Friday, November 27, 2009

This time last year...

The Department of Navy on Black Friday, 2008, released its "draft" Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the civilian housing plan at Weapons Station Earle. The timing came as no surprise to anyone within NOPE, considering the U.S. Military's penchant for releasing these kinds of important reports ahead of holiday weekends (presumably so few will notice).

Without a doubt, we called the EIS out for what it was (and remains) - an incomplete, half-truthed and costly waste of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Federal and military bureaucracy at its finest. We remain steadfast in our opposition to this recipe for disaster as the April 30 DoN's deadline for opening the roadway to Laurelwood approaches.

As we reflect on this Thanksgiving weekend, it is amazing to recount how much our grassroots effort has yielded in a single year (a few notable references below), though obviously much remains to be done and we need our supporters to remain engaged in our battle.
  • Financial and security assessment of the plan (i.e. what should have been included in the EIS) signed into the Fiscal 2010 U.S. Defense Authorization Act through bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress (Senators Menendez and Lautenberg) and the House of Representatives (Chris Smith, Rush Holt, Norman Dicks-WA)
  • Amendments to be introduced by Senator Beck and assembly members Casagrande and O'Scanlon in the coming weeks that would require a study by the NJ State Treasurer (this is why we need you to soon return your white NOPE postcards to your NOPE contacts and for supporters to attend our lobbying effort in Trenton, date TBA)
  • Media coverage and "pro-NOPE" editorials by the boards of the Asbury Park Press and Greater Media Newspapers, plus TV pieces aired on News 12 and My 9 News
  • Backing of Monmouth County Freeholders and Colts Neck and Tinton Falls leaders
  • Thousands of signatures from area residents in support of NOPE
  • Successful rallies, community briefings
  • Viable analysis by NOPE leadership, proving the merits of our security, financial and environmental concerns about putting 300 families of renters on a secure, strategically significant military weapons facility (to date, no one has been able to refute the cost estimates, contract analysis, etc., put forth by NOPE's leadership team)

In sum, NOPE continues to prove an extremely valuable community effort, and anyone who has taken part in any function of the organization is to be thanked for their participation. As we approach the upcoming religious holidays, we ask our supporters to keep the pedal to the metal and keep up the good work! Your voice does count!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Laurelwood mortage - NOPE is following the money trail

Our cursory search of the Monmouth County Board of Taxation website, though subject to more-extensive review and analysis by the NOPE leadership team, yielded some interesting discoveries about the actual mortgage on the Laurelwood houses at Weapons Station Earle - 30 years at $21.2 million (we still need to find out basic details like principal and interest).

One of NOPE's core contentions remains that the Navy's inability to grant access by April 30, 2010, to Laurelwood Homes, LLC, and owner Teri Fischer will, according to Supplemental Lease No. 43, immediately send the parties to buyout, contrary to the Department of Navy's (DoN) false argument that it cannot pursue this option. In short, the DoN must give Mrs. Fischer unfettered access to build the road and improve the homes by April 30, 2010, ahead of what we worry will be unimpeded access and rental to civilians by September, 2010; the mortgage language bears out the April 30 access notion. DoN compliance with this April 30 deadline appears far from humanly possible, considering our understanding that the DoN has yet to file permit applications for what is typically an arduous NJ DEP and DOT review (i.e. upwards of 12-18 months).

Nonetheless, back to the mortgage...

We also know for a fact that Laurelwood refinanced the mortgage on the 300 Laurelwood townhomes sometime around late-2002/early-2003. Shocklingly, within a year of 9/11, the D0N seemingly signed away its leverage (according to a bank-mandated provision) to exercise the National Emergency Termination clause to void the contract. In short, it gave away its "ace in the hole" (i.e. in terms of being able to get out of this bad contract without payment) to allow (according to our sources) Laurelwood to get a better mortage rate. To be sure, even a buyout in 2002 would have saved the DoN a LOT of money and this current Laurelwood headache.

The mortgage documents we found on file with Monmouth County, in particular one signed May 1, 2003, for a 30-year mortgage valued at $21.2 million, probably raises more questions than answers, namely - what all U.S. citizens should question - what is happening to U.S. taxpayer dollars allocated to military housing? The $21.2 million on the 2003 re-finance is only $1.6 million less than the value of the original mortage of $22.8 million granted to Dick Fischer Developments (DFD), the original Laurelwood developer. Did the owners only pay off $1.6 million of principal on the Laurelwood homes from 1990-2002/2003? It is hard for us to tell, particularly with the secretive nature of LLC and obtaining public documents.

This would be shocking, especially since, according to NOPE's own research and review of the Laurelwood lease (obtained via the U.S. Freedom of Information Act) and supplemental agreements, DFD and Laurelwood, in some shape or form, have earned rents and bonus payments from the DoN (federal government) of $70-$75 million since inception of the Laurelwood "In-Lease" (i.e. military-use portion) in 1990.

Where did all of this money go? Clearly it's beyond NOPE's scope to be financial advisors to property owners with better knowledge of government contracts, but our back-of-the-envelope math would suggest (assuming $70-$75 million revenue and a $21.2 million outstanding mortgage as of May 2003) "cleared" revenue to DFD/Laurelwood of at least $50 million (excluding operating costs, capital improvements, etc) since contract inception. Not bad for a bunch of houses with almost no tenants for the better part of this decade.

NOPE's impending review of the mortgage documents will not so much focus on perceived financial mismanagement or profitability of the Laurelwood contract, but rather show that the papers validate our argument that the U.S. Navy would be wise to pay no more than $17-$20 million to buy out Laurelwood (see our 8-page Business Case Analysis), far less than its contention that a buyout would cost it at least $3.5 million per year (roughly the current annual rent on these vacant homes) through year 2040 (or at least $105 million). The Navy's argument is entirely misleading and inaccurate, and it is clear that public sentiment is in favor of a buyout of the Laurelwood contract (especially since the DoN threw away its right to void the agreement and save taxpayers a lot more money...and in fact might be on the hook for rental payments to Laurelwood, contrary to its own study and public commentary, of up to $20.2 million anyway through 2017).

As always, we welcome your observations, commentary and ideas on this matter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A favorable Tinton Falls resolution that we missed...

Back on August 18, the Borough Council of Tinton Falls unanimously approved R-09-323, a resolution requesting that District 12 Representative Rush Holt seek funding in the U.S. budget to facilitate a Navy buyout of the Laurelwood lease at NWS Earle.

We found this in sifting through past agendas and meeting minutes and were unaware of its passage, and thank Mayor Skudera and the council for its continued support. NOPE supporters need to be well aware of the backing not only of the Borough Council, but also of the Tinton Falls school administration, Superintendant Russo and BOE in terms of allowing us to publicize all NOPE functions.

Meanwhile, we will track down whether Rep. Holt made any headway in procuring funds for a buyout and post any findings here in the days to come. We recognize the FY2010 Defense Authorization mandates a GAO financial and security assessment of the case, but were not aware of any separate actions for funding of a Laurelwood lease buyout.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More NOPE postcards have arrived!

Anyone needing our 5-card postcard set should contact us at, or call 732.322.0130. We have printed another 2,000 sets, after exhausting the same amount in our first leg of the campaign that is targeting supporters' and area residents' opposition to the Department of Navy's plan for civilian housing at NWS Earle.

Please see our earlier posts on the targets of this postcard campaign.

Also, as hoped, Greater Media Newspapers' managing editor Mark Rosman's "Navy must kill plan for civlian housing" made its way into the Red Bank Hub, along with the communiter paper chain's Examiner (Millstone, Allentown, Upper Freehold), Atlanticville (Long Branch, Monmouth Beach and Ocean Township), Tri-Town News (Howell, Jackson, Lakewood and Plumsted) and Woodbridge Sentinel publications, among others. We are glad that Greater Media saw too it to share Mr. Rosman's revealing commentary on our case with probably hundreds of thousands of other readers throughout Central New Jersey, who need to know about this ill-conceived Navy plan and might not have heard this case.