks ago.”

He was in Africa for the U.N. Environment Assembly, she said.

“Matt was passionate about the environment, civil rights, social and environmental justice, and advocating for those less fortunate. His passion turned to direct action, rolling up his sleeves to serve causes where he could make a tangible difference,” Donna said. “Matt will be missed by many. We are heartbroken more than words can express.”

Vecere grew up in Sea Isle, where his parents owned a popular breakfast and lunch restaurant, Steak Out.

He spent summers surfing various breaks throughout Cape May County. He was part of a core of young surfers that included Matt Keenan and Dan Maragliano, who are both being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame this year, along with Roselli, Roselli’s husband, Joe Grottola, Wildwood surfer/shaper Mike Sciarra and others.

Brian Heritage, a former professional surfer and renowned shaper who owns Heritage Surf & Sport in Sea Isle, hired Vecere to work at his shop and give surfing lessons.

“Matt was a terrific surfer, but what really stood out to me was his selflessness and desire to help others,” Heritage said. “Matt was one of those guys who would go the extra mile to help the kids who were struggling a little bit. He carried that compassion with him his entire life.”

He continued to demonstrate that compassion following the death of his father, Thomas, on April 13, 2000.

Soon afterward, Matt organized a surfing contest to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“I was very impressed by his compassion in such a tough time,” said Patricia Gibbons, who grew up in Cape May and was friends with Vecere. She now lives in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River. “Matt was a kind, deeply dedicated servant to his fellow mankind for all the years I had the pleasure of knowing him. And he backed up his compassion with action in Haiti and other places.

“Matt was just a decent, kind guy who did the heavy lifting, as well as the advocacy. The world just lost a good one.”

Vecere moved to California a few years ago, where he worked as a content writer for a Los Angeles-area company, IQAir. He also wrote for several surfing publications. But his passion was always directed toward helping others.

He was involved in Waves for Water (W4W), a nonprofit that helps provide clean water for victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

“His Christian principles drove him to a higher calling, to do what he could to help anyone who needed it,” Heritage said. “You don’t see that in very many people. He always put others ahead of himself. He literally gave his life while helping others. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report.


Education
Ocean City among 38 schools sending student experiments to space

OCEAN CITY — Can brine shrimp become a renewable food source for astronauts making long trips through space?

An experiment designed by students from Ocean City will test out this theory when it travels to the International Space Station this summer.

For the second time in five years, a group of students from Ocean City High School were selected among a handful of schools nationwide to have their experiment travel aboard a SpaceX craft as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.

They are one of only two K-12 districts in New Jersey participating in the SSEP this year.

“They’re learning to be lifelong scientists instead of doing a science project and being done with it,” said biology teacher Catherine Georges, one of two advisers to the students along with physics teacher Dan Weaver.

The SSEP is an international science, technology, engineering and math program started by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education for high school and middle school students to design experiments that are tested by real astronauts in space.

Juniors Abigail Craige and Alexia Schmidt developed Ocean City’s winning experiment that tests the effect of microgravity on the gender and hatch rate of brine shrimp, which can potentially be used as a sustainable food source in space.

Sophomore Madison Morgan joined the group after the experiment was selected to help the group complete the milestones until launch.

Craige, 16, of Sea Isle City, an aspiring civil engineer, said she wanted to be involved with SSEP because of her interest in science. She said she based the idea for the experiment off of past experiments that used brine shrimp as a food source.

Georges said that is exactly like real science, taking past ideas and improving and building upon them.

Schmidt, 16, of Upper Township, who said she hopes to one day be a lawyer, said she isn’t very interested in science but was able to use her writing skills to contribute to the project.

Morgan’s strong background in biology helped to push the project forward, Georges said.

Morgan said she learned a lot about trial and error through the process of finalizing the experiment.

“It was three days before the project was due, we were rewriting our entire thesis,” Morgan, 15, of Ocean City recounted.

The students are doing the experiment work outside of their regular curriculum, so they are meeting after school or during their lunch hour to work with Weaver and Georges.

Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said the students are learning during the process that things don’t always go as planned — timelines change and plans need to be amended to fit new or changing expectations.

“We really are very proud of them and their perseverance in designing this experiment,” Taylor said. “It’s real life science work that they’re doing.”

The SSEP has grown over the years since it began in 2010. This year, 41 experiments from 38 communities will launch as part of Mission 13 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The anticipated launch date is July 8, but as Ocean City knows well — that can change.

In October 2014, as students watched from Wallops Island, Virginia, the Antares rocket carrying the spacecraft and 18 student experiments — including one from Ocean City students — exploded just after liftoff, delaying the process for another several months. It eventually successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in early 2015.

Weaver said the reason the school waited so long before applying again to be a part of the SSEP was because of the workload involved for both staff and students.

“Really, it’s two- to three-year project. We started this over the summer. We won’t get the material back until next school year, and we have to do analysis,” Weaver said.

He believes the winning experiment was chosen because it is straightforward and not overly complex.

“Less can go wrong,” Weaver said.

Georges said that over the next few months, the students will prepare their project for launch, including Skyping with professionals from NanoRacks, the company that prepares the experiments for space, to ensure no contamination.

Georges said she was proud of her students for being forward thinking with their experiment.

“When they came up with this idea, they did it because they are anticipating humans spending more time in space,” she said.


New_jersey
New Jersey takes big step toward legalizing recreational pot

TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders said Tuesday they’ve agreed on legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

The Democratic trio, including Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney, announced the agreement in a statement Tuesday after more than a year of negotiations, mostly behind closed doors.

It’s unclear whether there are enough votes in the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass the bill, but the agreement marks the first time leaders have laid out the details of the plan. Tuesday’s announcement comes just after word emerged that leaders were homing in on a deal.

Murphy, who campaigned in 2017 on legalizing recreational cannabis, cast the legislation as a social justice victory.

“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” Murphy said.

If the deal becomes law, New Jersey would join 10 other states and the District of Columbia with legal recreational cannabis.

The leaders say the deal would set up an expedited record expungement process for people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes. They say the proposal also would bar certain marijuana offenses from being considered in certain sectors, like education, housing and job licensing.

The measure also aims at getting cannabis industry participation for minorities and women, the leaders said.

Unlike earlier versions of the legislation that called for phasing in an escalating sales tax on marijuana, the deal calls for a $42 per ounce tax on the product.

It also lets towns collect tax revenue, as well. Municipalities with cannabis retailers could collect 3 percent tax, those with cultivators will collect 2 percent and those with wholesalers would get 1 percent.

The measure calls for a five-member regulatory commission, with the governor appointing three members. The other two would be picked on the advice of the Senate president and Assembly speaker.

Some Republicans have been skeptical about legalization. Republican state Sen. Gerald Cardinale echoed former GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s criticism of legalizing marijuana, predicting that while the state’s tax revenues will climb so too would traffic accidents.

“That blood money that he’s going to collect in taxes, that is blood money. It is going to come from the blood of people who don’t use marijuana who unfortunately are involved with people who do.”

Sweeney has said he would need Murphy’s help in getting enough votes in the Senate for legalization. The Assembly is expecting a committee vote on the deal on Monday. A floor vote is possible March 25.


Breaking
Sweeney wants Port Authority takeover of Atlantic City International Airport

Sweeney wants Port Authority

to take over A.C. airport

{child_byline}MICHELLE BRUNETTI POST

Staff Writer

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State Senate President Steve Sweeney wants the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take over Atlantic City International Airport, to expand flights and aviation services in Atlantic County, sources close to the Gloucester County legislator said Tuesday.

Other political leaders said they are on board with the idea if it results in more flights and better use of the large, underutilized airport in Egg Harbor Township.

“Steve Sweeney is working on it and asked if I would help and be supportive,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd. “Of course, it gives the ability to almost reinvent the Atlantic City airport with more carriers. That’s something we have always wanted to do.”

But the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which now runs the airport, is not involved in talks, according to a spokesman.

“Contrary to recent media accounts, the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA), owner/operator of the Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), has not been in nor is in any active discussions with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for their purchase of the airport,” said Mark Amorosi, SJTA communications manager, in response to questions.

The Port Authority did not comment.

No new legislation would be required, as a 2007 law allows the Port Authority to take over one airport in each state that is outside its geographical jurisdiction.

The Port Authority runs the major New York City airports and Newark International Airport, and many hope it would be able to divert flights to Atlantic City, as well as bring aviation maintenance and repair operations here.

From 2013 to the end of 2017 the SJTA paid the Port Authority $500,000 a year to provide general management services, but it did not result in greater use of the airport. That agreement ended by mutual decision in December 2017, according to that year’s SJTA annual report.

That management agreement did not turn over all control of the airport to the Port Authority, while this effort would be a true takeover, said sources close to Sweeney.

The Port Authority management brought United Airlines flights to Atlantic City in 2013, but the airline stopped service after just seven months.

Sources also said that turmoil in the Port Authority under former Gov. Chris Christie — including during the Bridgegate scandal — contributed to lost opportunities for Atlantic City. The agency now has regained stability and its leaders have good working relationships, they said.

Christie ally and Former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, whose law firm Wolff & Samson (now Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi) represented the SJTA, was sentenced to house arrest, community service and a $100,000 fine in 2016.

He pleaded guilty to using his chairmanship to withhold approval of United Airlines getting a wide-body hangar at Newark airport, to force the airline to run a money-losing route from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, near his vacation home.

Called the “chairman’s flight,” United discontinued it after Samson resigned in 2014. That is also the year the Atlantic City flights stopped.

The Port Authority took over New York Stewart International in Orange County, in the southern Hudson Valley. The takeover brought international flights through Norwegian Airlines service there, said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson.

Van Drew said talks with the Port Authority and the SJTA are in the early stages, and have not yet gotten into details such as who would be responsible for the airport’s debt.

The Port Authority runs Newark International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York City, the busiest air passenger entry point to North America; and LaGuardia International Airport, also in Queens; along with Teterboro Airport in Bergen County and Stewart. Van Drew said there may be some potential for ACY to take some of the excess traffic.

“It’s worthy of making an effort ... as long as North Jersey is mindful of South Jersey’s needs, and of the wonderful work the county is doing,” said Van Drew.

Atlantic County has built the first stage of the National Aviation Research and Technology Park at the airport, and is working with Embry-Riddle University, Atlantic Cape Community College and the county’s superintendents to develop training programs for jobs in the aviation industry.

“It’s an excellent opportunity right now to turn this airport into a world-class facility,” Levinson said. “As I’ve said all along, the Atlantic City airport is underutilized.”

The airport is connected to the Federal Aviation Administration and it’s the premier test facility in the world, Levinson said.

“So under those circumstances, we would certainly entertain a conversation,” Levinson said. “If they would focus on air passengers, air cargo and air maintenance and repair, it would be a boon for Atlantic County and all of South Jersey — for the whole corridor.”

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation last fall establishing the area within a one-mile radius of the airport as a Garden State Growth Zone, making businesses that relocate there eligible for tax breaks. But the growth zones expire in July.

SJTA board member James “Sonny” McCullough, the former Egg Harbor Township mayor, said there have been no discussions of the idea at an SJTA board meeting.

“The only reason the Port Authority would have any advantage, would be if it were able to entice a major airline to locate at Atlantic City — encourage more use of the airport,” said McCullough, “because of their affiliation with Newark.”

McCullough said that would be critical to conventions in Atlantic City, and to the resort’s business.

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Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

State Senate President Steve Sweeney is leading an effort to have the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey take over Atlantic City International Airport, so it can expand use of the airport and take some of the pressure off New York City and Newark airports. run by the authority. It is currently run by the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which also operates the Atlantic City Expressway.