Sunday, January 18, 2009

Save the Bay

The Eastpointer

Save the Bay and a way of life

By Richard E. Noble

At a recent get-together with some friends the discussion turned to the bay and the attitudes of the people who live around it. Do the people of Franklin County really want to preserve the bay? Do the majority of residents want to preserve the seafood community? Does the seafood community want to preserve the seafood community? These were some of their questions.

“It seems to me,” offered one individual, “that the attitude of the local seafood community changes with the economic winds. It also seems to me that though everybody in Franklin County would like to see the bay healthy not everybody is all that concerned with the seafood industry.”

“If you have listened to the County Commission over the years,” offered another. “You would think that the preservation of the bay and “the way of life” of the local seafood community was the number one priority. But if you look around you see that oyster houses have pretty much disappeared, seafood workers are at a minimum and the local seafood industry is more of a curiosity than a thriving enterprise. Over the same period the Island has grown in leaps and bounds and as the seafood community has fallen off into the background the “outsiders” have prospered and grown.”

“Right at this moment everything is on the decline,” another said. “But for awhile there, construction and real estate were the main businesses of Franklin County. People would write letters to the editor calling for action on the part of the local people to save their way of life and fight condo-miniumism. ‘What do you people want to do - scrub the rich people’s boats, clean their fancy homes, build their new fancy palaces and hang plaster? What do you want to baby-sit their dogs and cats and detail their Cadillacs?’ Well strangely enough when most of those jobs did become available many seafood workers grabbed them up. They made more money than they ever made catching oysters or fishing, I’ll bet.”

“When the building boom started oystermen carpentered,” interjected another. “It does seem that whenever there is a better job available there is a seafood worker standing in line to get it. Could it be that what the seafood workers of Franklin County want is a decent job and not necessarily to be a martyr for a dying way of life”?

Another fellow then said. “Did you see how fast them dealers sold out over in Eastpoint when Porthaven came to town? The place was packed with Eastpointers and most of them wanted Porthaven and the hell with the bay. When it came to money it was the heck with the way of life. What did they get for that little stretch over there, twelve, fourteen million?”

Another fellow spoke up. “I didn’t go to that meeting but I’ve been here all my life and this bay has been an excuse to keep every sort of business and decent job out of here for years. ‘Save the bay; save the bay, everybody shouts’. They didn’t even want to have a paper mill way back or a fast-food joint over in Apalach. They wanted to keep the workers trapped out on that bay. I was talking to a dealer the other day. I asked him what he thought of these commissioners and their efforts to save the bay. He looked at me and smirked. ‘Nobody here is trying to save this bay, my friend. It’s over. Look around. They are just trying to suck up money from the state and whatever other fools come along.’ I think he hit the nail right on the head.”

“That’s what I say. It ain’t love. It’s economics,” a friend added. “Everybody wants money. If they could get enough money for that bay, why they would pave the whole thing over and turn it into a parking lot. All that bay has done is keep the people here poor. The whole darn community was ready to sell out a few months back when the real estate was bubbling. All that matters is if the price is right.”

I covered the Porthaven Commission meeting and wrote a report of that event for the Chronicle. When Willard Vinson stood up and spoke against the Porthaven Project, he was booed and told by many to sit down. Many Eastpointers claimed that they were tired of being “the red-headed step child” of Franklin County. They wanted their piece of the pie.

The Commission to my surprise at first voted it down. People jumped from their seats and shook their fists at the Commission. “We’ll remember this at election time,” several of them shouted.

Now that the real estate has died, the construction is gone, the rental businesses and cleaning services on the Island are minimal, and the restaurants are fading fast, oyster boats are popping up once again. I don’t know what the “people” of Franklin County really want. If you read the history of Franklin County you see, the economic tide has come in and it has gone out but over the years the seafood business has remained. I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens this time.

The Eastpointer is R.E. Noble’s latest publication. It is a selection of columns from the Franklin Chronicle. It is for sale on Amazon. Richard won 1st place in humor in 2007 from the Florida Press Association for his efforts with this column.