Aquaculture crawls forward

It was a busy week at Money Island but that doesn’t mean that an outcome is any more clear. I see competing and conflicting interests that will eventually clash. Meanwhile, I head two independent confirmations of ongoing investment here.

The state is planning more oyster aquaculture training in Trenton in early 2020. I was asked to help prepare an invitation list.

One local business wants to expand crabbing and processing here again. I agreed to help with the marketing, but had a conversation with Division of Fish and Wildlife to avoid being caught in our antiquated laws again. Current law says that a marketing consultant can be prosecuted for not having fisheries industry catch records, even if the marketer did not sell any product.

Meanwhile, roadway erosion control work continues, but apparently not in coordination with the oyster industry. This just seems odd and inefficient.

A productive government meeting today

Today I had a meaningful and productive meeting in Bridgeton with two important and influential state officers. My purpose was to admit my uncomfortable position, admit past mistakes, and clear the air for better communications in the future. I said that I don’t know who I can trust and that makes me nervous. I also said that I really don’t know how things will work out for us at the bayshore. I still don’t see the big picture of what’s going on with state government and that’s not because I broke y reading glasses there. These officers deny knowingly collaborating with other officials but admit acting on “anonymous” sources. I’m skeptical that the sources are other agencies.

The meeting went well. I decided to not publicly name the officials. I also told them that I would not name others in the community that they wanted me to discuss. Balancing my goal of publicly documenting events vs. acting with good judgement to not disclose some details will continue to be a challenge for me.

First week at new winter office

Today I took a long walk down 2nd Street in Millville, New Jersey. I expect to be working in town all winter before returning to my bayshore office at Money Island in the spring. I took the two mile walk after a nonprofit accounting engagement that is not going well triggered an upset in my business plan this week. I blogged about that separately last night to blow off steam.

Downtown Millville is about half vacant. I didn’t actually count the closed storefronts but “half” is a solid estimate. I thought about other communications in my past in Pennsylvania that have rebounded from this downtown blight. I thought about the unique challenges facing this region of New Jersey. Those negative perceptions were reinforced when I stopped into the municipal office. I thought about all the business permit applications I’ve made in New Jersey: at least a dozen and only one of them approved. Financing attempts face similar results. More than a dozen applications submitted, only one approved. Then I thought about my most respected local business adviser who says “never be a victim” and so I immediately moved away from the negative thoughts.

I thought about how much time and money I wasted this year on idiotic government actions, including defending the multiple legal actions by four state agencies over government controlled business permits. I often think about what great progress could be made if we put that money and energy into rebuilding rather than fighting each other!

I stopped into an art exhibit at the Clay College that focused on social justice. “Build communities” logo in the window caught my attention. I feel like I do the same work as these artists, but as an accountant. I wonder how many people would see the connection.

I made two resolutions during the walk:

1) I will learn more about local redevelopment, and what is different between Millville and Vineland downtown. (Vineland is rebounding). I consider myself to be strong on small business development but all my recent experience is with rural communities. My distant past with Philadelphia SBDC and recent past interactions with Atlantic City SBDC and other similar organizations helps me see the potential. But I really don’t know enough to identify the problems with this downtown.

2) I will blog about “getting to know Millville” on a daily basis. I won’t include any names, but will document my progress in building collaborative business relationships.

 

The most important economic trend for small businesses

I now count 42 years of my life as a small business operator. The first one was a sweet corn farming operated conducted separately from my family and neighbors at age 17. Since then, I’ve had quite a range of small business experiences from an internet based technology company to soft shell crabs. That range of time and experience gives me some ability to look at the trends. The one overriding small business trend that I see over my lifetime is this:

The amount spent on productivity-related items has decreased while the amount spent on government-related items has increased.

I suspect this is a widespread trend but I also suspect that I’ve experienced it more than most and that’s why I’m writing about it. I’m not aware of much research in this area. I think that if I were to conduct organized research on a small business topic, this would be it.

By “amount” I mean the actual nominal dollar amount and the portion of gross income.

By “productivity-related”, I mean things like office rents, staff, software, hardware, training, tools and equipment.

By “government-related”, I mean things like taxes, permits, licenses, fines, legal fees and insurance (especially health insurance).

It is easy to conclude that this is not a healthy trend for small businesses.

“Lack of oversight”

Lack of oversight by Florida International University, the Florida Department of Transportation, contractors and engineers is to blame for the deadly collapse of a pedestrian bridge on the school campus in 2018, federal investigators said Tuesday.” – UPI 10/22/2019

The tragic story of the 2018 Florida bridge collapse in the news again today results in each party pointing the blame at another; nobody accepting responsibility for the failure. It reminds me that this is the same rotten behavioral pattern that we see here at Money Island with each government branch or agency and contractor denying responsibility for the overall failure of the oversight but pointing the finger at another. I guess that one of the sobering realities of being an ‘adult’ is that you cannot expect responsible ethical behavior out in the real world.

We don’t have any resulting deaths here yet. But in 2006 my criticism of government for lack of oversight that caused infrastructure failures resulted in death threats against me and eventually, years later, a grand jury indictment for attempted manslaughter planned by government. In the most recent developments, the State Attorney General is willing to blame and sue anyone – literarily “John Doe and Jane Doe” named as defendants in the AG’s active legal action here that closed the marina and hosted businesses – rather than accept responsibility by government itself.

I no longer hold out hope that government will be held accountable for it’s responsibilities, nor its contractors. But I do expect to tell the story so that the truth about environmental injustice at the bayshore is not forgotten.

#WorldMentalHealthDay and environmental justice in New Jersey

Today is noted in news broadcasts as World Mental Health Day. In this past week I’ve had more discussions about mental health than is typical.

The book “The Drowning of Money Island” released October 1 talks about the nervous breakdown of the former business owner who is still one of my closest neighbors. I did not know about this detail until I read the book. I might have guessed the mental stress that came with their post-Sandy bankruptcy. The book also questions my mental status and decisions; a topic best saved for another post.

Two days ago I met with another neighbor, a business owner and engineer, who said that I looked much better now than the last time he saw me. At that time I was in the middle of two brutal legal attacks by the State of New Jersey. Like me, he is struggling to get by day to day. We talked about how the environmental justice struggles of the bayshore have taken a toll on our businesses, our physical health, the compound effect of loss of sleep, and the effect that stress has on deteriorating our marriages and family relationships. We did not directly discuss our own mental health concerns; it seems like just not a thing that guys do.

The main point is that it is not nature that is causing the mental stress around here. We can deal with storms, flooding and lack of fish. Unnecessarily cruel government antagonism, a complete lack of empathy, and sometimes outright criminal behavior is causing the mental stress here.

In the years following Superstorm Sandy I often wrote and spoke about the increase in mental illness, divorce and drug use in our community. It still breaks my heart that I never saw some friends again since the day before Sandy hit. I heard that one later committed suicide. I recall two public meetings where Cumberland County Health Department officials nodded agreement with my anecdotal observations but had little actual data to back these observations.

My observations, again and again, indicate that the increase in mental illness here is a direct result of failures of government to implement fair environmentally just policies. I brought this to the attention of the Governor’s office again this past year. I have yet to receive any acknowledgement of my letters, speeches, emails, calls or social media messages. I conclude that it’s not that the government isn’t getting the message but rather than our officials are deliberately avoiding addressing this difficult issue.

Whistleblower risks are real

Whistleblower risks are real! I know first hand the real dangers of being a government whistle blower. It happened right here in Cumberland County New Jersey in 2006.

The truck used in the vehicular assault November 2006.

As I laid badly injured on my lawn at the side of the road we heard the attacker yelling “What did you think would happen for fucking with Riland” as he drove away from the scene. I was intentionally stuck by a neighbor’s truck that veered off the road and accelerated toward me on my lawn. By luck and miracle I vaulted over it as it stuck me to avoid being run over. I broke ribs when the truck grill hit me and that was the first thing I felt when I hit the ground.

Riland was a local politician who repeatedly threatened me to not spread information about local government’s liability in failing to mitigate basic climate change impact here at Money Island. He had at least one prior police record for assault for a violent political retaliation.

Later multiple witness testimony confirmed that the politician and the assailant had colluded to “take me out” shortly before the attack. The politician was heard neighbors screaming at me and threatening me for distributing written information about local government’s liability for ignoring climate change impact to my neighbors about an hour before the attack. I was an early whistleblower in the area of environmental justice and didn’t even know it at the time. I was just trying to get local government to admit their errors in failing to deal with water level rise that already washed away houses and part of our road.

I had also reported receiving a telephone death threat to New Jersey State police for the same matter two months earlier. Even though I reported the caller’s number to police, I don’t think the political retaliation threat was ever investigated.

The assailant told his employee minutes before the attack that “I’m going to jail tonight” before getting into the truck. The assailant fled the state the next day (or shortly thereafter) with funds from his family, was arraigned by a grand jury in his absence, but was never formally charged or tried because Cumberland County prosecutors missed key hearings and twice “misplaced” the file.

Our current District Attorney disclaimed responsibility for the prosecutorial errors because the case began prior to her appointment. The politician also fled the state and was never charged for his role in the crime. Local government did not contest and quickly settled the civil charges for its indirect liability in the attempted murder.

I expect (but don’t know for sure) that some of this is covered in the new documentary book “The Drowning of Money Island” scheduled for release by Beacon House Publishing on October 1. The legal case records are available as public information. I lost many years of work recovering from those injuries and still struggle with the impact today. Only now, after all these years, do I have the courage to stand up to talk about the pervasive government corruption that still reigns powerful today. In most cases there are no real protections for whistleblowers and corrupt politicians have shown again and again that they are willing to commit violent crimes and murder to protect their power base.

https://apple.news/ATZ4OuS8iQ8OolVrGLJnseg

Eminent domain at the bayshore

“Little else raises fear in property owners like eminent domain powers of government”.

I remember back years ago when we didn’t worry that our children might be murdered in a mass killing by crazy guy with a military style machine gun in their school. Back then we didn’t worry that people from another country were stealing our anything. In fact, we even welcomed them and benefited from the relationships. And we mostly believed that when our president said something the result was based in fact. Back then, I still recall, that one thing that did make an ordinary American’s blood boil was the topic of eminent domain. The government’s right to take private property for the public good scared us to an extreme. Little else raises fear in property owners like eminent domain powers of government. The topic of eminent domain was a prevailing social paranoia among NJ and PA property owners in the communities where I grew up as a child and lived as a homeowner for decades more.

Bayshore residents give up a lot in order to live here. No modern conveniences, fierce bugs, storms, flooding, heat and more. Yet we make those sacrifices for a reason; the ability to remain in our own part of heaven. Yet eminent domain threatens to rob us of the value of these years of sacrifice by offering the depleted cash value of our homes and businesses and leaving little option to restore a quality of life elsewhere. Eminent domain is the ultimate environmental injustice. Eminent domain is one of the legally endorsed techniques to accelerate the overall long term trend of rich people displacing poor people at the coast. I understand this larger concept of government displacement of poor people at the bayshore is a theme of the book “The Drowning of Money Island” that I have not read yet.

Since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 thousands of New Jersey shorefront property owners – mostly in rich Atlantic coastal towns – have felt the effect of eminent domain law. Many hated it and think of it as legalized theft. But the government’s perceived need to make immediate infrastructure changes to save our shore towns was held as a higher priority than individual property rights.

Most people acknowledge a need to relocate populations away from the coast but some human workforce is still needed at the bayshore to support fisheries, aquaculture, marine trades and other support services. I’ve always assumed that I might be floating on a boat, but that my presence would always be valued in these capacities at the bayshore.

Here at the bayshore state government has emphasized voluntary property acquisitions rather than eminent domain. The words eminent domain are still considered taboo by many politicians. One of our former mayors emphasized that this township would never use eminent domain to acquire properties. That’s partly why I was surprised when conservative Downe Township in Cumberland County proposed a series of land acquisition ordinances that included eminent domain provisions. The ordinances do not require that the properties utilize eminent domain law, but rather that they open the door to that possibility.

This blog post is written simply to document the little bit that I’ve learned about eminent domain as it applies (or not) to our situation.

I presume that small township solicitors use prototype ordinances in his daily work for our township. This seems to be the case for a number of proposed land acquisition ordinances that include the term “EMINENT DOMAIN” in the title section. More concerning is that each proposed ordinance includes this phrase:

“WHEREAS, the Township has determined that it is necessary, beneficial and in the public’s interest to acquire all or a portion of the subject Property for public use as proposed;”

I’ve learned from other sources that this is boilerplate language and, in fact, no actual determination that would meet the requirements of that clause under the Eminent Domain Act of 1971 as interpreted by the courts, has actually been made.

Here are my concerns:

First, I wish that we would be more precise in our wording of proposed ordinances to avoid miscommunication and legal tussles later. The fact is that it is highly unlikely that local government could meet this specific legal requirement. To say that government already did this is misleading.

Second, I wish that we would completely avoid the use of the term “eminent domain” unless it is absolutely necessary as determined by due public process.

Third, I wish that we would address the real problem: scarcity of funding to accomplish all of these well-intended municipal goals. While I know that a few people work hard to find funding, the pattern is to ignore possibilities of public private partnerships like the ones my company Baysave develops to accomplish community goals. We need to get the community involved and build consensus among diverse interests to accomplish our challenging climate change adjustments ahead.

”Elitist”

We face threats to our quality of life and even our continued existence in two primary realms: 1) democracy and 2) planet. The proven effective strategy of those in control of the status quo is to repress history and current science by replacing these with emotionally driven memes that support their own agendas. We see that happening now at a shocking level.

The attack can be deterred by improving the quality of information we absorb. Education weakens the power of propaganda and big money interests. Our salvation does not require change in everyone. If only 5% more people based their positions on quality information sources like primary peer reviewed journals, conventions, the classic arts and books rather than social media then the entire world could be saved.

I’m not saying that I believe that we will actually reverse the dumbing down and decline in the intellect of the mass population. I am just saying that there is a clear possible path to save ourselves. Yet this solution is increasingly attacked as “elitist”, both by the elites already in power and the masses influenced by their propaganda. I hear some version of this label frequently in attempts to repress this thinking.

Being labeled as an elitist and independent thinker can even be dangerous. My community campaign of handing out information to influence local government to follow scientific standards for environmental sustainability triggered death threats and a hit attempt by a local politician in 2006.

Today the repression of democratic process and deliberate repression of information in locally important issues is worse than any other time of my life. This ongoing effort to address this catastrophe remains my primary life focus despite my admission that we are losing the war.

the unlikely elitist

State government has been tough on South Jersey boardwalks

Late last year the NJ state government shut down the boardwalks at Money Island. This came as a shock to the local residents and commercial fishermen who relied on the boardwalk. Ours aren’t anything elaborate, just about 600 feet of elevated walkways between roadway and water. We already had financial support from private and nonprofit organizations to make the necessary repairs. The problem was that we did not have the money for permits that cost more than the repairs. The permits should have been issued decades earlier. The state admits that it knew the boardwalk lacked permits but permitted its use since the early 1970s. Baysave, a New Jersey charity that owns the local boardwalk, raised donations for repairs but did not know about the additional hidden costs of government permit fees.

Ironically, this past year the state spent more in legal costs fighting the boardwalk than it would have cost to pay for the permits. It was clear that the people in Trenton have no willingness to work with our local community for common sense solutions.

Now the boardwalk repair problem comes up again. The governor denied funding for necessary boardwalk repairs in Wildwood. It reminds me of the struggles we faced with the state in Ocean City when I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce there. The same battles persist.

Boardwalks are critical to our communities and a “one size fits all” budgeting and regulatory process is clearly failing us here in South Jersey.

Several people in local government joined Baysave in attempted communications with the Governor’s office. We tried multiple times by phone, email, online form and certified letter with no response to any of them. We met with State Senator Andrzejczak last fall and he said that he had little power to fight these bad actors within the NJDEP and Attorney General’s Office in Trenton.