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The Drowning of Money Island: A Forgotten…

The Drowning of Money Island: A Forgotten Community's Fight Against…

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Money Island, New Jersey is the name of a community, not an island. So you don’t say people on Money Island, you say people in Money Island. That is as fascinating as it gets as Andrew Lewis closely examines The Drowning of Money Island. It is a comprehensive history of a small oystering community that began in the Depression years and has slid ever since. Between the rising of the seas, the sinking of the land and the disappearance of any kind of meaningful employment, there is little to talk about, except nostalgic memories. And that is what this book is: a great deal of detailed description, a small clutch of characters who have little to do with each other, and not much in the way of narrative outside of a timeline of bitter disappointments since Hurricane Sandy, the reason Lewis went back there. The book is almost an ethnographic study of the remaining residents.

What pushed Money Island and the Bayshore community into oblivion was Sandy in 2013. Emergency funds for the state did not trickle down to the south coast like they did to the Jersey Shore (the east coast). Instead, they got daily health code violations for their broken septic systems – even if they had abandoned their unfixable or even missing houses. Repairs and compliance costs would easily exceed the value of the property. Politicians were unconvinced there was any point to throwing good money after bad and restoring the communities – to what exactly? They couldn’t even answer that question.

The book is therefore and necessarily about the diehards, who provide the examples and the color for this history. They drink. They patch things up. They try to ignore their circumstances. It’s still grim.

Lewis clearly points out New Jersey’s state of environmental denial early on. Since the 90s, 177 million cubic yards of sand have been pumped onto Jersey Shore beaches, much of which just washes away again. The cost has been nearly $2 billion. People should not be allowed to live there, demonstrably at taxpayer expense, but no one considers abandoning the Jersey Shore. Money Island, however, is clearly expendable. Few people, little infrastructure, and way too many man-eating bugs. Let it sink.

The state created a $300 million fund out of federal disaster relief (the Blue Acres Program), to buy up homes from those willing to sell out. With their houses essentially worthless, the amounts on offer are derisory. Blue Acres also causes bickering and divisions where remainers (resisters) consider the sellers traitors. But so many had no insurance and impossible repair bills, tax bills and code violations, they welcomed a sale. And no one else is making offers. So what little was left by Sandy is being carted to the dump by the state.

The Drowning of Money Island is no white knuckle roller coaster ride. It is flat and depressing, enlivened only by Lewis’ nostalgic accounts of growing up in the area. There is no climax, unless you think a long overdue government grant for infrastructure is a Cinderella moment. The past was the American Dream, the present is a nightmare and the future is grim.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Jun 28, 2019 |
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