No people

I am planning a meeting with a regional business incubator next week. One main point to convey is that one of our main challenges at the bayshore is a lack of people. Because of their setup, they should have access to a much larger human resource market.

I’ve been counting the cars at Money Island lately. Now that a few more neighbors have moved out we are down to only about one car per day on a weekday and 3-4 on weekends along the western coastline.

This photo was taken it fall. It looks much less colorful now.

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.

Our “undocumented” neighbors

A few of our local people are “undocumented” but not in the common usage of the word. They have apparently chosen and managed to live with little government interaction.

The most memorable example of this was a peaceful old man who lived just a few doors away on a branch of Nantuxent Creek. He had a boat and a dock that he built himself. Remnants of the dock are still visible today. He made his living on the water but I wasn’t astute enough then to pay attention to those details. He was poor but not destitute. He did not stand out from any other neighbors in those years. I think that’s the main point.

I remember my NJ-born waterman neighbor, a black man, who died about 15 years ago (2002-2003) in his 80s (he didn’t know exactly how old he was) primarily because had no significant contact with government his whole life. Other seniors in this community remembered him as a child in Newport so his story checked out. But he had no social security card, had avoided the draft, never received medical care except a local doctor. He bragged that he never had a social security card. He drove but never had a drivers license, never paid income taxes, etc. He had a cabin on the water on property that he apparently did not own. (The cabin was almost completely over the water. This would not be permitted today but there was no government enforcement in those days).

I’ll likely remember his name at some future time. Part of the purpose of this blog is to record partial histories so that they are not lost and may later be pieced together. For now, I’m leaving all names out of this published story. The only other thing I remember about him was that he was the only neighbor not connected to the shared water well. I heard that the former well owner did not like him and that perhaps racism was a factor.

An officer from the sheriff’s office asked me about him years later after I presumed or heard that he died. He did not die here. I vaguely recall something about a woman. His cabin was deteriorated from storms at that time. His cabin remained closed up for many years and was eventually demolished by the new property owner. (The new property owner came from Sea Breeze and also died a few years later). I still have a few relics from the old cabin collected after the demolition. The only other thing at the site is a bulkhead that was partly reconstructed later.

The fact is that according to the “law” he was illegal, a lawbreaker, a criminal, undocumented. But to me he was an ordinary pleasant guy who just happened to live here in peace at this remote rural place of Money Island. I helped him occasionally, including once with a medical issue, although I don’t remember any other details.

We still have some people in this bayshore area who live with minimal outside contact. When our kids were young they imagined these neighbors to be fugitives with some dark secret. I’ve come to realize that they are just people who made a different lifestyle choice. The politics of this is heightened with the fear of local ICE raids. Continue reading “Our “undocumented” neighbors”

Lessons from “The Drowning of Money Island”

I read Andrew Lewis’ book “The Drowning of Money Island” today. I am reminded that we can learn in at least three different ways from a documentary book like this. I did; and I’ll likely have many The learning aspects are amplified, of course, since I’m reading partly about my own story.

First, I benefited from reading the things I already know. Seeing familiar facts laid out in a book format, organized and interpreted by someone else brings a fresh perspective to understanding these facts. Andy’s analysis, for example, is something that had much more impact in writing than in our discussions.

Second, I benefited from learning new information and details. Andy spent about two years gathering information and conducting interviews. It is natural that he knows more about these topics covered than anyone else. Toward the end of the book-writing process I recognized this accumulated and began asking his opinion as an “expert” whenever a new bay issue came up. The book is loaded with details that I did not know before.

Third is the learning that does not come from what’s written on the pages. This is the analytical part, the real value of reading and structured education. I’ve been hugely influenced by many books in the past and this book will have an oversized impact.

I will comment later on details and lessons learned – some fall in each of these three categories.

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.

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.

Tony Novak is the speaker at Tri County Rotary, Vineland NJ, Tuesday August 20, 2019


Tony Novak is an activist at the Delaware Bay facing the challenges of bringing citizens, government, nonprofits together to agree that the old methods are not working and change in thinking is required to stabilize and restore the enormous resources of the Delaware Bay. His work in New Jersey focuses on Money Island in rural Cumberland County, the state’s #2 most productive seafood landing port. His story and the soon to be released in the book “The Drowning of Money Island” by New York publisher Beacon House. Novak is a sole practitioner small business CPA promoting sustainable business development for construction industry, farming and fisheries.


Thank you to Rotarians…

In 15 minutes total, I’d like to touch on three parts of this environmental justice story:
1) Where we’ve been and how I got to this position – (the unique combination of personal and circumstances that come together to create any good story. Mention Forrest Gump and the October book release).
2) Where we are now with the New Jersey bayshore – (it’s a story that even local community leaders are often not well informed, the reason Jerry invited me).
3) Where we are headed in the future and how we will get there.

– I was a farm boy; my first business was raising and selling vegetables; studied agricultural science and biochemistry, then business. Now I realize that combination of scientific curiosity and practical knowledge is rare and useful.
– Worked for a Wall Street investment firm; left to advocate for small businesses. Developed an early million dollar online business model. We served working class people no matter their national origin or citizenship.
– Worked primarily for construction contractors; was president of the local NARI contractor’s association whose members prosecuted Trump for fraud in the 1990s.
– Success with international wrestling up to age 40 came at a price; one clear impact of traumatic brain injury is lack of inhibition. The most recent injury was a deliberate planned attack (hit attempt) in 2006.
– It all ties into activism in small business; health, environmental and social issues here in South Jersey for almost 30 years. Somewhere in my 30s I traded a Porsche for a Civic and focused on activities like gardening as the key to my future. Started caring for Money Island properties in the early 90s; engaged for a community financial assessment in 2005.
– By chance, stumbled into the worst of crime and corruption. Was the primary whistleblower against a Fortune 500 internet company in 2003 when I caught them cheating on contracts. Avoided involvement in oyster industry prosecutions but dragged into crab industry mess. Gave statements on government corruption to federal and state investigators before and after Sandy. (mention the problem with giving witness statements)

– Right now relatively few mostly unnamed individuals within the State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection control the region’s strategic retreat response plan. Whole towns are gone. You should be concerned! Money Island was the first, to my knowledge, with the financial backing to offer an alternative. The book covers the story of bad actors, mismanagement, corruption and prosecution in that path.
– Baysave formed in 2010 as a 501(c )(3) to pull together a strong team of advocates in industry, nonprofit and government, a written plan, and politically supportable action steps. The core focus was to address the needs of all stakeholders. The plan was on track until it was politically derailed by NJDEP in May 2019.
– NJ governments have sued me, my businesses and individual family members based on murky or manufactured stories in an effort to gain control over my actions to stabilize and restore the bayshore.
– I do comment on this ongoing litigation.

A soft footprint approach engages three strategies.
– Be open and patient – new ideas, new technology, new offers (mention the current offer). This is a long term problem that predates us and will outlive all of us.
– Be communicative privately but silent publicly – the hardest part; I was brought up in an ‘open books’ environment, i.e. lessons learned by aging hippies
– Be independent – do not expect support from government or big fisheries, emphasize use that does not require additional government permits (expand on examples)

We must change the thinking of our relationship with the bayshore. Change does not come easy.

I no longer hold the young activist’s belief that I will be able to change the world. I no longer have a high level of confidence that reasonable people will come together to form reasonable solutions. I doubt that those in power will agree on a basis of fact (as defined by statistical significance analytics applied to a common body of shared data) with the rest of us observing these phenomena.  (These are tough times for scientists).

But I will remain committed to be a strong and clear voice in the direction we must take. 
I welcome follow-up discussion and feedback. The easiest way to reach me is my personal web site that is the same as my name:

Goodbye JD

We said goodbye to JD tonight. Over the past ten years our cocker spaniel soaked up more love in our house than I knew was possible. Every day had to start with a full body massage and belly rub in bed. Early evenings and Sunday mornings he was riveted by his favorite animal TV shows. He enjoyed his last wild summer at the bay cabin but was showing signs of slowing down since spring. His last walk down Bayview Road on Friday morning was incredibly slow. He loved Money Island.

He came to us ten years ago through a rescue shelter. He was a foodie, and the extra weight contributed to his decline. This past weekend it became clear that he was suffering from a long term congestive heart condition or other internal fluid, making it tough to breathe.

I am also reminded of the other dogs of years ago who loved their life here at Money Island: Duke who ruled the island for so many years, Mollie the young terrier, Cricket Lor’s collie and Harley our loved white highland terrier. Mollie is the only one buried here, that I know, after she was tragically hit by an oyster truck years ago.

New thinking required to cope with bayshore transition

The traditional type of thinking that brought us to this point of social, environmental and economic collapse at the bayshore will not serve to bring us out of it. Radically different strategies and leadership are needed for the coming decades.

While most of the country is in a period of economic growth, the NJ bayshore has been in decline for decades. Real estate values have dropped since a peak in 2006, some appraisals showing as much as a 95% decline. Some neighborhoods are not served by internet, public water or sanitation wastewater systems. Education and income levels trail behind other regions. Life expectancy is lower; substance abuse is higher; and access to basic services like medical care and banking is lacking within a half hour drive. Despite private sector efforts to develop businesses, state regulators impede most job growth.

Tony Novak CPA is available to speak with community and business groups on strategies for stabilization and recovery from our long period of decline. Novak is the primary subject of the soon-to-be-released book “The Drowning of Money Island” that shows how mismanagement of our bayshore resources led to the demolition of local communities. The documentary by New York nonprofit publisher Beacon House follows the path of Novak and others in the years after Sandy as they battled “the disaster after the disaster”. He makes a compelling argument that it is not natural conditions and disasters that are killing our communities but government mismanagement, poorly conceived strategies, corruption and sometimes even more shocking criminal behavior that compound the problem. Novak talks about the impact of the coming wave of strategic retreat in South Jersey in terms of environmental justice and the disproportionate burden on poor communities. Novak talks about new strategies being tested by his nonprofit organization Baysave that include ways to reduce the detrimental role of government in efforts to save our bayshore resources.