Harry's Gone

SURFERMAG.COM: Jason, a couple of weeks ago you and Serge Dedina went down to Harry’s to see what’s happened with the construction of the Shell/Sempra liquid natural gas plant. What happened?

JASON MURRAY: We went to the spot twelve miles north of Ensenda pretty early in the morning. We had to park at Bajamar because the normal access has been closed off with a gate, barbwire and security people. There’s now an exit off the freeway but only for construction access. So we had to park about two miles north of Harry’s.

We started our hike in and as soon as we got out of the car, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had an anxiety about what I was going to see because Serge had already shown some photos that looked like they were building the jetty right out at the point. When I saw those, my heart kind of dropped.

So a good mile and a half away, you could hear the churning of diesel — giant trucks and earthmovers. They basically turned a mountain into a quarry and backfilled a meadow about 20 football fields in size. It now looks like the foundation to a parking lot and made me think of Joni Mitchell’s song “They Paved Paradise”.

SERGE DEDINA: It’s a stunning part of the coast, and you can’t really see the construction site from the highway. But it’s really an amazing place. The vegetation is pristine — there’s nothing like it south of Point Conception. Completely undeveloped coastal sage scrub habitat. Thousands of acres of it, going down to the beach. Think of Malibu 150 years before there were any roads.

JASON MURRAY: So we’re hearing those noises and I’m just getting sicker by the minute. It really felt like going to a friend’s funeral. It used to be that all you’d hear were birds, waves, and see a seal or a whale. It was idyllic, pastoral. Then we come over the hill and it was just like some industrial scene out of Long Beach or Newark, New Jersey. 20 or 30 trucks. Probably four conveyor belt quarries. The kinds used to carry rocks. They had begun construction on the second jetty and had made significant progress from the week before when Serge was there — the jetty had probably quintupled in size from a week before.

SERGE DEDINA: A funeral — that’s a good analogy. Jason had really bonded with this place. To me, it felt like a lynching, and then a funeral. We were both literally watching this surf break be destroyed in front of our eyes. I’ve spent 25 years of my life trying to keep people from dumping rocks in surf spots. Seeing these giant machines literally dumping rocks in the surf break — it was like watching a surf destroying factory.

JASON MURRAY: It was just a real bummer. This old and new contrasted. You walk over and the first thing you see is this fish camp and traditional way of life. The second is this huge industrialization project and deconstruction of the environment 400 yards to the south.

SURFERMAG.COM: What happened at the fish camp?

SERGE DEDINA: I had a conversation at length with one fisherman and what he said was, ‘we really can’t fight this. We’re simple fisherman and we’re going to be living next to a huge gas plant’. This is as impoverished and run down a fish camp I’ve ever seen in Baja — a classic off the grid Baja fish camp — sitting next to a $700 million state of the art LNG facility.

SURFERMAG.COM: Do they own the land?

SERGE DEDINA: They sort of live haphazardly. There are probably a few folks who live there year-round, but they probably don’t own the land. But they do have a government concession to fish the area. But the building of a mile long pier with jetties on either side will have a considerable impact on what’s now a pretty vibrant reef.

SURFERMAG.COM: We’ve all made that drive, it’s a beautiful stretch of coast.

JASON MURRAY: That’s the craftiness of this LNG location. You can’t see it from the main highway. None of the construction, deconstruction, rape, whatever you want to call it. All you can see is a gatehouse and a two-lane road. You can see it from a boat, and maybe from the edge of Bajamar. I’m sure that was probably a consideration in construction. No one’s going to see it, but in essence it’s an area that surfers have been driving past for 40 years and it’s remained untouched. But in six months time, ruined.

SURFERMAG.COM: What happened after you left the camp?

JASON MURRAY: We kind of made our way along the ocean. I’m with Serge, so I feel rather confident about him knowing what kinds of rights we have. I’m just trying to document — to see whatever we can, and not open my mouth too much. The last place I wanted to end up was in an Ensenada jail.

Just after leaving camp, the perimeter of the plant is surrounded by guards because they’ve had quite a few protesters. They’re to keep the media out and keep people from taking photos. So as soon as they see us coming to the border of the property, we were immediately confronted. Serge and I played dumb and pretended not to hear anything. By the time we got to the construction site, there were six or seven representatives of the company asking us to stop taking photos, and asking us to leave and telling us we were on private property. But much like the U.S. if you’re at the high water mark, you’re on public property.

Bottom line is that Sempra Shell did not want us documenting. They didn’t want anyone there.

So after 15-20 minutes of these guys getting more and more irritated, we decided to back off rather than risk any other problems. I thought it was best to leave. By then we’re standing 25 feet from what used to be the jumping off spot for the surf break and looking at a jetty that goes straight through the lineup. It’s so disappointing that people can get away with that stuff.

SERGE DEDINA: You know, it’s really ironic that American taxpayers, and thus, American surfers are subsidizing this project. A U.S. corporation is basically receiving taxpayer subsidies because the California Public Utilities Commission has allowed Sempra to charge ratepayers to pay for this project in Mexico. So every surfer in SoCal, unless they live in a truck at San Onofre, will be paying for this. There are environmentalists in Mexico who said they would give up their lives over this project. And the whole Mexican revolution was fought to stop a government that was perceived as being owned by Americans. For a lot of Mexicans to see American energy companies taking over the coast, it’s equivalent to having a Japanese government agency take over one of our National Parks.

It’s ethically wrong and a crime and a shame that Mexico has thrown out ten years of environmental protection to placate an American corporation.

JASON MURRAY: For the Mexican people, I think they might have an easier time coming to terms with this, but the fact is that it’s such a thinly veiled attempt by Sempra Shell to get past U.S. environmental law. Mexico won’t have the infrastructure to make use of the LNG from this plant for 30 or 40 years. Meanwhile we’re taking a shit in our backyard — which is Mexico.

SERGE DEDINA: Basically, Jason and I were ordered off a Mexican federal coastal zone by private employees of an American company. We said, ‘thanks you guys, but you should know, we’re paying your salaries’.

SURFERMAG.COM: It’s ironic Jason, that you guys had to reveal your secret surf spot, which made it to the cover of Surfer magazine completely unidentified, in order to save it.

JASON MURRAY: When Rusty, Greg and their father Steve and everybody got together to talk about this, we realized that something much bigger was going on than just houses. We were starting to realize the scope of what was coming. I can look back now to certain things like, ‘hey, what’s going on here, did the fishing cooperative grade the road?’ Or ‘what’s the surveying boat doing off the coast?’ At first, we thought it was going to be an offshore oil platform, and even that probably wouldn’t have killed the wave. That was just last fall. When we realized what it really was, we said, ‘we’ve kept this place in relative obscurity for three years, and have done a good job’. In a selfish way, I admit it was for our own enjoyment, but it was also partially in having no one wanting it to become another K-38, Baja Malibu or K58. We tried to treat the area with as much respect as possible.

But we realized that there was no way the five of us were going to win any kind of fight. So we went to Serge and said, ‘hey, I know you’re trying to save this area next to Bajamar. Did you know that it’s home to a surf spot that’s as good as The Box or Backdoor? I think Serge was even more charged up. Not because it was just another strategic alliance but because he realized the value of the place.

So we did a lot. petitioned the utilities and used all my contacts. I think everyone else did too in an attempt to make some noise. It was unfortunate that it was too little too late.

SURFERMAG.COM: It’s interesting. When you think of spots like Killer Dana. If it were proposed now, with all the surfers in Southern California today, you wonder if the Dana Point Marina would have been approved.

JASON MURRAY: Yeah, with Harry’s, there wasn’t much in the way of perceived public value. I don’t think it would have been a matter of months or years’ awareness either. It would have had to have been revealed a long time ago to have had the wheels spinning against Sempra.

If you went down to that coastline 10 or 15 years ago and offered them a couple of million not to develop it, I think they would have said, ‘yes’.

SERGE DEDINA: I really admire Jason, Rusty and Greg for making the issue of this wave known. But I’m not going to let anyone beat up on them for keeping the spot a secret. There were a whole host of environmental groups working for a long time to stop this.

One of the reasons I started Wildcoast was to prevent these sort of projects through property easements (buying property in order to save it). I visited this site back in ’99 with the Nature Conservancy’s Steve McCormick. I’m kicking myself that we didn’t try to come up with the money to buy that place.

SURFERMAG.COM: What if the surf spot was discovered a long time prior?

SERGE DEDINA: Unfortunately I don’t know if even that would have had an impact. We’re dealing with a different type of juggernaut. We’ve got Mexico’s highest, most prestigious golf course a mile away, and they couldn’t stop it.

When Surfrider, Wildcoast and Save the Waves launched our petition, we asked the governor to stop this. Wildcoast is still planning on suing, but Sempra has already destroyed the wave.

SURFERMAG.COM: Jason, why did you go on this little expedition?

JASON MURRAY: I wanted to get, not closure but through the past five years, I’ve kind of been able to tell a story about this place with pictures and with Rusty and Greg Long and the other surfers who’ve ridden it. So I needed to also document the destruction of it, along with all the beauty we’ve had there over that time. We needed to show the before and after – how beautiful this place once was. It was untouched — one of the most beautiful stretches between LA and Ensenada. I go back through photos and look back on going to Harry’s when there was just a fish camp there on the headland to the north — it reminded me of old time Mexico.

So I think I’m going to go once a month and document — I don’t want to call it progress — the deconstruction of Harry’s.

SURFERMAG.COM: What have you learned from this experience?

JASON MURRAY: The Golden Rule: He with the gold rules and the little guy loses. Maybe we could have done more to save the place if we’d been more proactive at an earlier time and had been involved. Also in making Wildcoast aware earlier – that not only was an ecosystem involved here, but a world-class wave. I feel great about making people aware and bringing the problem to light, but I’m sorry we lost the battle.

SERGE DEDINA: The Irony is that the development to the north is one of Mexico’s highest end golf resorts. Roberto Valdez, the developer, has been a huge ally of stopping this LNG project. We’re trying to stop it — surfers allying with golf course developers. But even if they put a golf course there, at least it wouldn’t have destroyed the surf.

JASON MURRAY: Personally too, I think you should always stand up for whatever your cause is, whether it’s saving a wave or whatever. Initially I was pretty discouraged because of the results of what happened. But I thought, you know, I’d have been a lot more bummed if I hadn’t done anything. Rusty and Greg said the same thing. I won’t lie in bed at night saying, what if I did this or that? Also, it reinforces my doubts about the overall intelligence of mankind. We’re so quick to take away and view our home and planet with such a short-term timeline and I want it now manner. We should be asking, how am I going to preserve this place for my great grandkids’ grandkids?

Look, I’m a self-employed, independent businessman and I don’t want to come across as some huge environmental crusader because I’m as consumer based as the rest of the world. I got passionate about this surf spot, but I don’t know if I’m going to go strap myself to a whale. Basically, the free market creates a lot of opportunities but it creates a lot of dangers as well. This was one of them.

SURFERMAG.COM: What would you like to see come out of this in the future?

JASON MURRAY: Who knows, maybe after we document this after the fact, we’ll have a stronger argument that this place is really ruined. Still, it would be nice to get some publicity going — ask surfers not to buy Shell gas for a day. Collectively and united, we can be a pretty strong group.

SERGE DEDINA: I think there should be a lesson for surfers in this. It doesn’t take long to destroy a surf spot. Get enough trucks, and you can pretty much do it in a day.