In 2005 I forecast that the government of Downe Township NJ would be among the first indirect municipal casualties of sea level rise in the US1. My forecast was part of an investment analysis report for an advisory client engagement. We saw a shocking water level rise of more than 7 inches here since the 1970s. This translates to the loss of thousands of aces of previously usable shoreline property. While sea level rise is not the only obstacle this local government faces, it is the primary insurmountable issue given the other resources available. It wasn’t difficult to predict the decrease in land values, the loss in tax revenues, the depopulation of the area and the inability of government to adequately address the issues.
Downe Township NJ is the smallest and most rural township in the most rural county of New Jersey with 36 square miles of land per person living here. We are situated on the southwest corner of the state where the roads end on New Jersey’s Delaware Bay. There are about 400 households (about 1400 people) that are older, poorer and less educated than state averages. We have been dogged by a long history of governmental problems. Most recently the deputy mayor made a written complaint to state or federal prosecutor alleging Sandy recovery fund fraud by the mayor. Many of the homes, including my own, were erected with incomplete permits decades ago. The townships auditor found unresolved departures from normal municipal accounting practices.
Last week I heard from two sources in county and state government (people that I personally deem reliable that have provided accurate information in the past) that the Downe Township government will disband. No time frame was given. Of the five communities in Downe Township, two will be absorbed by Lawrence Township and two will be absorbed by neighboring Commercial Township, according to one source. The fifth community, my community of Money Island, will lose its residences under a controversial state purchase program but will remain as a commercial working waterfront. We are New Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port and there seems to be no motivation to disrupt this strong sector of the economy2. Money Island appears to be positioned to grow into the state’s leading aquaculture facility supporting the oyster and crab industries. I plan to meet with officials at Cumberland County and state government soon to discuss other details and the fate of our woking waterfront community. I have not spoke with any local government officials in the past; I presume that local officials deny and oppose the buyout and reorganization plan of the state.
I kept notes on these developments on several personal web sites: Downtownshipnj.com, Downtownship.com and Moneyislandnews.com. Unfortunately these notes became a magnet for unwanted political attention. Today I decided to remove and non-renew these web domains. I expect to remain active in the community and will be available on a non-professional basis3 to help local businesses with the transitions. I may continue to report news here on my personal blog.
1 This blog post does not explain why I conclude that the collapse of the Downe Township economy and government are directly related to sea level rise. That is a long story outside the scope of this blog post. I understand that the conclusion is politically controversial.
2 Much of this sector of the economy does not benefit local or state government. This is a sensitive issue that winds up causing me grief when I mention it publicly. Additional comments will be offered only under the terms of an engagement agreement that define the terms and scope of these expressed opinions.
3 I am not currently licensed to practice public accountancy in New Jersey but have been in communication with the Board of Accountancy this summer to consider the possibility of licensure. I work in a non-professional capacity for businesses in New Jersey.