Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Eastpointer

The Eastpoint breakwater

By Richard E. Noble
As we drive through Eastpoint these days I’m sure not too many of us give much thought to the Eastpoint breakwater. But it was constructed in Eastpoint during my stay here. Who would think that it would have been a controversial project? Who would think some oystermen, bay shrimpers and even some local seafood dealers would have been against it.
Why would any seafood worker be against a project to protect his boat?
It all stemmed from the seafood worker mythology. Seafood workers have long been paranoid about the “plot” of the greater prosperity encroaching on their little fishing village. Like all conspiracy theories when presented by opponents, it all sounds so ridiculous. But when one considers both coasts of Florida as used-to-be little fishing villages that have all been squeezed out by “prosperity” the Eastpoint mythology is not so easily dismissed.
Every new condo, every new development, every idea to bring more people to Franklin County was looked upon very suspiciously by the seafood community - and rightfully so.
But what harm could there be in a 3 to 5 million dollar breakwater to protect oyster boats and bay shrimp boats?
The first suspicion was obvious. Why would Tallahassee want to spend 3 to 5 million dollars to protest a few semi-worthless commercial fishing crafts? Tallahassee had never been known to harbor warm thoughts regarding Franklin County’s seafood industry. Franklin County in their opinion was filled with individuals without much concern for the rule of law.
The Big Boys must have a plan. They would get the Eastpointers to agree to this obvious boon and then start moving in the Chris Crafts and the Bay Liners. Very shortly no rickety, old oyster boats would be allowed to park behind the breakwater. Then the condos would start their construction across the street. Very shortly there would be no more Eastpoint, no more oyster boats, and no more bay shrimpers. Once again the seafood “Indians” would be looking for a new reservation. Where would the next reservation be - Alabama, Mississippi … North Dakota?
“They got plans for this here area,” we were told by other oystermen. “Just go down to the courthouse and take a look at the model.” And sure enough, down at the courthouse there was a model of what some folks thought Franklin County would look like one day in the future.
But wouldn’t a breakwater in Eastpoint be great? As it was, every time a little wind came up oystermen would be digging their boats and motors out along the shore. I had done it myself numerous times. But what could a breakwater do? What would happen when the water came over the breakwater? What about the sand buildup? A person could throw a washing machine (and many did) down on the beach and in a week or two it would be buried. Wouldn’t the breakwater just get buried? The answer was that it would have to be maintained by the COE. And how much would that cost? Why would any fool spend all this money to protect a bunch of oyster boats that could be bought brand new for $1000 to $1500 or bought secondhand for hundreds? Why not just put all that money into a fund and buy a fisherman a new boat whenever his got wrecked? Sure it sounds crazy. But was it any crazier than spending millions on a breakwater and it maintenance.
I think that I was catching for Willard Vinson at that time. He was also a County Commissioner. He was an avid supporter of the breakwater. I think there is a plaque down at the courthouse honoring Willard and others for their efforts in bringing the breakwater to Eastpoint.
When the new Porthaven development was approved in the back of my mind the old seafood mythology kept flashing.
There would be a marina and boat storage. The oyster boats and shrimp boats would be allowed perpetual harbor rights, the developers said. A little voice in my mind kept whispering, “Yeah sure, just like the public access to the Bob Sikes Cut.” We used to drive down to the Cut and fish off the rocks. A road was supposed to be maintained for the locals - forever.
Now the Porthaven Project is in the dumpster. Last week I saw some people cleaning up an old oyster house that had been shut down for years. This week I saw boats unloading at that dock. It seems that “prosperity” has taken a backward step and the seafood mythology has been put on hold. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know but it seems to be the way it is.