ATLANTIC CITY — Two days after the popular Fishheads food truck was towed and impounded by the city of Atlantic City in a dispute over state Green Acres laws, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection sought to distance itself from the eviction.
“The issue was that Atlantic City is evicting Fishheads,” said Caryn Shinske, a public information officer with the state DEP, which oversees the Green Acres program. “It is not the state that is evicting Fishheads. It is Atlantic City.”
The city carried out the eviction of Fishheads from Gardner’s Basin, towing the trailer on Saturday to the city’s lot, where it remained for a short time before the owner, Gregory “Dredgie” Wood paid $350 to reclaim it. But Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said they only did so in accordance with the state’s Green Acres edicts.
“It’s a Green Acres issue,” he said. “Look at the history of Green Acres with the city of Atlantic City. We’re following the state laws.”
Small noted previous Green Acres-related evictions: the crafters huts at Gardners Basin in 2017, and three trailers being used for classrooms for the Uptown School Complex that were ordered removed because they were a few feet into Green Acres land.
Gardner’s Basin, the 12-acre waterfront park, was developed with funds from the state Green Acres program, which preserves open space for public use, as well as the National Park Service’s Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, that leave it subject to various restrictions.
Shinske, the DEP spokesperson, would not elaborate on whether the state would have allowed Fishheads to stay at Gardner’s Basin, the bay front land from which Wood has operated his food truck for the last seven years, if the city had not acted to remove him.
An earlier statement from the state outlined that the Green Acres regulations had limited the area to two restaurants, with the possibility of food trucks on a temporary basis brought in for events. The statement noted that the city had notified Fishheads that remaining on site “would not comply with the Green Acres and National Park Service restrictions.”
The removal of Wood’s trailer, now parked off a street in Atlantic City, sparked outrage in the community of locals and tourists who made his Fishheads a staple of visiting Atlantic City’s back bay. Many noted that Fishheads was the only Black-owned business in Gardner’s Basin.
Some accused the mayor of harboring a personal grudge against Wood that prompted the eviction, which the mayor denied. Small said the city offered to help Wood relocate to a nearby spot along the seawall, as well as a spot in the city’s Outlet Mall, the Walk, both of which he rejected.
In March, the city bid out the two allowable spots at Gardner’s Basin, which allowed two other popular Gardner’s Basin restaurants, Back Bay Ale House and Gilchrist to remain.
State Sen. Vince Polistina had been attempting to broker a compromise with the state and had advised Wood not to move his truck.
On Monday, Small accused Polistina, who is white, of playing “reverse racism in the Black community.” Small is Black.
“Vince Polistina voted against tax relief for Atlantic City, and now he wants to act like he’s a champion,” Small said in a telephone interview. “The bottom line, none of them give a damn about Atlantic City. I’ve been a champion for the community, for Black businesses. I put my record over all.”
In response, Polistina said: “When you have an African American business serving the community in Gardner’s Basin, I think we should have done everything possible to allow him to remain.”
Polistina said the state’s distancing itself from the actual eviction, and its openness to food trucks, signaled that there might have been room for a solution. The state continues to have control over Atlantic City government from the 2016 Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act.
“In my mind, the state gave the city the ability to work with Fishheads,” Polistina said. “Green Acres recognized that food trucks could be there. I don’t think the state was going to evict the guy.
“Clearly, there was a path, and the mayor didn’t want to do it,” Polistina said. “He ordered the removal and impoundment over the weekend in the middle of a nor’easter.”