Osborn Island Residents Talk Dredging Assessment

Tax Bill Addition for 10-15 Years
By PAT JOHNSON | Apr 25, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Osborn Island Residents Association members sign in for their special meeting to discuss dredging and a possible special assessment. OIRA Officers from left: Bob Dalton, Ed Andrew, President Gary Rizzolo, Tom Alessi and Dave Fuller.

Starting in 2008, members of the Osborn Island Residents Association, tired of the low water and mud in their lagoons, put their heads and resources together and began the process of obtaining permits to be able to dredge the lagoons. Collectively, they raised $100,000 toward the project from the homeowners, hired engineers who hired scientific testing firms to find out if the mud was contaminated (it is not), and obtained the permits from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection.

Ten years later, the need for dredging is even more acute; during low tide, the inlets that connect the four lagoons to Great Bay are only 8 inches deep. Thirty years ago, OIRA was not a certified homeowners association at the time Osborn Island was developed and does not really own the lagoons. Little Egg Harbor Township officials have been loathe to claim them because then it would be the township’s responsibility for maintenance. The state doesn’t own manmade lagoons. But the OIRA was able to persist in getting the permits with the NJDEP and Army Corps of Engineers, and has spent $80,000 of its collective money to do so.

Now the project has the approval of the township as long as the Osborn Island residents on the lagoons agree to a special tax assessment to cover the bonding.

On April 12, the OIRA members met to hear about the progress their dredging committee was making and to ask their questions.

OIRA member Dave Fuller has been working on the project from the beginning. “The last things we want is misinformation in our community,” he started. “We have been working diligently for your benefit, and the information we have is factual, accurate and there is no gray area; it’s black and white. It’s a big project and there’s still a lot of work to be done. We thank you for your patience.”

The holdup at the moment concerns the partnership with the township. The association turned over its permits to the township in September because they are needed to complete an adjoining shoreline restoration project on Iowa Court, a street hard hit by Superstorm Sandy. It faces Great Bay, and the marsh that it was built on is eroding at a fast pace.

But since September, the township and the association have not finalized the agreement to use the permits, said Fuller. “We’ve retained an attorney to represent the association and the members; it’s in the best interest of Osborn Island and our permit.”

The OIRA preamble says it is organized to preserve the environment and residents’ quality of life.

“We want to have a boating community either for ourselves or for others when we sell our houses,” said committee member Ed Andrew. “Our lagoons were built 30 years ago and have never been touched; we want to recover the navigatable water. Waterfront properties make up 40 percent of the township’s ratables, and it’s almost criminal that nothing has been done to the lagoons.

“Older people in Mystic Island got money from FEMA to raise their houses, and now they’ve been reassessed at $250,000 and can’t pay their taxes. The only chance they have to recover their tax ratable value is to dredge their lagoons.

“That’s why we continue to spend our time, money and energy. The progress we’ve made has now spilled over to Mystic Island and energized them, but they are nine years behind us.”

Questions from the audience were answered with patience and forbearance, even if they were sometimes off the point.

“Why are we taxed more on Osborn Island?” asked a woman.

“Taxes are higher on Osborn because we have bigger waterfront homes and it’s nicer,” said Andrew. “We have no bridge to go under to get to the bay, and we’re close to the beach.”

Andrew said the four lagoons and two inlets comprising the waterways on the island would all benefit from dredging the two inlets because the lagoons all use the one inlet between Ohio Drive and Iowa Court to reach Great Bay, plus “T” inlets from Ocean Boulevard that enter Big Creek. These are the areas that are most shallow at low tide and cause the most frustration to boaters.

The dredge could go about 150 feet into the lagoons until they drop off in depth. At no time would they be coming closer than 15 feet of a bulkhead. They are going to be dredging the middle of the lagoons down to an average of 4½ feet at low water.

A boater stated that he had a shallow area close to his bulkhead causing him problems when he tied up his boat. Would he and others be able to have this area dredged? “Can we get them to clean up near the bulkheads?”

Andrew answered, “That’s a big maybe. There may be permission to do that if the homeowner pays for it.”

The living shoreline project slated for Iowa Court is a separate project from the lagoon dredging, and it’s being paid for by an NJDEP Sandy Restoration grant of $400,000. “That doesn’t cost the taxpayer one dime,” said Andrew.

But when they do the living shoreline on Iowa Court, they will recover the cul-de-sac, and that will help preserve the inlet from more sedimentation coming into the waterways in the future. The living shoreline project is slated to begin in the fall.

The living shoreline restoration includes a stone sill that will be under the water to break wave action. Then the shoreline will get appropriate seaside plantings.

Although Little Egg Harbor Mayor Ray Gormley is pushing for meeting before September to discuss the special assessment that would pay for the dredging of the Osborn Island lagoons, Andrew said the project is not yet finalized as to the true cost.

A resident asked why the town isn’t paying for the dredging – why the special assessment on the residents of Osborn Island?

Andrew answered: “The town doesn’t own the lagoons; they have no obligation to do it. I asked them 10 years ago, and they said there was no way to bond for it.

“Now they will bond for it, but only with the added assessment.

“We’re trying to control the price (of the dredging) as best we can,” he assured the audience. “We need to get a vote for the special assessment or we’re back to square one. It’s not like we don’t care what they spend; no one is saying that. But the upland people won’t spend a penny on lagoons.”

Someone asked about the sore point, is there a signed agreement yet outlining liability between the township and the OIRA?

“Last fall the association put a letter together that was reviewed by our engineer. And six months later we heard back from the township, ‘Are you hiring your own attorney?’” said Fuller. “So we hired an attorney” (Dorothy McCrossan, an attorney for Ocean City).

“The township attorney then sent over an initial draft of an agreement for our attorney and engineer’s input. It went back to the solicitor a week and a half ago, and now we are waiting for their response.”

As of April 24, there still was no agreement.

“Three weeks ago we had a meeting with their engineer from T&M and our engineer, and at the end of the meeting we were all on the same page. They are tightening up the specs so we can get the best people to do the job not some guy with a shovel and a pump,” said Fuller.

Another sore point: “Where is the (dredge) material going to go?”

But Andrew was happy to have an answer for that. “We have a letter of intent from a NJDEP certified (disposal) site in Corbin City who will take our dredge material. It’s about 30 to 40 miles from here.”

Andrews said the initial estimate is for between 14,000 and 15,000 cubic yards of material to be removed from the shallow spots. Each truckload can handle 1,400 cubic yards of mud and may cost roughly $120 a load.

“There is a permit modification in progress (pertaining to the dredge spoils site). And once the working document is done, it will go out to bid,” he added. “Once the bids are awarded (to a dredge company), we can go from there.”

Fuller said, “One of the criteria that we asked of the township is that we want to be able to audit the soft costs (engineering and attorney’s fees). We want to be able to audit the numbers when the project is complete.

“We want all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. No one is going to put their hand in our collective pockets.”

The assessment, if passed by the OIRA members and residents on Osborn Island who will utilize the waterways, could be between $300 to $1,000 a year and be in place for between 10 to 15 years, depending on the final costs.

Someone shouted, “If we have the permit, why do we need the township?”

Andrew answered, “They are the middleman, they take the liability on, and they are the facilitator. The township is also able to bond (take a lower cost municipal loan) to pay the costs upfront.”

In response to another question, Andrew said the special assessment would be divided among 304 waterfront properties. Houses or condos not on the lagoons are not part of the special assessment, as they don’t have access to boating.

The size of a homeowner’s property is not taken into account; one property on the lagoon equals one vote.

The township has the ability to force a special assessment on the property owners if they want to dredge the lagoons, much like a new public water/sewer or road project, but officials won’t go that way for political reasons, added Andrew. “They want us to vote on it.”

If approved and implemented, the assessment would be a separate line on the tax bill.

The idea that another big storm might make the whole process moot is wrong, said Andrew. “We had the lagoon depth sounded pre-Sandy and post-Sandy, and there was not much difference.”

One resident said his boat had plenty of water in his section of a lagoon, so why should he be assessed for the dredging?

Andrew answered that the inlets to Great Bay and Great Creek are used by all boaters and the dredging would benefit everyone. Even those presently without a boat would see the worth of their home increase if and when they sold it. “If it closes up, no one gets to the bay,” said Andrew.

OIRA President Tom Allessi added, “I live on Kentucky, and since 2004 we have 3 feet of water; now we have 8 inches at low tide. I can’t get out. When the weather turns bad, a lightning storm, and you can’t get back in, it’s also a safety issue.”

A meeting between township officials and the OIRA was planned for Saturday, April 28, but has been postponed, according to the township’s website. A new date has not been set.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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