Monday, January 26, 2009

Oceanport Administration on Monmouth Park

I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of communicating with representatives from Oceanport regarding the Monmouth Park pollution issue. Some questions, answers and notes follow.

First, Councilman Joe Irace and Mayor Mike Mahon insist that taxpayers WILL NOT be funding the Monmouth Park projects and that Oceanport is simply acting as an agent for Monmouth Park to be able to get the loan needed to fund their projects. Fair enough, I guess. Curious that Monmouth Park/NJSEA (a state agency) has to go through the local township to borrow money from the (New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Fund) Trust Fund (a state fund). Also oddly enough, it should be noted that Monmouth Park, and NJ horse racing in general, constantly threatens that they'll have to close because they can't make money and/or have some problem with the Casino Industry and/or the Horseman's Association. If/WHEN Monmouth Park/NJSEA finally fail, it seems that any debt is left to the state, aka, the tax payers. Here are the questions/statements:

Me: It seems that taxpayers of Oceanport and/or State of NJ will pay for this, not Monmouth Park/NJSEA. That alone is a huge red flag IMHO. As I've stated in the past, if I had an underground oil tank, and my underground oil tank was leaking, *I* would pay the fines and *I* would pay for the cleanup, and *I* would pay for the new system - not fellow tax payers. From comments made by the mayor before the meeting, it seems the township will be borrowing money from the state to lend to MP for this work?

Mr. Irace: "I can state unequivocally that Oceanport taxpayers are not paying for the remediation. We are simply acting as a conduit between the NJSEA, the State and the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Fund."

Mayor Mahon (summarized): The NJEIT is a grant and loan program. Oceanport has agreed to be a conduit borrower for a loan. The loan will be repaid by the NJSEA to the Trust Fund. The funds for repaying the loan will come from proceeds and operations at the Authority.

Me: if Oceanport is acting as a conduit for the loan and NJSEA/MP close shop citing casino industry issues or some other reason - is Oceanport liable for repaying the loan since they are the conduit or is the loan an issue for a bankruptcy court/NJSEA regardless of what happens with the track?

Mr Irace: "The State will be responsible for all debt left by the NJSEA."

So, take that for what it's worth - I'm personally still weary of this arrangement as it seems like a quick and easy way for tax payers to end up subsidizing and/or paying for this loan/grant. Admittedly, I know nothing about the trust fund or said grant and loan program so hopefully the councilman and mayor know much better. In a GREAT one line statement, Mr. Irace also accurately states:

Mr Irace: "For lack of a better term, the NJSEA for all intents is purposes the State of New Jersey. Since they are the pollution problem, they should pay for the cleanup."

I like Mr. Irace and all of his responses to my questions seemed direct and honest.

However, I asked about the outstanding fines that Monmouth Park has NOT paid.

Me: MP still has not paid the 2 outstanding fines from the DEP from years past. It seems that they, by this project, are admitting fault/their role - so where is their payment of these fines?

Interestingly enough, there was no response from Oceanport's reps on this question. I suppose it is out of their scope anyhow as it is a DEP issue. Stupid Lisa Jackson is gone, hopefully now the DEP can get their act together on this issue while she is busy failing at the EPA for the whole country.

I then asked about the two stages of the project.

Me: They described a "2 stage" process. The first stage seems to handle water from the parking area and grandstands into the infield pond. To the best of our knowledge, this is NOT the problem area. It seems to me that MP is planning to use tax payer dollars to do some landscaping work under the guise of pollution control. This whole phase, and cost, seems to do nothing to address the current problems.

Mayor Mahon (summarized for length): The infield pond project is significant because outflow mixes with and contributes to runoff from the stable area. This outflow increases the amount of water sent to the sewage treatment facilities and when in excess, the creek. The infield pond project also addresses contamination issues due to the Canadian Geese

(...Which reminds me, HEY ERIC SEDLER... HOW BOUT THEM GEESE! Taking down an airplane and now being held accountable for the pollution - I told you we should get rid of them. Anyhow...)

So this is the interesting part to me. IF the new stable area system (stage 2) is performed, then all water from the stable area would go into this new"dry basin" before being sent to the sewage authorities. Ie, the current infield pond system wouldn't be connected to the stable area system. If/when that happens, then aside from the geese, the water from the infield pond should be reasonably clean parking lot, grandstand roof, stable roof and track water. I don't see how the outflow from the infield pond could/would mix with the polluted stable area water if we're being told it will be two different systems. I still firmly believe that the infield pond project is a landscaping project, not a pollution control project and the presentation and plans from Monmouth Park don't seem to prove otherwise.

I then moved on to the most obvious question.

Me: How is it that Monmouth Park can produce over 1 million gallons of polluted water? 500K to LBSA and 800K to two rivers. There are many horses in NYC - around central park - this is not a problem. There are many horse farms throughout NJ - I drive past many on 547 in Howell - this is not a problem. What is the operational failure at MP that a simple shovel and wheel barrel with track workers who follow standard procedures are missing?

Again, oddly enough, no direct response from Mr. Irace or Mr. Mahon. Again, I suppose the question is out of their scope and is a question for Monmouth Park/NJSEA. Hopefully they will be able to get Monmouth Park to answer this question for them. Further, I do understand that MP is putting thousands of horses on 13 acres or so each summer where as a horse farm might have a few hundred at most on many more acres - seems to be a failure of zoning/health regulations but regardless - if that argument is used - then I would counter that a horse farm might have a few dozen workers, Monmouth Park has a huge staff and each horse comes with it's trainer(s) and owner(s) and a jockey and the whole support crew. Surely someone can afford and do the cleanup work. Again, I still want to know how they produce so much (more) waste (than any other horse owner).

Again, I thank the Mayor and Mr. Irace for taking the time to talk to me about the issue and getting on top of the issue to do something. Mr. Pallone has made several mock speeches on the issue and he even apparently exchanged some numbers and made some verbal promises with an Oceanport council member - but said member still is waiting for that callback from Mr. Pallone. Mr. Holt, also no where to be found on the issue.

My opinion is that Mr. Mahon and Mr. Irace are doing a great thing for our community (Long Branch city officials get a giant Fail on this issue) and are working hard to get something positive done. I thank them both for their efforts and do hope that their pressure on Monmouth Park continues such that the pollution problem stops and I do recognize that they are also stuck "between a rock and hard place" for lack of a better term since Monmouth Park is a HUGE tax payer (and employer) in town and losing the track would, as was stated, be like Fort Monmouth Part 2.  

Again, I've stated before and I'll state it again, *I* don't want to lose Monmouth Park either as I recognize that many local businesses rely on it for bringing in customers and it is a great shore area attraction. I do just hope and expect that they can operate like a good neighbor and get their pollution problem under control, without using 1 penny of tax payer money. I'll also state again, "Mr. Environment" Frank Pallone has been useless and it seems more and more people recognize this fact now. Next time someone tries the line "yeah, but Pallone has been good for the environment" on you - ask them what that means or what specifically he has done - there will be no answer.

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