Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Law of Unintended Consequences


From Wikipedia:

The Law of Unintended Consequences is not a law in the strict scientific sense, but it is often quoted to encapsulate the idea that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause has more than one effect, including unforeseen effects.

Unintended consequences can be classed into roughly three types:
• a positive unexpected benefit, usually referred to as serendipity or a windfall
• a potential source of problems, according to Murphy's law used in Systems engineering
• a negative or a perverse effect, which is the opposite result of what is intended


This "law" was much on my mind at yesterday's emergency workshop regarding our rapidly eroding beach (see La Quinta) and possible courses of action regarding same.

Turnout was high. Rightly so as this is a disaster unfolding that could have far-reaching consequences for everyone who lives on or near or even just has a fondness for South Padre Island. The beach - particularly on the north end of town - has been eroding for a long time and while winter storms often take away broad swaths of beach, no one recalls ever seeing it this bad. Valuable property is disappearing and expensive homes and resorts are at risk. The upcoming dredging of the channel will do us no good as there are no funds for piping that material - tantalizingly close as it may be - to the beaches that really really need it.

(Note to all those who wrote impassioned comments on why affordable housing is so evil, i.e. because it takes money out of one person's pocket to benefit another: I expect you will feel equally impassioned about using tax dollars - in the form of grants, etc. - to save the collective asses of people who are rich enough to live on or near the beach -- but this is not an area I really care to delve into with this post.)

It was good to see so many movers and shakers show up to discuss this and I sure would have liked to see even a little bit of that enthusiasm just a couple months back when Sam, Nancy and I were trying to pull together a Christmas tree dune-building session. Of course maybe a handful of Christmas trees (though it could have been a lot more than that had the entire valley been enlisted) and some hay bales might not have saved the La Quinta's boardwalk -- but now we will never know, will we?

And it was interesting to see developers who all too recently successfully petitioned the BOA to have the HBL (Historic Building Line) moved seaward so that they could build even closer to the water on a beach that everyone already knew was eroding getting all huffy about what they perceived as insufficient sympathy being shown by the Army Corps of Engineers at their current plight.

And I couldn't help but wonder how many folks who are now aghast at the budget cuts that led to this sad situation voted for and cheered on the Republicans (at both the state and federal levels of government) who cut taxes which used to fund these kinds of programs. Or support a president who led us into a disastrous war that is eating up some $4.5 billion each and every month.

And don't even get me started on "global climate change."

To all you anonymice who are thinking this just might be the blog post to make you register with google just so you can tell me again what a "piece of work" I am and why don't I just "shut up and mind (my) own business," well... hold on a cotton-picking minute. I fully realize that these endangered entities provide a huge tax base that pay for our roads, our schools, our new municipal center and all kinds of good things. I am not suggesting that they are in any way getting what they deserve. The situation at La Quinta truly horrifies me and I think we need to pull together as a community and do what we can to save these endangered properties.

What concerns me is that law I cited at the beginning of this post. I hate hearing serious talk of geo-tubes and other "hard" forms of dune protection. (See what this study - funded by the Texas Coastal Management Program - has to say about them.... talk about unintended consequences!) Even the discussion of using off-shore sand concerns me. I spend a lot of time with SPI sand and am here to tell you that it is pretty special stuff. What happens if we dump a bunch of sand with different composition and/or different sized grains on our beaches? Maybe the only unfortunate consequence will be that you can't build wonderful sandcastles with it any more. That would be bad enough - more so for some of us than others. But what if it has other - more disastrous consequences? Some studies suggest such a program can mess with the wildlife and even increase erosion.

Before we jump on the offshore sand-mining bandwagon, I think we need to carefully and fully review any and all options available to us. Just a few minutes surfing on google led me to case studies of beach communities that are exploring artificial reef creation as a means of protecting and building up eroding beaches -- with the additional recreational benefits of attracting fish and improving surf (as in, make the local surfers very happy.) Serendipity indeed!

The most interesting short-term solution we heard came from Clayton Brashear, who suggested we look into the possibility of moving sand from the right of way at the end of Highway 100. I have been thinking about that idea for a few hours now and the only unfortunate consequence I can think of so far is that it could make it easier for everyone to access the Clothing Optional Beach -- which could quite possibly speed up the end of nekkid frolicking on the beach as we now know and enjoy it.

Alas.

Update: I am going to start adding interesting links.
Shifting Sands (thanks, Nancy!)
The Island Breeze report of the workshop
Texas' Sinking Coast

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14 Comments:

Blogger Sam said...

All this quiet is hurting my ears, Feets!

May I disagree on one minor point, however. I have championed the cause of using marine sand mined from offshore deposits. Where the sand is mined is based on core samples to examine the sand particle size distribution, clay content, and so forth. If I snoop around I think I can find some old reports done by Texas A&M and the consultant (now merged with HDR).

The high quality marine sands were located right off the end of the Brazos Santiagos jetty in a prominent "hump" the transversed north and south. This sand was not contaminated with high levels of Rio Grande Mud, as we see in the Ship Channel itself, and the sand particle sizing was very close to what is (or was) already on the beach.

Perhaps you read a little bit too much into the Florida experience, where offshore sand content is quite high in calcareous shell and coral, being quite coarse and relatively unstable. I am not being critical, but I think some work can be done to test underwater sand berms, especially on the northern side of our Town. Initial tests by Texas A&M proved that the hopper dredge / underwater sand berm idea was very promising.

Sure, it costs millions of dollars, but I think we have something like 3 billion dollars of beachfront property, and no way the folks are going to allow it to slide into the Gulf. That's just too much money, too much taxes, and too much waste.

-sammie

5:59 PM  
Blogger Anne Toal said...

What exactly are we looking at in that picture? Is that walkway over the waves supposed to connect the hotel with the beach?

8:15 PM  
Blogger Will Davis said...

I like this Blog. Although I seldom offer comments, I check it out a couple of times each week, mostly to see what is happening on the Island.

I think it wise for the Blog to now require some sort of identification from those who request their opinions to be presented. I won't go into all the reasons why, except to say I myself am pleased with this decision. I believe it will make comments more substantive and interesting.

I find the information provided in this current article most disturbing and thought-provoking. I don't agree with all that Sandy has said, but I will admit I do agree with most of it.

I do not personally have as much invested in the Island's future, either financially or emotionally, as many who may comment in or read this Blog, but this current subject should be of the utmost importance for those who care about SPI, regardless of our degree of personal involvement.

This subject should be the highest priority for those of us who find it meaningful to argue about the future. I have no clever answers, but I do know it is time to focus on what we, as caring humans, want in a fragile world and a fragile spit of sand bar.

Will Davis

8:17 PM  
Blogger PVILLAG said...

Instead of building a new city hall, wouldn't it make more sense to use the money for beach renourishment? The beaches are what draw people to the island- not city hall!

8:36 PM  
Blogger Lucinda said...

Anne, this is a photo of what remained of La Quinta's dune walkover when I shot the photo, on Jan. 26. The waves were bashing against the base of the deck adjacent to the pool area. Texas law says that any structure that is hit by waves 20 out of 30 consecutive days is officially designated as encroaching on public beach snd so must be removed at the owner's expense.

9:06 PM  
Blogger mleahy said...

Sandy, I agree that something has to be done, soon. I feel that if your insurance company thinks that it is a bad idea to build 5-10 feet above sea level, and you do anyway, it is your own fault. The government has no obligation to bail you out or assist with low interest loans. Rebuilding New Orleans (BELOW SEA LEVEL) and over $100 Billion makes about as much sense to me as the war makes to you. I see this as both of us right or wrong.

As to the tax cuts we evil conservatives support, we feel that it is better to put money in the pockets of average Americans and let them spend it where it helps them the most. We believe in empowering people, not government. I believe you said that you could sure use a tax break for medical insurance. What makes it right for you to choose that type of tax break but not a general one that benefits everyone?

I wonder if to be a liberal, you have to get up every morning, look in the mirror and say "I am just not paying enough in taxes".

Say did you hear about John Edwards new home? It is a beautiful, new, 28,000sq ft home in the country, hidden from prying eyes. I do believe that anyone can spend their money anyway they want. I just don't want to hear another word out of his mouth about "The Two Americas", referring to the unequal distribution of wealth in this country....Unless of course the home is that big so that he can support a few dozen illegal immigrants that he wants to protect.

Regards, MLeahy

9:40 PM  
Blogger mleahy said...

Only the Rich Pay Taxes!

The Top 50% pay 96.54% of All Income Taxes
The Top 1% Pay More Than a Third: 34.27%
The Top 25% pay 83.88% of All Income Taxes
• Jan. 8, 2007: The NY Times Admits It's the Truth

Like it or not, when it comes to taxes these are the facts.

Regards, MLeahy

10:24 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Gosh Mike, we were talking about the beach, right? The beach is disappearing at a rather alarming rate.

I know what might have set off some people, the comment about taxes and lack of money for doing something about the beach. This might have been a little cumbersome because in the past, the Town and Texas General Land Office have relied on US Army Corps of Engineers funding to pick up about a third or half the tab. Unfortunately, a few little wars have send most all of the discretionary funding for the Corps overseas to Iraq and Afganistan. Therefore, no more money for dredging or beach renourishment. Only a few emergency projects can be funded, such to allow for international commerce like large ship channels.

This has absolutely nothing to do with taxes, my friends.

True, a few beach renourishment projects have in fact happened because they were Congressional mark-ups, read "pork." But basically, the Corps is out of the beach renourishment business. The problem was compounded because the Corps is operating under a continuing Budget Resolution, and except for war-time efforts, little is being done to improve upon the waterways and beaches of the US.

They're simply out of money for that.

We're not as big or nice as Cancun, but when Cancun lost its beaches due to several major hurricanes in 2005, the Mexican Government plowed in about 100 million into saving the beaches and fixing the waterfront. That was considered an investment because over 5 years, billions would be generated in direct and indirect revenue.

One would hope our state and local leaders could do something like that on a smaller scale, smarter, but with the same gusto.

11:26 PM  
Blogger just wandering said...

thanks for your comments, Sam. You generate more light than heat and that is appreciated.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Nick Adams said...

Ocean Beach in San Francisco, just south of the Gate, has been eroding for years. Various types of renourishment projects have failed until the latest, which involved dredging sand from the channel and dumping it in the waters just off the beach instead of directly on the beach which has been tried previously on SPI and at Ocean Beach. Since this change in approach Ocean Beach has been slowly gaining sand.

11:23 AM  
Blogger amazu said...

i have walked the beaches of south padre island for 20 something years... it is the beach that drew me to this place it is the beach that keeps me here.... i have observed that left to her own devices mother nature renourishes her beach "naturally"... she sees a spot that needs more beach she throws in some seaweed, dead fish, and a long list of other flotsam and jetsam.... the sand collects among this stuff and stays.... mother doesn't like hard structures on her beach.... i remember a variety of seawalls that we have all watched deteriorate over the years... economics and olfactory considerations do not blend well... seaweed stinks for a while... specially if it is a matt 3' thick by 6' wide by 5 miles long.... but boy is it good for your beach... it settles down into the sand and rots and becomes black sand with bits of seaweed and then just black sand and then just sand.... (some variation may occur)... ok... so seaweed stinks... but it is free... well actually i guess it would be like getting paid not to rake it up... "but no one would come to spi"... they did before we started raking.... as for cleaning the dunes of trash.... unlitter! please....

11:53 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

So... I mean, is it really that bad at La Quinta every day at high tide now? And how far down the beach before it gets back to normal?

6:45 PM  
Blogger gulfless said...

I’ve wondered about what can be done to promote sand deposition vs. erosion. One of the problems is that sand meant for SPI is held up at Boca Chica. I thought about the artificial reef mentioned, but I never mentioned it because I don’t know the environmental impact. As a snorkeler/diver, I’d dig it because SPI has the water and the fish, but not the reef. I’ve browsed a few links on a “Concrete Reef” google. Looks promising. Just thinking though because it’ll never happen. If SPI allows dune murder and scrapes a perfectly nice beach every day, how could you allow an artificial reef?
I’ve read on this blog something to the effect, “It’s the beach Stupid” what you get instead are medians and beautification. Probably all good things, but hey, It’s the beach!

5:40 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Right on, Gulfless. According to one of my fish guide friends, much of the sand is deposited at Isla Blanca in the winter and on Boca Chica during the summer - the jetty has some serious effects for miles and miles.

The fellow went on to say that during large storms, sand is literally blown into the lower Luguna Madre by the huge waves. There is now a beach in Dolphin Cove, which used to be all rocks. Mexequita Flats, to the northwest, has so much sand it shoals at low tide (it used to be 1-3 feet deep everywhere).

9:28 PM  

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