Friday, June 02, 2006

Gene Tomlinson, watchdog of North Carolina's coast

The N.C. Coastal Federation, a remarkable conservation organization that has had much to do with keeping our coast as clean as it is and in boosting public understanding of some difficult issues regarding coastal development and the health of the entire ecosystem, has honored a steadfast public servant for a life’s work in trying to preserve what we hold dear on the coast.
He’s Gene Tomlinson, the former mayor of Southport and for many years the chairman of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission. It honored Gene and a number of other citizens the other day down at Harkers Island with the federation’s annual Pelican Awards. In a news release, federation founder and executive director Todd Miller said the award goes to people “who have demonstrated exemplary commitment to protecting our coast.”
Here’s what the group had to say about Tomlinison:
“Gene Tomlinson, who for 28 years was the heart and soul of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission before retiring last year, will receive the Federation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Born in Fayetteville, Tomlinson is an engineer who spent most of his life in the seaside town of Southport. He was appointed to the commission in 1977 and was at the helm when the commission, which sets development policies along the coast, approved most of the major controls on development. He played a key role in the turbulent passage of the ban on seawalls on the oceanfront and inlets.
“Tomlinson could bring people together on controversial issues, and passionately, yet calmly, articulate the need for action. ‘And we see [nursery areas and productive fishing grounds] being gobbled up by people who would bulldoze in the marshes, who would put in bulkheads and fill behind them, who would bulkhead the oceanfront so that we become like New Jersey or Miami Beach,’ he said in a 1995 interview.”
I first met Gene in 1993 when I was trying to buy more sailboat than I could afford and Gene was trying to get rid of one. He was a small man in a plaid bathing suit and a striped shirt and a raspy voice who was an engineer by trade and a waterman at heart. I wound up buying a 37-foot cutter from him that was a joy to sail and live aboard whenever we could break away to the coast. He had put a lot of effort into putting amenities about that vessel, including a lovely mahogany galley cabinet and built-in shelving in every conceivable compartment.
Reflecting his work on the Coastal Resources Commission, Gene used his orderly mind and his sense of what is right and wrong to guide the commission through the shoals that come with regulating coastal growth, banning seawalls and discouraging the kind of development that has overwhelmed other coastal states. Gene’s no longer on the commission and is, I hope, enjoying life. No one deserves it more.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in enjoying the good work of the N.C. Coastal Federation, click here. And the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission can be accessed here.

4 comments:

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