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Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Mainland’s Kylee Watson in action during the game against Lenape. Dec.28, 2018 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

As government shutdown continues, South Jersey workers idle

The ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government is already the third longest since 1980, and the longer it stretches on, the longer many South Jersey workers — including Coast Guard personnel — will go without pay.

Seventy-five percent of the federal government is fully funded through September. Not included in that figure is the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard.

As of Friday, out of 98 civilian employees at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, all are furloughed except 24 who were deemed essential, said John Edwards, spokesman for the Training Center. The 24 will work and be paid for their hours once a budget is passed, the same as all enlisted personnel.

“They need to pass a continuing resolution or budget,” Edwards said. “I have no idea how long that will take.”

The federal funding lapse was not resolved Friday, meaning salaried Coast Guard personnel will see the delay in their expected pay extend into the new year, Edwards said.

What a government shutdown may mean for South Jersey

Friday’s possible partial federal government shutdown could require some Federal Aviation Administration operations at the William J. Hughes Technical Center to cease, but not air traffic control or other essential services, said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.

“While we hope for a quick resolution to the shutdown,” Edwards said, “we are continuing our mission to train our recruits with the highest standards and care expected of that responsibility.”

The American Legion in Wildwood and the Seaville Volunteer Fire Company in Upper Township are collaborating to collect donations for Coast Guard enlistees and their families, said Vince DePrinzio, the local post’s adjutant. They are seeking nonperishable food, diapers and gift cards.

Workers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township are also feeling the pinch. Of 1,420 employees at the research, development and testing facility, 971 are furloughed and 449 are working without pay, said Greg Martin, a spokesman for the FAA.

It’s not just workers noticing the funding lapse.

Ted and Lynn Bodine made a stop in Atlantic City on their drive back to upstate New York after spending the holidays with their kids in Richmond, Virginia.

They had time to kill Friday, they said, and decided to visit the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township.

The Bodines arrived, in the rain, to a nearly deserted refuge.

“We’re just glad it’s open,” Ted Bodine said. “Since it’s our first time here, we don’t know if this is normal.”

A sign on the door of the Visitor Information Center read, “Sorry visitors info center is closed during gov’t shut down,” punctuated by a frowning face. The Bodines joked that, since there were almost no employees in sight, they could have gotten away with not paying the $4 entrance fee for their car.

“We’d rather fund the National Parks maybe than anything else,” Lynn Bodine said.

President Donald Trump requested $5 billion in 2019’s budget to begin construction of a border wall he promised throughout his 2016 presidential campaign. Congressional Democrats rejected that. The shutdown began last Saturday with funding for nine Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies lapsing, furloughing 380,000 employees and leaving 420,000 essential employees to work unpaid.

With Trump vowing to do “whatever it takes” to get funding for the proposed wall, the shutdown could last for some time.

Jeff Van Drew will be sworn in as the U.S. representative from the 2nd District on Jan. 3rd, replacing Frank LoBiondo, who is retiring after 24 years in Congress.

Van Drew said the sticky immigration disputes at the core of the shutdown should never have gotten to the point of total gridlock.

“There are gonna be pay delays, without question. It’s unfortunate. For some people, they can weather that more easily than others,” Van Drew said. “It’s not the way we should conduct business in the United States of America.”

LoBiondo struck a similar chord last week.

“I strongly urge the president and Democratic leaders to compromise on a solution that ends the partial government shutdown that affects members of the Coast Guard, employees and contractors at the FAA Technical Center, other impacted federal workers and their respective families,” LoBiondo said.

Staff Writer Avalon Zoppo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Local Facebook groups offer information, entertainment, fighting

In the fall of 2016, a Linwood school board election was imminent, and Anthony Gaud, a career tech and media entrepreneur, felt a journalistic calling.

So he started Linwood Live, a Facebook group, and livestreamed interviews with all of the candidates running. He did it again in 2017.

It’s a small town, he said, and there was confusion as to what the government was doing, what the school board was doing.

“(I) wanted the town to have a say in discussing it,” said Gaud, 49. “When (I) launched the group, it was not to influence the school board election but to give each side an opportunity to have discussion about it.”

Now, Linwood Live streams Mainland Regional High School football games, posts produced videos and serves as a forum and sounding board in the community.

Linwood Live is one group of likely thousands like it. If a town has more than a handful of people, there’s a good chance its residents are online sharing news stories, kvetching about weather and potholes, and making jokes about local personalities.

“It’s kind of a combination of town square, information desk and table at your favorite diner,” said David Weiman, who became a moderator in a Ventnor community group in May.

And such groups can fill in the gaps for an understaffed press, sharing breaking information — though often with little in the way of confirmation or detail.

“To an extent, local Facebook groups do serve a similar need for local information, getting oriented in your environment and staying on top of your community,” said Katherine Ognyanova, an assistant professor of communication at Rutgers University. “You can’t rely on Facebook groups for accountability reporting. ... On the other hand, Facebook groups do provide better tools for collective action and organizing.”

Groups like Ocean City, New Jersey Flooding serve a singular focus — an issue that needles the community — and keep members on task, often mobilizing for council meetings.

Suzanne Leary Hornick started the group five years ago. She had a summer home in Ocean City for years and moved there full time six years ago.

Hornick and members of the group share a frustration and pointed rage at a local government they feel does little to address the frequent flooding that threatens their homes.

She said there isn’t enough dedicated reporting to what she sees as a critical issue.

In comes her group, and she sees it making serious headway as of late. Mayor Jay Gillian, she said, hears their issues and has worked toward solutions with them.

“In the beginning it was very contentious,” Hornick said. “I think (Gillian) started to realize that my group only wants the flooding to stop and the island to be healthy and we want to improve our quality of life. There is no ulterior motive.”

A spokesman for Ocean City said the city “welcomes cooperation and partnerships from state and federal agencies, local citizen groups, regional teams and anybody else” throughout its flood remediation efforts.

There’s a crowdsourcing element to the group, as well.

“When there’s a flooding issue … people will say, ‘My mother’s in the house alone,’ ‘Can somebody check on my property,’ ‘I’m worried about my dog,’ whatever it is,” Hornick said, “and somebody else will say, ‘I can see your house, you’re fine’ or ‘I will go check.’ It’s become a resource for the community in that way, unlike anything else in that respect.”

As communities find utility in the groups, their ranks swell. Linwood Live’s subscribers number about one fifth of the city’s population, 6,855. Hornick said her group has more members than the city has residents who vote. And, with that, personal squabbles, obnoxious advertising and endless political sniping blooms, requiring consistent moderating.

What often starts as a project or a one-off thing soon requires help. Volunteer moderators work as editors: They see when commenters bare their fangs and when topics with a history of causing conflict slip onto the timeline.

“I brought in the moderators because any time I seemed to go on a business trip or on vacation, something would happen,” Gaud said.

Their help is never really sufficient.

“The lack of editorial filtering means that information can spread fast and far,” Ognyanova said, “but so can inaccurate or harmful rumors. In fact, recent research suggests that false rumors may spread farther and faster, partly because they are often made to sound sensational while the truth may be mundane.”

Weiman sees the phenomenon in Ventnor’s group.

“I think the medium of the written word lends itself to misunderstandings that would not happen quite the same way if people were talking in person,” Weiman said. “It’s only when someone gets an unexpected reaction that they might realize the impact was different than they intended. Even given that, overall I’d say the disagreements are actually pretty civil.”

All the groups serve multiple functions: People help others find pets, post road closings, etc.

“It’s a group of people who take time out of their own busy lives to help other people,” Weiman said.

“People have become friends (in Linwood Live),” Gaud said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

Others roll up their sleeves and get deep into extended, vitriolic arguments. Some find their neighbors’ actions slanderous.

Gaud has gotten threats of lawsuits over something a member has posted on the page: “You take that thing down or I’m gonna get my lawyer!”

Positive feedback encourages participation, Ognyanova said, but “negative, rude or disparaging comments hamper participation and threaten to unravel the social fabric of an online community.”

Overall, though, Gaud enjoys moderating the page — and sees it filling a crucial need.

“There is a real lack of … really it’s a product,” Gaud said. “People want to be entertained and informed. That’s what modern news media is. This is a form of that. It really is.”

Empty beach homes pose unique challenges for South Jersey fire departments

When the summer ends, there are fewer people on the beach, fewer cyclists on the boardwalk and less traffic in the street.

But even though the people are gone, fire departments at the shore still have things to protect.

“When they leave to go home, they leave their houses behind,” Ocean City Fire Chief Jim Smith said. “They still have alarms, they still have heaters that malfunction and all that stuff.”

Over the past month, two fires, one fatal, have highlighted the issues fire departments face in beach communities.

“It’s the reality of what we live in today,” Brigantine Fire Chief Tighe Platt said. “They’re building these houses bigger, they’re on top of each other, they’re only separated by 10 feet, and that’s an issue. ... If you’re not there quick enough, you could potentially lose multiple homes before you get a good hold on it.”

GALLERY: Ocean City fire severely damages 3 beachfront homes

A large fire destroyed two beachfront homes and severely damaged a third early Thursday morning in the 4800 block of Central Avenue in Ocean City.

Fire crews who came quickly from about three blocks away had to combat a fire that had plenty of time to spread through the roofs of two structures. He attributed that partly to having fewer neighbors around to report fires in the offseason.

“In our town there’s not many people moving around in that area and on that block, so that fire went unnoticed for a long time,” Smith said. “There’s not much going on in the summertime at 3:30 in the morning, let alone the last week of December.”

The Margate Fire Department avoided a potentially larger fire last month when a 5-year-old girl staying at her grandmother’s over Thanksgiving weekend reported smoke coming from the side of the neighboring home in the 100 block of Granville Avenue.

The fire, on an exterior wall, was quickly extinguished.

“If that little girl didn’t see that fire, that’s a whole different situation and we’re probably dealing with something similar to Ocean City, and that was in the daylight hours,” said Margate Fire Chief Dan Adams.

Adams said the fire incidents remain the same in the winter, but the potential for fires increases due to the use of certain heating systems.

Neighbors were also crucial in a fire that spread through three side-by-side duplexes with a total of six units in Sea Isle City last month. While the fire killed an 89-year-old woman and a 2-year-old dog, workers from Pittaluga Electric helped rescue two other residents from the first-floor balcony before fire crews arrived.

Sea Isle City Volunteer Fire Company President Jeff Pittaluga said it can be challenging for volunteer firefighters to get to the scene with enough time.

Photos: Sea Isle City fire severely damages 3 duplex homes

Smith said it’s not easy to prepare for a fire that is already raging. The Ocean City Fire Department and others who provide mutual aid had to decide to not only fight the fire in the two duplexes but also make efforts to keep it from spreading to nearby houses.

Platt said his department tries to fight fires aggressively at first, but when notification comes too late, sometimes they must change their approach.

“If we show up at a building and it’s fully involved and it’s too dangerous to enter, we switch to what we call a defensive mode,” he said. “We start pumping water on the outside of those houses to keep them cool so the fire doesn’t spread.”

Platt said he has noticed beach houses get larger in size and getting to the raised floors has become a challenge.

Platt and Smith also said the flammable materials in newer beach houses can pose a problem.

“You have a tremendous amount of fuel in these properties. The materials that they put in the furniture, it’s these plastics and these synthetics and they burn so much faster compared to years ago,” Platt said.

Longport Mayor Nick Russo said many homeowners in the almost solely residential borough have increased their use of a centralized smoke alarm system. Instead of an alarm only residents can hear, when these systems detect smoke, they immediately alert fire officials.

Smith said these systems work well, but the cost and responsibility often falls on the homeowners.

“Obviously it’s the safest way, but it comes with a cost,” Smith said. “In a perfect world it’d be great if everybody’s smoke detectors were monitored by one company, but I don’t think that’s feasible for everybody.”

How a federal sports betting law could impact NJ, other states

A recently introduced federal bill legislating sports betting nationwide would not immediately affect New Jersey’s growing market, but it could down the road.

The Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act, a draft of a bipartisan bill proposed this month by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would provide federal oversight of the country’s fast-growing legal sports betting market, including in New Jersey.

The bill’s sponsors have pointed to offshore, illegal markets as one of the reasons a uniform system of regulations is needed.

But what it means for states with existing regulatory framework for sports wagering remains unclear.

Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based sports and gaming attorney, said the U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 made “clear that the federal government can require states to meet minimum federal standards, which is exactly what this bill does.”

“There is an important role that the federal government can play in sports betting,” said Wallach. “The concept of a national sports wagering clearinghouse — in which every bet or wager would be shared on an anonymized basis in real time with an independent third party — is a mandate that is lacking in current state guidelines, which places the onus solely on the betting operators to report suspicious or unusual wagers.”

Dustin Gouker, lead sports betting analyst for, said that while the 101-page bill raises “a lot of questions,” a cursory reading of the draft does not provide a “grandfather clause” for states with existing sports betting regulations.

Gouker said the proposal, as it is currently written, is geared more toward states that have yet to pass a regulatory framework for legal sports betting.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of clarity in the bill,” Gouker said about how it could impact states with existing sports betting laws. “From what I can tell, it doesn’t directly address states currently accepting legal wagers.”

Besides New Jersey, six other states — Delaware, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — and Washington, D.C., have enacted their own laws for regulating sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned PASPA, which prohibited such activity outside Nevada. Five other states have already prefiled legislation for 2019 to launch sports betting.

The proposed legislation directs states interested in offering legal sports betting to go through a validation process with the U.S. attorney general while states with existing laws would be subject to review. The bill would establish a federal entity for the sole purpose of regulating sports betting, restrict online wagers to people within a state’s borders (with some exceptions) and allow state regulatory agencies to prohibit certain types of wagers.

The proposed federal bill also contains a provision that requires sports betting operators to use official league data to grade wagers through 2022 and creates a national sports wagering clearinghouse for operators to provide wagering data in real time. The bill does not specify whether the leagues would receive any portion of wagers placed with sports betting operators.

“A federal law which provides this added layer of protection can augment existing state laws and serve as an effective ‘early warning’ system for tracking and reporting usual or suspicious wagers,” Wallach said. “This is such an important safeguard — and one that can only be provided through a federal mandate — that I believe it gives the Schumer/Hatch bill a good chance of being enacted into law eventually. Whether that’s in 2019 or 2020 remains to be determined. But I believe the bill starts the conversation on Capitol Hill and will eventually lead to some level of federal intervention.”

The American Gaming Association, the industry’s lobbying group, said the proposal “is the epitome of a solution in search of a problem, representing an unprecedented and inappropriate expansion of federal involvement in the gaming industry, which is currently one of the most strictly regulated in the country.”

“Additional areas this bill seeks to address — including the mandatory use of official league data and the creation of a national sports wagering clearinghouse — can, and should, be decided by marketplace negotiations between private businesses and cooperative agreements among jurisdictions,” said Sara Slane, senior vice president of public affairs for the AGA. “In the mere six months since the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for legal, regulated sports betting, significant developments on both of these fronts have already occurred without any federal involvement.”

The NFL and Major League Baseball — two of the five leagues that fought the state of New Jersey all the way to the Supreme Court in its effort to offer legal sports betting — expressed support for the proposed legislation when it was introduced Dec. 19.

“Legalized sports betting is rapidly spreading across the country, creating a clear need for a set of consistent, nationwide integrity standards to protect the sports that millions of Americans love,” MLB said in a statement after the bill’s release.

mpost-pressofac / MICHELLE BRUNETTI POST/Staff Writer/  

Angela Bernhard Thomas, left, of Connecticut, and L. Anthony Gaud, of Linwood, are co-founders of Ingame Esports Inc.