The Sound Of No Hands Clapping

posted by / News / March 7, 2009

‘Chirp-chirp-chirp.’ No that’s not a cricket. Or all three of this winter’s surf shop purchases hitting cash registers. It’s the sound of the hamster wheel inside Florida surf activists brains, spinning frantically, wondering: “where’s all the surf media?”

After all, they just won their suit against a Palm Beach dredge-and-fill project where — in the words of journo and activist, Terry Gibson, “700,000 cubic yards of incompatible sediment would’ve destroyed a beach and its ecology, ruined one of the birth spots of East Coast competitive surfing – Lake Worth Pier – and buried at least seven acres of the rarest and most biologically productive reefs in North America — just to appease condo owners demanding ‘beach nourishment’ on a healthy shoreline.”

You’d think, after five years of work fighting the Town of Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest municipalities in the country — including a year- long lawsuit on the part of Surfrider Palm Beach, the Snook Foundation, Gibson, Tom Warnke, Capt. Danny Barrow, plus help from the ESA, and the city of Lake Worth — mags and websites would be sprouting headlines like “Trestles II: Time It’s Personal.” But here we are, two days later, and this admittedly half-assed piece is still the first whisper outside Surfrider’s press release.

Perhaps, everyone’s relaxing after a hard year of Trestles rallies. Perhaps, it seems like a “local issue.” But unlike beating the toll road, the ramifications behind this win reach even farther; because this result now becomes case law disputing the “science” used by “dredge and fill” proponents around the country, or what passes for it, adding ammo for future fights down the road. As Terry notes: “Kelly’s ninth win and a Save Trestles victory may be bigger news, and are way deserving, but a major ‘David and Goliath’ battle in coastal management history just got some closure last week here in Lake Worth. Goliath threw $2 million attorneys to beat David, and David still spanked Goliath. Spanked him.”

SURFINGMAGAZINE: Why hasn’t there been more coverage of this issue in the past two days?

TERRY GIBSON: Well, we’ve had some local attention. The entire environmental community in Florida is so congratulatory. They’re shocked we won — and super appreciative. But no surf coverage. I don’t know why. I have to lobby for coverage for a victory that is arguably a greater precedent than the Trestles victory, given the legal ramifications, and that’s from the perspective of someone who’s worked in beach fights all over the world. Lake Worth’s also rich in terms of surf history, and ecologically speaking is every bit as rich — if not richer.

Did the Trestles victory suck the oxygen out of the surf-activism movement?

Absolutely. After all, the industry is in California. Plus, this is such a complicated issue in terms of the value of nearshore reefs, and turtle nesting, and the compatibility of sand issues and sorting through all the bogus engineering. “Save Trestles” and “Stop a toll road” is a lot simpler message than save ‘1000 species of animals’ and discussing sand grain size. In fact, the most impressive thing about the case was the judge — Bob Meale — and his ability to wrap his brain around all these complex geology, engineering, ecology and social justice issues in just six to eight months.

So he was a ‘good guy.’

Yeah, he was very fair. He gave a lot of weight to the lay witnesses. And in the final recommendation, he cited the town of Palm Beach and their experts saying essentially, but unintentionally, that in many ways we are absolutely right to sue them. We basically exposed the fact that beach engineering is based upon tenuous mathematical assumptions and is basically salesmanship by a bunch of carpet bagging coastal engineers – not science.

How much work did this represent?

The case itself was about a year but we’ve been fighting since the 2004 hurricanes and even before that. It’s a new major victory in a long war — one that’s been going on for decades before Surfrider got into it. But this is going to have ramifications — it’s an expose of a model called ‘{{{Genesis}}}” that’s used throughout the country to design these projects, but doesn’t even change depending on individual coastal environments. They’re applying this one model to both sand and rock shorelines — which obviously behave differently — and that’s one of the reasons these projects aren’t effective. But [the engineers] figured no one would ever call them on it – or at least not make case law out of it. And, as a result, we ended dealing the biggest blow ever to the coastal engineering cabal in America. But [Surfrider’s] Chad Nelsen put it best — it’s a Gandhi quote: “First they laugh at you, then they get angry, then you win.” They never took us seriously; and in many ways the were the best allies we had. Because they did things that were condescending and rude and intellectually dishonest. It just galvanized us. And it made us how realize over and over how important this case was.

How’d you hear the news?

Our lawyers, Marti Collins, Jane West and Lyndsey Pickle, sent everyone an email saying ‘we won!’ We can’t thank our attorneys and experts enough. To win a case as complex as this one, you’ve got to be organized, proceed with class and style, and most importantly have the gray matter to understand all the scientific and legal complexities. They’re superb.

What’d you do?

I was on the phone with my photo editor and I gave a loud hoot. And Justin was like, “Did a natural disaster just happen down there in Florida?” And I was like, “No, the exact opposite. “

Still think people will rally when you’re break’s under attack? It’s up to you to ‘save your own Trestles’; go to Surf-First.org

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