MANCHESTER – In years past, the onset of sunny skies and warm weather signaled great times for those who call Surf and Stream Campground their home.
After Memorial Day, seasonal campers traditionally start joining the 175 residents who live at Surf and Stream year-round.
The proposed $7.4 million acquisition of the campgrounds by the County of Ocean and Township of Manchester continues to create a sense of impending doom for hundreds of people. A number have limited resources and simply no place to go.
One of the conditions of the sale of the property includes the demolition of the structures on it. The delivery of barren land would therefore call for the removal of multiple recreational vehicles, together with their owners.
Surf and Stream owners posted notices that the campgrounds would cease to operate on May 23, 2022. Full-time residents of the property have retained legal counsel to extend their time to make alternative housing arrangements. They are also requesting that the landowner give them some financial assistance in relocation costs.
At last week’s Ocean County Commissioner’s meeting, a couple of displaced residents came to make sure government authorities knew their predicament.
“I’m a former manager at Surf and Stream Campground,” shared Marie Cicalo. “It’s been a nightmare for all of us who live there year-round. Nobody believes we do – but we do.”
According to Cicalo, attorneys Kevin Starkey and Terrance Turnbach have attempted to negotiate with Surf and Stream owners to come to a successful resolution. However, Cicalo said the owners refuse to deal with the campers on any level.
“The majority of the people can’t move out in 60 days,” Cicalo explained. “We’re not asking to stop the sale and understand the campground is their property. To be fair, we think you should know about the bullying tactics that are going on to get us out.”
Many of the campground’s full-time residents are seniors, veterans, or living on limited incomes due to disabilities. Cicalo told the story of a senior amputee lady who feels completely helpless and another gentleman who is deaf and mute and feels individually targeted.
Edward Babson, a single father who lives year-round at Surf and Stream, provided his observations. He said campground employees are banging on doors telling people to leave. Babson and Cicalo also claimed the campground manager had cut people’s power and water.
Some residents in older campers previously used the site’s public bathrooms to take showers. However, hot water is no longer accessible in those facilities. A padlock on the laundry room door presents another obstacle. People who previously purchased propane onsite can no longer do so and have no other means of leaving the property to buy it.
Cicalo said that the owner’s decision to stop garbage pick up has created other adverse conditions. She further accused the property owners of towing people’s trailers without their consent.
Barry Bielat, the spokesperson for Riverside of Manchester, LLC, which owns Surf and Stream, denied the allegations made against the entity.
“I can assure you that we have not cut off anyone’s utilities nor threatened to do so,” said Bielat. “…We are paying for the existing campers’ electric, sewer, and water, and we are not receiving any site fees. We also have made an offer to the campers’ attorney for the campers to vacate, but as of today, it has not been accepted.
“We have not given away anyone’s RV,” Bielat continued. “Over the years, some old RVs became abandoned, and we had them removed.”
Neither Starkey nor Turnbach was available for comment prior to publication of this article. However, Cicalo said the landowner’s offer represented a “ridiculous resolution” when it came to helping people facing homelessness who have regularly paid their site fees.
“We asked for just 90 days to leave the property, which we thought was in reason,” shared Cicalo. “We had a settlement, and the owners backed out. They wanted to give us $1,000 when we leave, and $1,000 when they sell the place.”
“Everyone who lives on the campgrounds is there because they can’t afford to live somewhere else, especially in this economy,” Cicalo continued. “Mr. Babson has been looking for a home for six months and can’t find a place to live.”
Babson reiterated his frustration, saying that the Board of Social Services told him he had a place to live as long as he was living in the RV. He said Social Services suggested the single father return when he and his nine-year-old daughter had no other alternative than to live in his car.
Ocean County Commissioner Virginia “Ginny” Haines clarified the County’s position on the land acquisition and offered the Surf and Stream residents some direction.
“Until everything is clear, the County will not close on any piece of property to bring it back to its natural state,” assured Haines. “A lot of complaints you have sound like you should go to the town and see if some of the things they are doing are considered violations.”
“It sounds like Mr. Turnbach or Mr. Starkey will need to move forward with litigation,” said Commissioner Gary Quinn. “It would have to in order to come to arbitration or settlement or mediation if the whole thing can’t be resolved in any other way.”
Quinn said that the County had no problem with waiting as long as it seemed appropriate. He further suggested that if the contract with the County ended up going bad, the current landowner would have to attempt selling to a developer.
“That’s going to be difficult in Manchester Township with the way the owner has treated the property,” Quinn added. “…The site has been in non-compliance for so many years with allowing people to live there. There are issues that need to be resolved.”
Haines offered the residents support concerning their existing living conditions. She suggested the Ocean County Board of Health might become involved in assessing the situation while residents still lived on the property. Dan Regenye, Director of the Health Department, spoke with Babson and Cicalo privately at the Commissioner’s meeting.
Two days after the meeting, the Ocean County Health Department showed up at Surf and Stream with a five-person team. Regenye was among those present to assess the property.
“I was in attendance as the Director of the Health Department,” confirmed Regenye. “I also requested my Department Head over the Environmental Unit to participate. We had two individuals go out to review concerns related to (1) public health nuisance complaints (rodents, mosquito breeding, etc.) and (2) campground inspection. The fifth person was a new employee in a training capacity right now.”
Regenye said that his office is in the process of preparing a report reviewing their findings. Meanwhile, Cicalo noticed workers cleaning up the site and expected the Health Department to return again.
The issue isn’t as critical for those who spend summer months or weekends at the campgrounds. While many seek reimbursement for money they paid in advance for the season, some are ignoring the owner’s mandate to stay away.
“Many of our regular seasonals have been here for decades,” shared Cicalo. “They figured they paid for their site and will at least get the last summer out of it. They’ve also been denied water and power hook ups.”