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Third-term Surfside Mayor Larry Davison -- his name, title and city hall phone number have been scribbled on the Porta-Can's wall, a target for complaints, by some disgruntled visitor -- has seen Pickett's photographs of seeping septic tanks and hazards on the beach, and he's pissed off just fine. He didn't like the way the nonprofit environmental Surfrider Foundation, whose two-year-old Houston chapter is chaired by Pickett, dressed up in toxic hazard suits after the Octagon demo and photographed children playing in the sand littered with broken glass.
"If there's debris on the beach," Davison says, "go pick it up."
Neither does he like Surfrider's sensationalism. The rental home owners in town, Davison says, hate Pickett's guts for posting his photographs on the Surfrider Web site (www. surfrider.org/ texas/index.html). All the trash and seepage and riprap make Surfside look like it looks, which is crappy, and that's no good for the beach house rental business, and what's no good for the beach house rental business is certainly no good for the Village of Surfside, whose permanent population hovers around 600, with regular voters numbering roughly a third of that.
What is Ellis Pickett doing, Davison wants to know, to help? Yes, it was Surfrider that last year donated the labor to erect dune-building sand fences on a reconstructed dune line behind Beach Drive's front row of houses, and yes, Surfrider adopted a section of beach in 1998 under Surfside's adopt-a-beach program, but because of Pickett's "attack mentality," Surfside won't support anything Surfrider does anymore. Even the good stuff.
Pickett, Davison says, is an extremist, and his harassment of the state agencies responsible for oversight of the Open Beaches Act has cost the Surfriders what credibility they may have once hoped to gain.
Davison, a member in standing of the surfing community, accuses Surfrider, with 40 international chapters and a U.S. membership of 25,000, of myopic special interest, and he is frustrated.
"These guys are concerned with 50 feet of the beach. I've got four miles."
State law prohibits any obstruction, barrier, restraint or interference with the use of the public easement, including the placement of structures seaward of the landward boundary of the easement. Structures erected seaward of the vegetation line or that become seaward of the vegetation line as a result of natural processes are subject to a lawsuit by the State of Texas to remove the structures. -- Texas Natural Resources Code, Subtitle E, Chapter 61, Subchapter B, Sec. 61.025 (Open Beaches Act)
Texas has 367 miles of coastline. John Arrington owns a few feet of that in Galveston, and though he's an affable, grandfatherly man who doesn't seem capable of a grudge, he sits heavily on the opposite side of whatever sand fence Ellis Pickett may care to build.
Arrington calls Pickett a "retreatist," a pet dismissal he applies liberally to any person or organization that might study a historically eroding beach line and decide that the best thing to do is move away from it. Twenty-five years as a beachfront property owner have taught him to fight for his land, and 25 years of both gradual and catastrophic erosion have taught him that something needs to be done to protect his house. The confidence of a home builder and an almost touching faith in the limitless grasp of human engineering have convinced him that there's something to be done.
Then-attorney general Jim Mattox sued John Arrington for removal of his beach house under the Open Beaches Act in 1978, and still it stands. Arrington sued back, arguing that having to remove his house would constitute an unconstitutional "taking" of his property without compensation. The court found otherwise. Arrington argued that the Open Beaches Act "imposed" an easement across his property. The court replied that the "rolling easement" applied to coastal properties preceded the Open Beaches Act back into common-law days, well before it was specified in Arrington's title deed. Arrington has appealed. The case drags on.
Sitting behind the desk in a cramped add-on command center at his home near Hobby Airport, John Arrington locates documents and reports and surveys and letters organized in boxes and files that loom toward the ceiling.
Here is a wealth of information on all sorts of erosion-response technology deployed around the globe: breakwaters, T-head groins, sand renourishment, etc. Here are 20-year-old Corps studies of possible offshore sand deposits. Here are engineering reports attempting to apply percentages of responsibility to various erosion factors at each and every geological circumstance on the shore.
If you look through all this, Arrington says, and you see what the facts are, you'll see the answer. What you do is this: To protect the houses, you stop erosion. To give the public its beach, you build it a new one.
Arrington is not alone in this conviction. The West Galveston Island Property Owners Association, of which Arrington is a member, has recommended action including more studies to identify sand deposits for beach nourishment, a feasibility study of offshore breakwaters, and placement of dredged channel material on beaches, at a "guesstimation" cost of $735,000, which is just study money, to be paid for, theoretically, by some combination of state and national grants.