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Baltic Avenue Canal gets federal funding, project to start in 2021

ATLANTIC CITY — Residents and businesses in flood-prone areas of the city may soon get some relief after the city received a federal grant that will allow for the Baltic Avenue Canal to be reactivated.

City, state and federal officials gathered Tuesday to announce the city’s receipt of a $2.45 million grant that will be used, in tandem with other state and local funding sources, to complete the construction of six large pumps that will evacuate excess stormwater into Beach Thorofare, alleviating constant flooding for residential neighborhoods.

The permitting process is expected to be completed by this fall, and project construction will begin in 2021. Officials estimated the project could take nearly a year to finish.

“These funds will leverage a $12 million project that will reduce nuisance and improve the quality of life in many of the neighborhoods and business districts in Atlantic City,” said Mayor Marty Small Sr. “Projects like this continue to shore up our resiliency.”

The completion of the canal project is happening as the city shores up bulkheads in Chelsea, Ducktown and Gardner’s Basin, floodproofs city-owned buildings and replaces check valves in Back Bay, which Small noted was all part of a larger “$80 million resiliency plan.”

The U.S. Economic Development Administration said the project will create 65 jobs. Since the pump project is located within two federal Opportunity Zones, the project is also projected to generate $83 million in private investment, according to the EDA.

“The Trump administration is committed to helping American communities obtain the modern infrastructure they need to encourage business attraction and growth,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “This project will provide Atlantic City with the necessary stormwater infrastructure to protect its businesses and encourage growth of medical and energy sector companies.”

Dana Gartzke, interim assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, said the Baltic Avenue Canal project “builds upon the successful and significant investment EDA provided in 2013,” when the original timber flood gates were replaced with remote-activated stainless steel.

“EDA is expanding its commitment to economic growth and resiliency in Atlantic City by supporting local efforts to increase the Baltic Avenue Canal’s rainwater capacity and improve its drainage,” Gartzke said.

Following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the canal was identified as a critical project for Atlantic City.

The first phase of the canal plan was a $1 million project to replace the flood gate at Atlantis Avenue, while the second phase was the $5.5 million project to put in pumps and a new gate at Fisherman’s Park.

Additional funding for the project is coming from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sandy funds, through the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Community Affairs. In January, the city received a $6.5 million grant from the DEP.

The Baltic Avenue Canal was built in 1912 at a cost of $840,000, which is equivalent to roughly $20 million today. The canal drains a 775-acre section of the city that stretches from just south of the Atlantic City Expressway to Absecon Inlet and the Bungalow Park neighborhood. The 1.8-mile canal runs from Georgia Avenue to Rhode Island Avenue and has a capacity of 1.1 million cubic feet.

According to officials, sea level has risen about 18 inches since the canal was designed in 1903, and the amount of rainwater draining into it has increased significantly. The new pumps will allow for excess water to be moved out more efficiently, which creates additional space in the canal to hold rainwater and tidal waters.

The canal has two outlets into the bay, one at Atlantis Avenue (where the six new pumps will be constructed) and one at Fisherman’s Park.

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Leg day returns to New Jersey as gyms reopen

MAYS LANDING — Kenith Jones was emphatic about his need to get back in the gym Tuesday afternoon.

“On a scale of 1 to 10,” the 38-year-old Mays Landing resident said after pumping out a set of squats. “It was a 10. I missed it.”

The clang of iron could be heard as Jones worked out at Hometown Health and Fitness on Harding Highway. Gyms across New Jersey opened Tuesday at 25% capacity after being closed for more than five months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It affected people’s physical state and mental state,” Hometown owner Joe LaCerra said. “People definitely took a big hit not being able to come to the gym — not having that hormonal and spiritual release.”

Gyms present a challenging atmosphere to keep COVID-19-free. There’s plenty of sweat and people sharing equipment.

At Hometown, members had their temperatures checked and were given their own spray bottle of disinfectant as they walked in. Employees wore masks. Members wore masks in-between exercises, and social distance was emphasized.

Gyms struggled to survive during the pandemic. At least one local chain, Tilton Fitness, closed permanently. Before Tuesday, gyms had been open only for one-on-one or personal training, but that can be expensive. LaCerra took advantage of several government programs to pay bills and employees.

“We’re mom-and-pop. We’re family-owned,” LaCerra said. “We did fight tooth and nail to get to the other side. We have to thank people like our landlord, they were very kind and gracious to us. Everybody was very accommodating. If that didn’t happen, it would have been the end of us.”

When Hometown opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday, a small group of people were waiting at the door.

“People were ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” LaCerra said. “We’ve had a steady flow of traffic all day.”

Jones has been coming to Hometown for years. He favors the heavy weights.

“They have everything I need here,” he said. “This builds self-discipline. If you don’t want to go, you still have to go.”

For Blake Ballin, of Ventnor, working out at home just wasn’t getting the job done.

“I’ve been waiting for months,” he said. “Home workouts just don’t cut it compared to being able to use machinery that’s spaced out and clean. This is everything I’ve been waiting for.”

Gym patrons draw motivation from each other.

“You’re inspired to put more effort into the workout itself,” said Ballin, 24. “You have distractions at home and less equipment to use. You can focus on different body parts, muscle groups and things of that nature here.”

For many people, the gym not only gives them a physical boost but a social one as well.

Julie Tees, LaCerra’s mother, works out and teaches at Hometown.

“It’s amazing to be back and see your friends again,” the 55-year-old Mays Landing resident said. “I can’t wait to get back to my classes. When you’re here, you have the equipment, you have the vibe, you have the atmosphere. It’s a totally different experience to come back into this environment and see people you haven’t seen in a while.”

LaCerra said the state’s stay-at-home orders taught everybody one lesson.

“The gym is much more than physical health,” he said. “It really is mental health.”

Trump visits Kenosha, calls violence 'domestic terrorism'

KENOSHA, Wis. — President Donald Trump stood at the epicenter of the latest eruption over racial injustice Tuesday and came down squarely on the side of law enforcement, blaming “domestic terror” for the violence in Kenosha and making no nod to the underlying cause of anger and protests — the shooting of a yet another Black man by police.

Trump declared the violence “anti-American.” He did not mention Jacob Blake, who was badly wounded last week in Kenosha.

Soon after arriving in the city, a visit made over the objections of state and local leaders, Trump toured the charred remains of a block besieged by violence and fire. With the scent of smoke still in the air, he spoke to the owners of a century-old store that had been destroyed and continued to link the violence to the Democrats, blaming those in charge of Kenosha and Wisconsin while raising apocalyptic warnings if their party should capture the White House.

Watch Now: Social media captures video and photo from Trump's visit to Kenosha

“These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror,” said Trump. And he condemned Democrats for not immediately accepting his offer of federal assistance, claiming “They just don’t want us to come, These governors don’t want to call, and the mayors don’t want to call. They have to ask.”

The city has been the scene of protests since the Aug. 23 shooting of Blake, who was hit seven times in the back by police as he was getting into a car while they were trying to arrest him. Protests have been concentrated in a small area of Kenosha. While there were more than 30 fires set in the first three nights, the situation has calmed since then.

Trump’s motorcade passed throngs of demonstrators, some holding American flags in support of the president, others jeering while carrying signs that read Black Lives Matter. A massive police presence, complete with several armored vehicles, secured the area, and barricades were set up along several of the city’s major thoroughfares to keep onlookers at a distance from the passing presidential vehicles.

Offering federal resources to help rebuild the city, Trump toured a high school that had been transformed into a law enforcement command post. He said he tried to call Blake’s mother but opted against it after the family asked that a lawyer listen in.

He later added he felt “terribly” for anyone who suffered a loss, but otherwise only noted that the situation was “complicated” and “under investigation.” The only words acknowledging the suffering of African Americans came from a pastor who attended the law enforcement roundtable.

Pressed by reporters, Trump repeatedly pivoted away from assessing any sort of structural racism in the nation or its police departments, instead blasting what he saw as anti-police rhetoric. Painting a dark portrait of parts of the nation he leads, the president again linked the radical forces he blamed for the violence to the Democrats and their presidential nominee, Joe Biden, declaring that chaos could soon descend on other cities across America.

Trump condemned unrest in Portland, Oregon, too — as well as an increase in shootings in cities including Chicago and New York — and tried to take credit for stopping the violence in Kenosha with the National Guard. But it was Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who deployed the Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, and he had pleaded with Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.

“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote in a letter to Trump. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”

Biden has assailed Trump as an instigator of the deadly protests that have sprung up on his watch. On the eve of his visit, Trump defended a teenager accused of fatally shooting two men at a demonstration in Kenosha last week though he did not mention the young man Tuesday.

Claiming the mantle of the “law and order” Republican candidate, Trump insists that he, not Biden, is the leader best positioned to keep Americans safe. He said his appearance in Kenosha would “increase enthusiasm” in Wisconsin, perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state in the presidential race.

Blake’s family held a Tuesday “community celebration” at a distance from Trump’s visit.

“We don’t need more pain and division from a president set on advancing his campaign at the expense of our city,” Justin Blake, an uncle, said in a statement. “We need justice and relief for our vibrant community.”

The NAACP said Tuesday neither candidate should visit the Wisconsin city as tension simmers. Biden’s team has considered a visit to Kenosha and has indicated that a trip to Wisconsin was imminent but has not offered details.

Biden, in his most direct attacks yet, accused Trump on Monday of causing the divisions that have ignited the violence. He delivered an uncharacteristically blistering speech in Pittsburgh and distanced himself from radical forces involved in altercations.

Biden said of Trump: “He doesn’t want to shed light, he wants to generate heat, and he’s stoking violence in our cities. He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”

Trump and his campaign team have seized upon the unrest in Kenosha, as well as in Portland, where a Trump supporter was shot and killed, leaning hard into a defense of law and order while suggesting that Biden is beholden to extremists.

Trump aides believe that tough-on-crime stance will help him with voters and that the more the national discourse is about anything other than the coronavirus, the better it is for the president.

Protests in Kenosha began the night of Blake’s shooting, Aug. 23 and were concentrated in the blocks around the county courthouse downtown. There was an estimated $2 million in damage to city property, and Kenosha’s mayor has said he is seeking $30 million from the state to help rebuild.

The violence reached its peak the night of Aug. 25, two days after Blake was shot, when police said the 17-year-old armed with an illegal semi-automatic rifle shot and killed two protesters in the streets. Since then marches organized both by backers of police and Blake’s family have all been peaceful with no vandalism or destruction to public property.

In Pittsburgh on Monday, Biden resoundingly condemned violent protesters and called for their prosecution — addressing a key Trump critique. And the former vice president also tried to refocus the race on what has been its defining theme — Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 180,000 Americans dead — after a multi-day onslaught by the president’s team to make the campaign about the violence rattling American cities.

Biden’s wife, Jill, on Tuesday kicked off a multi-week, 10-city tour of schools disrupted by the pandemic in eight battleground states, drawing a direct line from the empty classrooms to the administration’s failures combating COVID-19.

During her tour of a Wilmington, Delaware, school, she spoke with teachers and administrators about doubts that in-person learning will actually resume anytime soon and the challenges — including obtaining new small desks and protective equipment to make sure classrooms can handle social distancing — if they do. She said feelings about heading back to school “have turned from excitement into anxiety, and the playgrounds are still.”


Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Wilmington, Delaware, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed reporting.

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Baby bonds: A good idea if done right, or 'lunacy' during state budget crisis?

Gov. Phil Murphy’s “baby bonds” proposal, which would give $1,000 to every child born in New Jersey to low- and middle- income families, is being met with everything from hesitancy to name calling.

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, called Murphy’s plan “lunacy.”

“The governor is going to saddle today’s babies with billions in new debt that they’ll still be paying off as they approach middle age,” Testa said. “Is paying thousands or tens of thousands in higher taxes over a lifetime to get a $1,000 bond really worth it?”

The proposed program is estimated to cost $72 million to $80 million a year, and would come at the same time the state moves to borrow $4 billion and raise $1.25 billion a year in new taxes.

The state’s revenues have been reduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused economic devastation due to business closings and slowdowns.

The state has said it will pay $450 million a year in debt service on the $4 billion in new borrowing.

Seton Hall University political science professor Matthew Hale thinks a baby bonds program could be a good idea, helping children born to poor families get a better start in life. But Murphy has provided too little information on his proposal to know whether it’s a good one or not, Hale said.

“You could have a baby bonds initiative that’s a total disaster, or one that makes a real difference,” Hale said Tuesday. “It all depends on how it’s structured and who benefits.”

The bonds will build “a better future for every child born in the wake of the pandemic,” Murphy said at his revised 2021 budget address last week in Piscataway. “This is a place where New Jersey will lead ... the first statewide program anywhere of its kind.”

A family of four with an income up to $131,000 would qualify, Murphy has said. It would cover about three-quarters of children born in the state, who could use the funds at age 18 for education, for a down payment on a home or starting a business.

“In what world do you take a cash advance from your credit card to put money in your savings account?” asked Testa, a member of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee. “You would think a former Goldman Sachs guy like Gov. Murphy would have better financial sense than that.”

Hale said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has a federal plan that would give all children born in the United States $1,000 at birth, and those born to the poorest families $2,000 a year every year to age 18. That’s about $46,000 at age 18 for the poorest children, he estimated.

The Murphy plan, at least as so far described, would give just $1,000 per child once.

“So if you get a conservative interest rate, it will be $1,600 when the child turns 18,” Hale said. “That doesn’t buy half a course at a private university. I don’t think that gets at doing serious income redistribution.”

Booker last week tweeted his support for Murphy’s plan as a “big step forward for NJ to help close the wealth gap” while continuing to fight for his federal baby bonds.

Hale said he would prefer a baby bonds program to focus on the approximately 7,200 children per year who are born to parents at the poverty level, not the 72,000 born to people making up to five times the poverty level.

That would be about one-tenth the number of recipients, and the amounts could be increased per child, he said.

Economist and consultant Richard Perniciaro, who has prepared reports on how the pandemic has affected the economies of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, said he doesn’t think it makes sense to add an entitlement program in current circumstances.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. What’s happening is in a way they are using the pandemic to further political agendas, as an excuse rather than real remedies,” Perniciaro said. “Baby bonds are fine, but ... there are much more pressing issues right now with unemployment and programs to help people retrain — some of the things that are necessary right now.”

Borrowing so much money to pay for programs has a negative effect over the long-term, Perniciaro said.

Murphy seems to think he has to give something to voters, Perniciaro said, as he also proposes tax hikes and historic levels of state borrowing.

“A lot of it is the governor looking for ways to say things are not that bad. There has been so much press about how the pandemic is hurting poor people more than the rich,” Perniciaro said. “Politically it’s something he feels he has to do. At a different time, baby bonds may be a great idea — maybe. It depends on how we pay for them and what people do with the bonds when they come due.”

Whatever benefit recipients get from the plan will be more than offset by the extra taxes they’ll pay over their lifetimes to repay billions of new debt, Testa said.

Testa said it is likely to take up to 35 years to pay back the $4 billion Murphy plans to borrow, comparing it to the Whitman “pension bond.” Of the $2.8 billion Gov. Christine Todd Whitman borrowed in 1997, New Jersey still owes $2 billion in principal, with current payments costing state taxpayers more than $450 million annually, Testa said. With interest, the total cost of repaying the initial pension bond debt will be more than $10 billion, Testa said.