Saturday, March 11, 2017

Goodbye Miami River Activist Beau Payne...Guest Blog by Frances M. Bohnsack and Andrew Dickman

It was always my secret desire to be a tugboat captain. Tugboats are so cool. Geniusofdespair

Captain Beau Payne
(September 14, 1964 – March 6, 2017)

 Captain Beau Payne, 52, of P and L Towing, the red and white tugboat fleet that dominates the Miami River, passed away on March 6 of natural causes.

The marine community has good reason to mourn; Beau Payne literally saved their future with his strong stand on limiting the river’s condo development to Miami’s downtown development area.  Because of his efforts, with some help from friends in the river’s Durham Park neighborhood, the Miami River Marine Group and a lawyer skilled in appropriate planning, a full scale assault on marine industrial properties was stopped and marine industrial protections were put in place.  Frenzied developers seeking inexpensive waterfront properties were chastised by  media sympathetic to the river’s working class, and the Florida Court of Appeals weighed in with full recognition and appreciation for the working Miami River in “Payne vs. City of Miami.” These three separate, hard-fought cases, which now bear Beau’s name are routinely cited as case law throughout Florida.

More about that, but first it’s fitting to say something about the man himself.  Beau Payne was no ordinary citizen.  Raised in degraded apartments on a hard-scrabble section of the Miami River, Beau loved the sight of the river’s tugboats, and determined through self-teaching and apprenticeship to become a tugboat pilot.  As a young man – not much more than a boy – he indentured himself to that commitment by taking a job as a deck hand for a kindly but garrulous old-school river pilot.  He worked his way through every operation of the sometimes dangerous tug and towing business, until he eventually became the pilot who commanded by steering the large cargo ships from the aft tugboat, the most difficult position in towing on the water.  He had a natural gift for it. 

With small successes initially, he eventually built an investment with five tugboats on the river (it takes two tugs to pilot a 300 foot river cargo ship), 40 crew working in both salvage and towing, and a cadre of people grateful for the opportunities he offered them.  All of this thriving maritime activity was a gift from a man born without privilege, but with a strong sense of empowering others.  He never failed to recognize his own good fortune, nor blocked the impulse to share it.  Each year at Christmas, he delved deep into his pockets to buy bicycles and toys for dozens of needy kids attending Citrus Grove Elementary School near the river where he and his sister attended school as a children. Each April he participated in the Miami River Commission’s RiverDay, welcoming kids on board his tugs for a look around.  He once escorted a bride and groom by tugboat to their wedding site at a Miami River park.  Another time he answered the call – gratis -- from a friend whose submerged boat unexpectedly needed a lift and repair.  He always had a friendly wave to the folks of Spring Garden who watched his boats as a daily entertainment.  He contributed tomany causes with good cheer and interest, without any need for recognition.

But bravest of all those things that Beau did was facing down teams of arrogant, hostile lawyers for weeks, months, and years, fighting to keep the river working.  Developers and politicians were incensed to have to answer to a man they considered a “nobody,” who was giving his best to protect the working river. In addition to his job working on the river, Beau sacrificed. Those who opposed him in their cause to rid the river of marine industry made the mistake of underestimating his resolve and persistence. He was maligned and sometimes discouraged, but he never backed down or abandoned the effort.  In the end, Beau and those who stood with him to protect the Miami River were decidedly vindicated by the appellate courts of Florida.

We who knew him will miss him; those who didn’t can still enjoy his legacy just by sitting along the Miami River waterfront watching in awe as larger than life marine traffic goes by.  He was a brave heart, a good soul, and a loving man who will be sadly missed.”


Anonymous said...

Just spent 6 weeks living in a condo overlooking the river. We spent an extraordinary amount of time watching tugs moving the freighters up and down the river. On windy days it was really impressive watching the aft tugs navigate the narrow arrow at the bridge over Brickell.

We have also traveled up the river ourselves several times to see all the activity going on. It is fascinating, something everyone should do.

Thanks to Beau Payne for making this possible. You did a wonderful thing.

Anonymous said...

Starting with disgraced ex-Mayor Manny Diaz politicians have been working to kill as many of the Miami River businesses as they can. Soon more and more monster condo towers will loom over all blocks of the river. Traffic. Too bad planners are so easily manipulated.