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Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022:
One of the most tragic events of the past year in Cape May County was the unsanctioned car rally in Wildwood City that claimed 2 lives, injured others and disrupted the sense of security citizens have a right to enjoy. The rally, also known as H2Oi, which stands for water cooled import vehicles, is a car meet event that plagued Ocean City, Maryland until local authorities came up with a way to make their environment no longer attractive to the organizers.
This year, it moved on to Cape May County with gatherings in shopping center parking lots in Middle Township and then finally a rally on the streets of Wildwood City.
Gerald White, 37, of Pittsburgh, killed two individuals when his car hit another car and pedestrians. White has since been indicted on 18 counts including two counts of first degree vehicular homicide. Other participants in the rally also face criminal charges. Police in neighboring jurisdictions issued numerous summonses from over 300 vehicle stops.
Since the September event, county and municipal leaders have focused on local ordinances that will make a repeat of the rally in the county less likely.
This was a year in which the state flexed its muscles in terms of its climate change agenda. Governor Phil Murphy upped the ante by 50% onthe expected wind farm capacity from Ocean Wind I, even before the first turbine has been constructed. A dispute over the route of wind farm transmission cables is probably headed to court,once the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) issues its expected ruling supporting the route favored by Ocean Wind LLC, but opposed by Cape May County. The BPU saw its power enhanced this year when legislation gave it the authority to rule on land use disputes regarding transmission lines and municipal government opposition.
NJPACT, a series of new state regulations meant to incorporate climate change expectations into land use decisions and development, is moving ahead with an aggressive push from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Already new state drafted ordinances concerning stormwater management have been imposed on local governments.
In 2021, New Jersey established an Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy. The state’s Chief Resilience Officer, David Rosenblatt, has wasted no time getting out the message that the fight against climate change will be a municipal struggle fought with municipal funds.
2023 is supposed to see the final Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for back bay protection from rising seas. The $16 billion plan was presented in 2021 and has not been heard of since.
School boards have become battle grounds. The elections in November saw an increase in the number of candidates seeking seats on the volunteer boards as well as a strong reaction against incumbents in many of the districts.
In early 2022, groups of parents expressed concern about restrictive regulations regarding in-person instruction, vaccines and masking. It is almost too easy to forget that 2022 began with high levels of community spread of a new highly contagious virus variant. Back in January, Covidhospitalizations were four times what they are today.
This was followed by a struggle over curriculum with groups of parents objecting to the teaching of what was termed Critical Race Theory (CRT). Politicization and tension around the teaching about race in the classroom became a nationwide issue early in 2022.
Later in the year the focus of attention shifted to state guidelines on sex educationand gender identity. These guidelines and the positions taken on them by local school boards became a central issue in many county district elections in November.
To add to the debates, test results showed major areas of learning loss among K-8 grade students, compared to pre-pandemic levels. An American College Testing (ACT) study underscored the fact that the problem existed at secondary school levels as well. The good news was there are record levels of federal funding to address the learning interruption.
It was an interesting year for the weather. Record snowfallat the start of 2022 and the coldest Christmas Eve in decades at the end. The county avoided any direct hit by a major storm, but a series of nor’easters plummeted the coast causing major scarping and beach erosion.
The year saw a more welcoming stance taken by some county municipalities toward cannabis businesses within town limits. West Cape May, Lower Township and Middle Township have all rolled out the welcome mat for recreational weed sales, provided companies they have endorsed are able to secure state licenses.
Inflation gripped the economyin 2022, adding to ongoing supply chain disruption. Price rose at rates unseen in 40 years. Even with oil prices receding, the cost of food remains high placing pressure on those who already suffer from food insecurity.
First elected to county government in 1976, Gerald Thornton chose to retire in 2022. Gerry, as he was known to everyone, served as Freeholder Director since 2011. Thornton announced in March that he would not seek reelection.
Juvenile behavior became a source of citizen anger for the second straight year in 2022. New rules on how police can interact with juveniles have added to a problem many see as out of control. Local officials are seeking state legislative relief to allow for greater flexibility in dealing with the issue.
The attorney generals of all 50 states have come together in 2022 to fight robocalls. The Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force hopes to succeedwhere past attempts have failed. Hold on, my phone is ringing!
FEMA’s new formula for calculating flood insurance premiums went into effect for all policies in April. Despite FEMA’s claim that most people will not see an increase in their premiums, many policy holders have elected not to renew their coverage precisely at the point when scientists argue vulnerability is climbing.
The Diocese of Camden entered into an $90 million settlement of over 300 cases of clergy sexual abuse. Many of the “credibly accused” clergy came through churches in Cape May County.
By June, the surging COVID cases at the start of the year had eased sufficiently for the county health department to end its regular positing of Covid numbers on a county dashboard.
A mass shooting at a school in Texas led to armed security at many county schools. Drills on dealing with active shooters are part of on-going training in county police departments.
Several county municipalities debated mechanisms for regulating the fast growing area of short-term rentals. Regulations may include licensing, inspection requirements and even a state allowed occupancy tax.
Cape Regional Medical Center announced that it would no longer offer maternity services, highlighting the problems faced by small independent acute care hospitals in attracting and retaining physicians. The medical center later announced that it will merge with Cooper University Health System provided the merger gains regulatory approval.
Beginning in May, New Jersey retail, grocery and food service businesses stopped providing plastic bags. While adjustment to the new routine appears to be going well, it is not uncommon to see someone leave a cart of groceries to run back to the car for the bags.
Atlantic City Electric is taking steps to prepare the electrical grid for increased demand as plans proceed to “electrify everything.” Smart meters being installed throughout the county will allow for time of day pricing. Meanwhile an armed attack on a substation in North Carolina raised new concerns about protection of the grid.
Most of the county’s shore communities are now under assessed at levels that would normally trigger municipal revaluation. What holds things up is continued volatility in the real estate market. Revaluations will not be far in the future with towns approaching 30 and 40% underassessments.
2022 was a year that saw the arrest of the mayor, ex-mayor and sitting councilmanin Wildwood, over charges they illegally benefited from state paid healthcare insurance they were not entitled to. Earlier in the year, a sitting governing body member in Cape May City resigned under public pressure after pleading guilty to stalking charges regarding an ex-girlfriend.
Spout of the Week
Wildwood – Went to Cape May Point the other day, it’s sad to see the USS ATLANTUS losing the battle with the sea after 100 years. What are the tourists going to do after it’s gone?