The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017

The Chris Christie beach memes are fun­ny of course but I talked to more than a few local res­i­dents who won­dered what the state shut­down was about. The Star Ledger has gone deep and inter­viewed the play­ers to find out just what hap­pened ear­li­er this week:

When it end­ed ear­ly on the fourth day, New Jer­sey had been treat­ed to a remark­able polit­i­cal spec­ta­cle, even by Tren­ton stan­dards, com­plete with duel­ing press con­fer­ences, nasty back­room shout­ing match­es, and even pro­pa­gan­da posters.  Some of it played out pub­licly — very pub­licly. What didn’t is told here, the inside sto­ry of what caused — and what final­ly set­tled — the New Jer­sey gov­ern­ment shut­down of 2017.

It’s espe­cial­ly depress­ing to read the kind of horse trad­ing that was going on behind the scenes: oth­er mea­sures float­ed to end the stand­off. It was a game to see which con­stituen­cy the politi­cians might all be able to agree to screw over. I pre­sume this is nor­mal Tren­ton pol­i­tics but it’s not good gov­ern­ing and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are felt through­out the state.

Read: The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017

New Yorker New Yorker New Yorker

Web­sites are start­ing to talk about a Don­ald Trump pres­i­den­tial cab­i­net and the names high­light a curios­i­ty of this elec­tion: many of the prin­ci­ple insid­ers come from North­east Cor­ri­dor states that vot­ed for Hillary Clin­ton. Rudolph Giu­liani and Chris Christie, are, like the whole Trump fam­i­ly, metro New York­ers and as far as I know Newt Gin­grich lives in north­ern Virginia.

I’ve lived in Chris Christie’s New Jer­sey since he was elect­ed gov­er­nor and I find it real­ly hard to believe he’s sud­den­ly going to have a strong inter­est in the Mid­west­ern red states that gave Trump the win. You can point to VP-elect Mike Pence of Indi­ana, but as far as I can tell he was only brought on for strate­gic rea­sons and is not part of the Trump circle.

What real­ly can Trump do to bring back the good pay­ing jobs that dis­ap­peared decades ago? Our econ­o­my has been shift­ing regard­less of which par­ty occu­pies the Oval Office. There’s sops and pork to be doled out, but the nation­al econ­o­my has been cen­tral­iz­ing in the big coastal cities that our new polit­i­cal lead­ers call home (the same would have been true with a Clin­ton pres­i­den­cy). What if Trump’s elec­tion is the ulti­mate prank: red states sell­ing their vote to a New York devel­op­er who will most­ly con­tin­ue to devel­op the New York-to-DC corridor?

Crows Woods in Haddonfield NJ

The blog­ger behind South Jer­sey Trails orga­nized a “dads’ hike” today in a small pre­serve along the upper reach­es of the Coop­er River.

The pre­serve is remark­ably inter­est­ing despite its rel­a­tive­ly small size and posi­tion­ing between soc­cer fields and train lines. There’s lots of hills ands wet­lands. We saw two tur­tles fight­ing and a snake of some sort swirling around an eddy in brack­ish iron-filled bog water. There was a lot of flow­er­ing moun­tain lau­rel, one of my favorite wood­land flowers.

Many local trails in deep woods are on land that has seen waves of devel­op­ment over the past two hun­dred years but a check of the 1930 New Jer­sey aer­i­al sur­vey shows that this same patch was deep woods then.

So why is Pea Patch Island (supposedly) owned by Delaware?


How did a sand­bar halfway between New Jer­sey and Delaware become the prop­er­ty of one state and not the other?

The British roy­al gov­ern­ment was noto­ri­ous­ly slop­py in its award­ing of land grants in its colonies. There’s a lot of bound­ary ambi­gu­i­ty and over­lap­ping claims. With Amer­i­can inde­pen­dence, the task for ref­er­ee­ing fell to the new fed­er­al government.

The spe­cif­ic prob­lem of Pea Patch was as young as the nation itself. Accord­ing to tes­ti­mo­ny record­ed in the 1837 records of the U.S. Sen­ate, Pea Patch was formed around the time of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion when a ship loaded with peas report­ed­ly sunk there (smells of a tall tale to me but I’ll let it stand). Allu­vial deposits formed a sand­bank around the wreck and it even­tu­al­ly coa­lesced into a full-fledged island.

When claims over­lap on an island in the mid­dle of a bound­ary riv­er, it’s typ­i­cal to look at two mea­sures: the first and most obvi­ous is to see if it’s clos­er to one side’s river­bank. The oth­er is to look at ship­ping chan­nels and use this as a de fac­to bound­ary. Accord­ing the the Sen­ate tes­ti­mo­ny, Pea Patch Island is both clos­er to New Jer­sey and on the New Jer­sey side of the ear­ly nineteenth-century ship­ping channel.

There’s also human fac­tors to con­sid­er: accord­ing to tes­ti­mo­ny in the Con­gres­sion­al Record the island was gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered a part of N.J.‘s Salem Coun­ty through the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. In 1813, New Jer­sey res­i­dent Hen­ry Gale bought Pea Patch Island and began devel­op­ing fish­eries on it. New Jer­sey for­mal­ly min­ut­ed the island as his prop­er­ty, con­firm­ing the land deeds and giv­ing it to his “heirs and assigns for ever [sic].”

State own­er­ship of Pea Patch would seem to be a pret­ty straight-forward deci­sion then: geo­graph­i­cal­ly New Jersey’s, cul­tur­al­ly a part of Salem Coun­ty, and owned by a South Jer­sey businessperson.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Gale, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment thought it was a good strate­gic loca­tion for a new fort. They offered him $30,000 but he didn’t think it was a fair price. They didn’t want to nego­ti­ate and so made a side deal with the State of Delaware. They decid­ed the state bound­ary line should be drawn to the east of the island to make it a part of Delaware. The state declared Hen­ry Gale a squat­ter and gave full own­er­ship of the island to the U.S. War Depart­ment. Gale was forcibly evict­ed, his build­ings demol­ished, his fish­ery busi­ness ruined. It doesn’t take a con­spir­acist to imag­ine that the Con­gres­sion­al Delaware del­e­ga­tion got some­thing nice for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in this ruse.

(Lat­er on, con­tin­u­ing bound­ary dis­putes between the two states led to the truly-bizarre geo­graph­ic odd­i­ty that is the 12-Mile Cir­cle. Any­thing built off the New Jer­sey coast into the Delaware Riv­er is Delaware’s. This still reg­u­lar­ly sparks law­suits between the states. If you could get behind the scenes I imag­ine you could set a whole Boardwalk-Empire-like show in the Delaware land grant office.)

A cen­tu­ry and a half lat­er the crum­bling ruins of Fort Delaware would come under the admin­is­tra­tion of the Delaware Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources and Envi­ron­men­tal Con­trol. The DNERC folks do a great job run­ning Fort Delaware. When read­ing up on this I was sur­prised to find Hen­ry Gale’s name. My wife’s fam­i­ly has Salem Coun­ty Gales so Hen­ry is at least some sort of dis­tant cousin of my kids. I think Delaware should give us a spe­cial toot on the fer­ry horn every time they land back on the soil of their ances­tral home.

Three-fort touring

The three-fort tour from Ft Mott near Salem, New Jer­sey, to Ft Delaware on Pea Patch Island (de fac­to Delaware), to Delaware City, Delaware and adja­cent Ft DuPont.

A few weeks ago Yum­my­gal at South​jer​sey​ex​plor​er​.com wrote up a trip report on The Three Forts Fer­ry Tour. It didn’t take more than two min­utes of texts before my wife and I decid­ed we would recre­ate this.

It’s wasn’t so easy at first. I spent way too long on the park system’s web­site try­ing to fig­ure out how to board the fer­ry at Ft Mott on the New Jer­sey side. Every option I tried had me board in near­by Salem, N.J. It wasn’t till I was home that I read that the Ft Mott stop had been out of com­mis­sion until ear­ly this sum­mer because of Sandy and that Salem had been the alter­nate board­ing loca­tion. The web­site hadn’t been updated.

Once we got to the dock we saw there was no tick­et kiosk. Once the fer­ry came in we found they couldn’t swipe a cred­it card onboard (real­ly? can’t any mod­ern smart­phone han­dle that?, but I digress…). The only place they could han­dle a cred­it card was the far end, in Delaware City. We’d have to dock on Fort Delaware/Pea Patch Island but stay in the boat and con­tin­ue to this city. We’d hadn’t even real­ly planned to nec­es­sar­i­ly go to Delaware City but we end­ed up spend­ing much of our day there.

Delaware City was a small port town whose claim to fame was its loca­tion as the east­ern ter­mi­nus of the orig­i­nal nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Chesa­peake and Delaware Canal. The mod­ern canal bypass­es it a few miles to the south, so Delaware City is a bit frozen in time.

First stop: Crab­by Dick’s, one of three eater­ies rec­om­mend­ed to us (the oth­ers being a pub and an Ital­ian restau­rant). Being a veg­e­tar­i­an I don’t get into this sort of a restau­rant very often but they had veg­gie burg­ers and cre­ative sweet fries (cinnamon-covered with an apple but­ter dip – yum!). Luck­i­ly it was near­ly emp­ty around noon in a Sun­day so our trou­ble­mak­ing kids didn’t cause too much commotion.

Next door was a small ice cream shop. The tem­per­a­tures were in the 90s so this was an obvi­ous stop.

What we should have done next is wan­der the town until the next fer­ry to Pea Patch Island and its fort. One of our par­ty was deter­mined to see all three forts so we set out for Ft DuPont. It’s adja­cent to Delaware City’s dock and down­town as the crow flies. But we aren’t crows, or fish. DuPont’s on the oth­er side of the old canal. You have to walk about a mile to the first bridge that cross­es it, a rick­ety one at that, then make a sharp left to trav­el in the same direc­tion you had just come from, only on the canal’s south side.

There’s no signs for the fort. Even Yum­my­girl had got­ten lost on her trip so I knew to rely on my phone’s maps. Most of Ft DuPont’s acreage is a large cam­pus dot­ted with an odd assort­ment of run-down ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry mil­i­tary build­ings sur­round­ing an old parade field. The camp had been a major deploy­ment cen­ter dur­ing WW II and had also served as a POW camp for Ger­mans. The state’s been try­ing to repur­pose it in recent years but it’s an odd assort­ment of halfway house ser­vices and nation­al guard asso­ci­a­tions, stuck in between crum­bling build­ings that will nev­er find a new role.

At the far end of all this a nature trail going through what remains of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ft DuPont. Walk­ing it is a bit like tour­ing a jungle-covered Aztec city: every so often a ruin sticks out of the trees and tan­gled vines. It’s an interesting-enough trail but not worth a four mile round-trip hike with four kids in 90 degree heat. We were able to beg a ride back from a park ranger fin­ish­ing her shift thank good­ness but much of our day was sit­ting under trees drink­ing the last of our water.

Back at the Delaware City fer­ry office, we bought a small for­tune of water from the vend­ing machine till the next (and final) boat to Pea Patch Island. This is typ­i­cal­ly the des­ti­na­tion of the tourists but by this time we only had about 45 min­utes before the last boat from the island to Jer­sey. We had an extra half hour as the boat wait­ed in dock for a spec­tac­u­lar storm to pass over the river.

We’ll def­i­nite­ly return but prob­a­bly skip Delaware City except for pos­si­bly a meal.


Of violence and mental snaps

Yet anoth­er hor­rif­ic shoot­ing. It’s hard to keep off the news feeds for each bit of new infor­ma­tion we learn of the per­pe­tra­tor and his vic­tims. It’s nat­ur­al to want to under­stand. If we do final­ly learn of a moti­va­tion behind James Holmes’s actions, it will prob­a­bly be more the trig­ger that set him off — the straw that broke the camel’s back, per­haps, or the dan­ger­ous obses­sion that’s informed his world of late.

A few years ago there was a fel­low from a near­by town who declared him­self the grand wiz­ard of his own branch of the Klu Klux Klan. He would announce plans for a march a local town and instant­ly the media would be rac­ing their news vans there to get reac­tions from politi­cians, police chiefs and ran­dom peo­ple on the street. Head­lines would ensue, blog­gers would go to work, counter-protests would be announced, etc. But the grand wiz­ard turned out to be most­ly an Oz-like appari­tion of smoke. No estab­lished KKK orga­ni­za­tion rec­og­nized him. His ral­lies would attract at most two of his bud­dies. He was in his ear­ly for­ties and liv­ing with his moth­er. He was fired after three weeks work­ing at Wawa, the local con­ve­nience store chain. Yes, he could have been a dan­ger if he had got­ten a hold of a cache of guns but he nev­er did. He was a guy who was a los­er at every­thing except get­ting media atten­tion for out­ra­geous pro­pos­al. Last I looked up he’s got reli­gion, recant­ed his racist ide­ol­o­gy, and apol­o­gized for the KKK talk.

Anoth­er sto­ry I could tell is more per­son­al, of a not-so-distant rel­a­tive who went on a middling-murder spree — five dead in the end (I’ll omit details for rea­sons of fam­i­ly diplo­ma­cy). I only met him once but I’ve come to know the set­ting that shaped him. Some of the issues that shaped him go back gen­er­a­tions and are still active. To tell the sto­ry of his snap would take a nov­el on the order of Jef­frey Eugendies’s Mid­dle­sex. I have an autis­tic son and know that this con­di­tion runs in the fam­i­ly. I try to imag­ine throw­ing him into a main­stream school set­ting with no sup­port and no diag­no­sis, and then bring­ing him up in the fam­i­ly tra­di­tion of alcohol-based self-medication; a stint on the armed forces would just add to the explo­sive mix. Forty years from now my pre­cious lit­tle boy might well be the top sto­ry on Action News. And it would be a tragedy.

If I had a time machine, I think I’d do exper­i­ments to under­stand the nexus of ide­ol­o­gy and indi­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ty. I’d give a 24-year-old Osama bin Laden a desk job in an obscure Sau­di min­istry, and an 18-year-old Adolf Hitler a prize to a pres­ti­gious for­eign art school.

Vio­lent ide­olo­gies are often the per­vert­ed man­i­fes­ta­tion of less-visible per­son­al and fam­i­ly tragedies. I hope we can find a way to step back from the voyeurism of Col­orado details to find ways to extend our­selves in love and care. Tonight, when you feel rage or indig­na­tion, call up a friend or rel­a­tive in pain. Yes, gun con­trol can help les­son the imme­di­ate tragedy. But let’s not for­get the long-term solu­tions. Think about how we lob­by to  widen access to med­ical care (e.g.: uni­ver­sal health­care) and pro­grams for the needy of our youth (hint: fund the schools, expand special-needs pro­grams, bring back after-school pro­grams and enrich­ment oppor­tun­ties). There are three- and six-and eighteen-year-old’s out there tee­ter­ing on cross­roads of alter­nate futures. Let’s hold out our hands and invite them to paths of heal­ing and love.