The Coastal Post - September, 1995

Save The Bolinas Lagoon?

Or Dredge The Seadrift Moat And Marina?


Only a narrow moat separates the walled fortresses of Seadrift's gated community of the Stinson Beach sandspit and the working community of Bolinas. Only the narrow channel of the Bolinas Lagoon mouth keeps them apart. Siltation of the lagoon will close the gap between the wealthy and the workers as the delta widens and the lagoon turns to salt marsh.

One lagoon, two communities — Bolinas with its water moratorium and sewer ponds, Seadrift with total buildout and mounded septic systems. One lagoon — which most people in both communities agree is in danger, and maybe something ought to be done. Two communities with vastly different ideas about just what to do.

Two communities with more embedded rivalry than Croatia and Serbia, supposedly working together on proposed solutions to the Lagoon's filling in and becoming marshland. It could only lead to war and the first shots have been fired.

For the last fews years the Bolinas Lagoon Technical Advisory Committee (BLTAC) has been laboring out of the limelight to study the lagoon and determine what measures should be taken to keep it a lagoon and not a marsh. The BLTAC is loaded with politically-appointed representatives of the local, state and federal agencies which depend to some extent on the health of the lagoon for their existence.

They were appointed to study Bolinas Lagoon and report on it. They weren't supposed to actually do anything, and their study was basically a political method of "study it to death." Yet behind the scenes, it appears there was a long-term plan to the appointments, and the very data the committee collected and issued a report on is being used to support dredging Bolinas Lagoon.

Secretive group plots behind gates

Strings are being pulled and fences built. The consensus of the committee is now splitting like the partitioning of Bosnia over an upstart Seadrift group. The Committee to Save Bolinas Lagoon is secretive, refusing to reveal its membership list, and it is well-funded. They are acting as a lobbying group of the gated community where Senator Feinstein owns a home.

They have spent $180,000 on lobbying for money to dredge the lagoon and even obtained and spent $35,000 in Buck Fund grant monies. So much for the homely and the needless of Marin County, so little for the needy and the homeless.

They are rapidly lining up federal funds to dredge one million cubic yards of toxic sludge from the lagoon. It's not difficult to guess which end they will start at.

Bolinas and Seadrift have always had a rocky yet co-dependent relationship. Neither could support their lifestyle without the other. Seadrift would lose housecleaners, gardeners, carpenters, cooks, plumbers, window washers, ditch diggers, fence builders, caregivers and massage therapists. Stinson Beach doesn't have enough housing for Seadrift's service needs and is gradually losing the rental housing it does have. It can be difficult to import labor over the hill.

Many Bolinas residents depend on Seadrift for income. The trickle down theory works to a certain extent. On weekdays Seadrift is a virtual Bolinas village. Most of the luxury servants who work on the southern sandspit live on the north side of the lagoon. Now they drive around the lagoon. It will certainly be easier if they can walk to work when the channel closes. Seadrift owners shudder at the thought.

Something must be done. The Committee to Save the Lagoon wants to call in the Army Corps of Engineers, famous for their dredging of natural waterways. The destruction of the Everglades was one of their big projects.

The Save the Lagoon group is lobbying to receive $1.5 million for a study, and $15-20 million for dredging at least one million cubic yards of silt.

Unanswered questions. Where will they start dredging? Where will they dump? When Caltrans dumped that much of Highway One in the National Marine Sanctuary to reopen the earthquake-damaged road, they had to mitigate by digging out an old dump in the southern end of the lagoon. The soil was deemed toxic, contaminated with asbestos and other heavy metals. There is at least one other former dump in the northern end.

Tidal lagoon or septic marshland

The lagoon is a long way from its glory years, when the gray whales rested in its protected deep waters. They would blow all night long. Whaling for lamp oil and machine lubrication drove the whales nearly to extinction, and away from the bays and lagoons of the coast where they used to rest on their long migrations.

Those decades at the end of the last century, when deep-keeled sailing ships could load up their holds with ancient redwoods clearcut from the Olema valley and milled in Dogtown, ended as erosion from logging filled in the channel.

The 1906 Olema earthquake deepened the channel again, but not to its original depth. The 1989 Loma Prieta did not appreciably alter the depth of the channel. The 1970 logging of the Bolinas ridge and continued erosion and water diversion along its fresh-water courses have not helped the health of the lagoon.

Bolinas lagoon is a major bird migration rest stop and is home to many species year round. It's health is critical to local fisheries, and it is a lure for humans.

The long-term trend has been towards gradual silting in of the lagoon and an eventual closure of the mouth. There is some possibility of a new mouth opening through the Sandspit. This would drastically lower property values of the mansions built on sand.

Oceans rising, beaches eroding

Bolinas is basically built on clay, on top of sandstone, on top of granite. It's even on a different continent than most of Marin. Long after the oceans rise, there will be dry land on the Mesa, at least during the summer. You can bet it will look like prime real estate to soggy Seadrifters.

The lagoon has been filling in for a long time. That's a problem if you value the lagoon and what it does for wildlife; what it does for the view; the separation it provides for Bolinas and Stinson. The first thing you do to solve a problem if you want to use government money is get money for a study. Everyone can agree on studying the problem. Then you either shelve the study and let it gather dust, maybe do another one a decade later. Nothing gets done. Everyone's happy like frogs boiled in gradually warming water.

But if you really want to solve the problem, you have to come up with a solution. Then, if there isn't agreement about the solution to the problem, the solution becomes the problem.

The lagoon is shaping up as a battle royal, with sides being chosen for a tug-of-war across the channel. It would appear to be Bolinas residents against land owners in Horseshoe Hill, Dogtown, the east side of the lagoon, Stinson Beach and Seadrift.

Mad dogs and old bitches

Neither side trusts the other, and the war of words is heating up. The Bolinas Hearsay News has been full of friendly descriptions like Mad Dog, Cunning Bitch and Bought-Off Experts, with vile and callous accusations hurled both ways. Readers are eager for the next volley.

Ralph Cammiccia, a member of the Lagoon Technical Advisory Group and Bolinas Firehouse Park Director brought up his concerns about the Save the Lagoon Committee at the Bolinas Public Utilities District Meeting. "They are moving in secrecy. I don't want to be paranoid about a dredge coming in the channel and taking a hard right turn, but they are not cooperating with the Technical Advisory Board. They are using the name, but they don't have our full blessing." He wondered if they wanted to dredge to bring 70 or 80 of Seadrift pleasure boats into the lagoon.

Jack Seidman, Bolinas Public Utilities District director, pointed out that, "Bolinas is in a key position. We are the only town bordering the lagoon and we are at the entrance. We ought to be in the loop." The Board voted to send a letter to all agencies involved, demanding to get in the loop. It could be a noose.

Paul Kayfetz, a former BPUD director, described his one-man torpedo shots at the Seadrift group which had been submerged in secrecy. The Save the Lagoon Committee was forced to hold a public hearing in Stinson Beach. "You could hear the sphincters snap shut and the gritting of their teeth," when he proposed that they, "remove the artificial spill from Seadrift across the southern end of the lagoon which blocks a circular tidal flow. The silt which used to flow out now drops off in the lagoon. They may have to remove key houses that block circular flow."

Kayfetz with his cellular phone has been a diligent watchdog of illegal dumping by the lagoon, preventing many an RV from creating a blue lagoon. He's bigger than that. Now he is getting in the ring with a formidable adversary.

Millionaires and trailer trash—everyone's shit stinks

Seadrift's mansions are packed in on tiny lots filling fragile sandspit. When millionaires or their servants take a crap in Seadrift, septics leach into the lagoon's water and its silt. Their artificial interior "lake" is treated with copper sulphates to keep down algae bloom. Both pollutants enter the lagoon and do some environmental damage.

Bolinas built its sewer ponds on the Mesa to keep its downtown crap out of the lagoon in the mid-'70s. They designed and built an artificial wetlands area with sewage. The ducks love it. It has attracted international visitors to learn from it as a positive model, and legions of birdwatchers. The sewer ponds don't get mentioned in the negative stories about Bolinas.

Seadrift went with septic mounds. The buildout frenzy on half-million-dollar lots supported many Stinson Beach residents and allowed a new water board building to be built on the lagoon. Now the bill has come due. The water board recently required all the residents of Stinson Beach to be taxed for fixing Seadrift's septic problems. That should drive up the price of rentals.

Two communities, one lagoon. Can they, should they even, fix it before it's broken? It's ailing, but the Army Corps of Engineers are not healers. The bombed-out wreck of the last lagoon dredge still sits in the mud of the southern flats. It is mute testament to the shattered remnants of the last plan to turn the lagoon into a marina.