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Delaware River “Hot Dog Man” in Hot Water

US Army Corps Issues Cease & Desist Order – But DEP Looks The Other Way To Generate Concessions Revenue Under Christie Parks Privatization Plan 

DEP Ignores Wild & Scenic Designation and Severe Flooding Risks

Typical weekend scene at the Hot Dog Man - Rt. 29 Kingwood, NJ

Back on June 29, after a meeting of the Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee,  I reported that:

On the NJ side of the river, the “Hot Dog Man” and Bull’s Island got the most discussion.

Until that meeting, I was unaware of the apparently locally infamous “Hot Dog Man”, who operates a rather large tubing and food business along the Delaware River in Frenchtown.

Residents complained of destruction of the shoreline vegetation, pollution, riverbank erosion, illegal structures, litter, and other nuisances.

I was outraged by what looked like total disregard for a stretch of a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River.

Told by residents that the operation did not have DEP or federal permits, I was amazed at what appeared to be blatant violations of several state and federal environmental laws.

I spoke with residents after the meeting and promised to visit the site and followup, particularly on the DEP and federal permit issues. But was too busy with other stuff at the time.

Well, it looks like someone was paying attention (and while I take credit for Bull’s Island, this one wasn’t me!), because the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the US Army Corps of Engineers dropped the enforcement hammer:

Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a cease-and-desist order to Crance; reprimanding the tubing tycoon for installing structures, such as a floating food stand, picnic tables, wooden stairs and signs in and around the Delaware River. …

The Hot Dog Man shuttles about 70,000 tubers and kayakers down the river each summer season while hawking burgers, hot dogs, sodas and snacks. He launches his customers from a dock in Frenchtown, N.J., and sells food from his pontoon boat along the shores of Adventure Island, a tiny island he owns in Upper Bucks. …

The Army Corps, which oversees any structure built in and along the river’s shoreline, cites numerous violations by the Hot Dog Man, including sandbags (used as stairs), a wooden staircase, picnic tables and several advertising signs, according to the July 12 cease-and-desist order.

The US Army Corps does oversee structures along the river, but so does NJ DEP under the NJ Flood Hazard Control Act. Under that law, development and disturbances in the floodplain require DEP “stream encroachment” permits.

DEP should be particularly vigilant in regulatory oversight not only because of the Delaware’s Wild and Scenic River designation and the negative impacts on the D&R Canal State Park, but because of severe downriver flooding (e.g. see: Governor Christie Tours Delaware River Flooding in Lambertville – and the Report of  the Governor’s Delaware River Flood Mitigation Task Force

Any structures built in the floodplain make downriver flooding worse.

Which leads to the question about why a business – with a lease from DEP to operate on State land – was not required to secure DEP permits and why DEP has not taken the same enforcement action as the US Army Corps.

But it’s worse…

Apparently, the violation was reported to the US Army Corps by the Supervisor of the D&R Canal State Park – a brave move for which she has come under personal attack by the Hot Dog Man as engaging in some kind of retaliatory personal vendetta.

[Note: The fact that a NJ State Park Supervisor had to refer an egregious  violation to the US Army Corps instead of her own DEP enforcement staff speaks volumes.]

But instead of supporting their own Park Supervisor and criticizing the egregious violator, DEP undermined her and is supporting this egregious violation. Here’s DEP press office comment:

We’re not looking to have any kind of feud with Mr. Crance. He runs a good business that thousands of people enjoy,” said New Jersey DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese.

Ragonese maintains the DEP wants to be sure Crance’s river structures are safe and properly permitted.

So, why has DEP not taken enforcement action for this egregious violation (which triggered a cease and desist order by the USACE, an organization not known for environmental sensitivity)?

The reason DEP has looked the other way on blatant violations is because DEP has adopted Governor Christie’s vision and pauper policy for the State parks.

Governor Christie’s  “Sustainable Parks Funding Strategy” (see also Governor Christie’ press release) seeks to maximize concession revenues in State parks and to privatize commercial revenue generating operations in State parks.

The head of DEP’s Parks and Natural Resource programs, Assistant Commissioner Rich Boornazian,  is a former real estate hack, with no environmental training or experience.

At the same time, DEP has failed to collect lease revenues from major corporate Parks land users, like oil and gas pipelines and electric power transition lines (see this from our friends at PEER:

FAIR MARKET VALUE LEASES COULD FUND JERSEY PARK SYSTEM — Shale Gas Pipeline Highlights State’s Failure to Collect Full Payments from Utilities

… Over the last several years, a series of audits by the Office of Legislative Services found major flaws in the DEP Office of Leases and Concessions, most notably its failure to charge fair market value or collect overdue lease and concession payments. In response to these audits and PEER advocacy, the Legislature mandated that DEP “conduct a re-appraisal of the rents and fees charged for all residences and other buildings and structures, and for utility easements and right-of-ways, located on State park or forest lands to ensure they reflect current fair market values and will continue to do so” (P.L. 2008, c.31).  DEP was then supposed to integrate this with its plan to fund state parks and forests, a plan due on July 1, 2009.More than two years after this statutory deadline, DEP has done neither mandated task.  Instead the Christie administration has explored a number of small revenue measures to commercialize parks, such as selling corporate naming rights for park facilities and privatizing various park operations.“As this new lease richly demonstrates, charging fair market value for utility easements from the energy industry, as the state is required to do, would be a major funding source for depleted parks and state lands budgets,” Wolfe added.  “If the Christie managers want to run the state more like a business, it should start by collecting the rents truly owed.  Doing this basic job would eliminate the need to panhandle in the parks with chintzy privatization schemes.”

(see also: DEP Parks Funding Plan Can Start By Collecting The Rent)

So, instead of collecting rents owned by their corporate friends, the Christie DEP increases user fees (e.g. new boat ramp launch fees) and promotes illegal and destructive schemes like “The Hot Dog Man”.

This is what happens under DEP Commissioner Martin’s vision of DEP promoting economic development and revenue producing private concessions in state parks.

[Update: I just submitted the following OPRA request to DEP – I will keep you posted on the reply.  

I request the following public documents:
1)  the lease between DEP and Greg Crance, AKA “The Hot Dog Man” for leasing a portion of state land along the Delaware River in or around Frenchtown
2) all DEP permits or approvals issued to Greg Crance, AKA “The Hot Dog Man”
3) all correspondence between DEP and third parties (private and public sector), including but not limited to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the D&R Canal Commission, Mr. Crance, Hunterdon County, and Frenchtown, regarding Mr. Crance’s operations, DEP lease, and state and federal regulatory permits or approvals.
4) all internal DEP email, correspondence, meeting logs and notes, etc regarding Mr. Crance’s operations, DEP lease, and regulatory approvals.
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  1. Diana Evans
    August 5th, 2012 at 15:05 | #1

    There are new signs posted at the Kingwood Boat Launch that say there is a fee for launching boats, etc. There is no phone number, address or contact to get the permits. Also, with 40,000 and up of tubers, they are not charging the Hot Dog Man. He is a “cash cow” for this launch. Why don’t they charge him?

  2. August 6th, 2012 at 09:05 | #2

    @Diana Evans
    Diane – you should file an OPRA request to DEP to get a copy of the lease agreement.

    Hot Dog Man likely pays DEP to lease state park land under that lease.

    That revenue is why DEP failed to take enforcement action or require DEP permits. DEP has a conflict of interest – they can’t regulate a company that they are making money off of.

    Gov. Christie’s Parks funding strategy calls for more of this kind of commercialization of State Parks.

  3. George Kelnhofer
    August 30th, 2012 at 10:04 | #3

    I paddleboard the stretch of river between Frenchtown and Bulls Island every weekend during the season. We have a precious resource that should be enjoyed, respected and appreciated by everyone. In my humble opinion, “The Hot Dog Man” runs a clean, safe business and enables many that would not normally have access to the river, enjoy this resourse.
    My biggest complaint this season was being harrassed by a guy outside the park office at Bulls Island. He was outraged that I actually paid the launch fee for my paddleboards. My point was we’ve enjoyed the free launch access for years and it’s about time we paid for it. Too bad the park does not seem to have the resources to enforce the permits.
    Anyone know where the hundreds of tires at the bottom of the Delaware on PA side near Tinicum Park came from? That’s truly a sad sight. Ease up on the Dogman and clean up those tires.

    George K.

  1. April 30th, 2014 at 12:40 | #1
  2. January 1st, 2015 at 13:32 | #2
  3. September 13th, 2015 at 10:24 | #3
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