This Sand is Your Sand

At the Village of Surfside, it's not just the beaches that are eroding. It's the Open Beaches Act.

"You know what it's like here? You can buy a vote for a six-pack."

Hamby is tired of the fight and recently moved out of Surfside.

Gene and Rachel Gore are just settling in, still remodeling the stilted house, situated well back from the beach, they bought three years ago.

On its last legs? Surfside's Clark house begs the question: Is this a property rights issue? Or an Open Beaches Act violation?
Deron Neblett
On its last legs? Surfside's Clark house begs the question: Is this a property rights issue? Or an Open Beaches Act violation?
Paddling his wares: Surfside Mayor Larry Davison at his day job.
Deron Neblett
Paddling his wares: Surfside Mayor Larry Davison at his day job.

Gene and Rachel were married in Surfside's waves, Gene makes custom longboards out of a shop on their lot, and both surf before, during and after lunch.

"It's a multidimensional problem," Gene says, "and nobody wants to take responsibility for it."

Surfside certainly can't take it. Trash pickup in the village is one elderly lady on the city payroll, walking around all day with a five-gallon bucket.

The GLO can't. Not without the attorney general behind it.

Into this void rush homeowners, pushing for breakwaters and geotubes and millions upon millions of dollars worth of sand. Everyone wants more sand, but the idea of a breakwater is too much for Rachel Gore.

"It's insane. It won't be the ocean anymore. If we wanted to look out there and see concrete, we'd move to Houston."

Never mind the death of the surf.

If anyone tries to build a breakwater, Gene says, he'll drive the class-action lawsuit to stop it.

"If I was on the sand, I wouldn't want to lose my house, but that beach is there for so many more people. We would remove our house and leave. It's the only ethical thing to do."

That's not what the owners of the Clark house, which has been straddling the public beach just north of the Freeport jetty for some 20 years, chose to do.

When Ellis Pickett's tour reaches the Clark house, the camera comes out again. The pilings' concrete anchors float four feet above the sand, and nobody knows for sure just how many feet of piling are still left buried. The house is abandoned, windows boarded up, badly weathered, but the door flaps open at the top of a long stair. Kids run around the house and rest in its shade. That it has outlasted the Octagon, despite being farther out, is just another mystery, but whatever combination of breakwaters and beach nourishment might conceivably save it won't arrive in time.

"I was a senator 20 years ago," says Pickett fan Babe Schwartz. "I used to have to go to Surfside and meet with those people. And I told them, I said, 'What do you goddamn people think is going to happen? Who is going to come down here and save you at the expense of the folks paying sales taxes on their kids' school clothes in Freeport? The guy who works at Dow?' But I know as sure as I'm sitting here that these people got a death penalty on their structures, and all I got to do is wait for Mother Nature."

If the waves don't get the Clark house, says Mayor Davison, the city is ready. Surfside just received a grant of Housing and Urban Development money "for unmet needs from Frances," to either move the house or tear it down. After 20 years in violation of the Open Beaches Act, the Clark house may finally be removed from the public beach, at public expense. But even so, Ellis Pickett has a thousand pictures and a plastic trunk full of Octagon debris in his pickup to back his fear that if something isn't done to stop erosion of the Open Beaches Act, Surfside might just knock it down with a fire truck and burn it on what's left of his beach.

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