“I don’t want to go out without feeling I’ve done something to keep this ship on course.”
— Mike Broili
Water is a human right, according to many around the world. For Lincoln County residents from Newport to Yachats, we have water delivered to us from one source – a plant on Big Creek River with two failing earthen dams. This troubles many residents – how vulnerable we are collectively because of the fragility of this single source of sustenance.
Mike Broili is all about water. At age 76, he’s a self-taught fellow who has traversed many physical, geographic and philosophical planes to have ended up as an integrated stormwater management expert for more than two decades. Water planning is big for Mike, who grew up in Port Orford.
He was born in Santa Monica, 1942, then logged two years in Lake of the Woods, a year in Springfield, and then Port Orford. His father had just returned from the battlefields of World War II before setting down roots on a five-acre cranberry bog. The young Mike learned the cranberry business, logging, fishing and carpentry.
“I had an ordinary childhood. My father died in a logging accident when I was 11.” Ordinary is in the eye of the beholder, and Mike’s travails are unique biographical features compared to youngsters today.
Mike and I talk about how important it is for stories like his and hands-on training from old timers with his knowledge to be part and parcel integrated into K-12 schooling. He agrees that youth need affirmations that struggle, perseverance and several life makeovers can positively define the American experience.
He says he was a recalcitrant youth, and so Mike ended up dropping out his senior year. From clearing nuisance tussocks in Port O, to ending up on destroyer and tender in the US Navy for almost five years during the Vietnam War, 1961 to 66, Mike’s life would once again transform again and again.
I meet Mike at a Mid-Coast Watersheds Council gathering at the Newport Visual Arts Center in Nye Beach. He is the guest speaker talking to 20 in the audience -- with his Power Point at the ready -- on how even rural coastal communities need to be “water aware.”
“Water’s been so much of my life,” Broili says, pointing out he is dedicated a quarter of a century in the Puget Sound area to learning about and putting in action better designs for dealing with water. “I was in the navy and then was a commercial fisherman, and then in water management design for 25 years, so I know the value of water.”
I gather much more from his curriculum vitae than what we are getting in this profile tied to other points of interest in his life.
At the Nye Beach talk, he discusses water management as a holistic approach for getting cities, schools, businesses and home owners to find ways to develop gray water collection systems to help offset the need to use pure water from the water plant to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets.
He tells the crowd that a typical short-term rain event in our area creates tons of water coming just off a small roof, let alone what runs off all the impervious surfaces like parking lots, warehouses and compacted roads and streets.
“One inch of rain coming off a thousand-square-foot roof produces 623 gallons of runoff,” he points out. That’s almost 2.5 tons of water.
Reducing this water sluicing on to hard surfaces back into stormwater catchments and diversions prevents so many of issues connected to the health of rivers and other watersheds, as well as stopping erosion.
We may see up to 80 inches of rain a year hitting parts of Lincoln County, but Mike is adamant we need to make sure that rainfall gets back into the groundwater, recharging the water cycle.
Michael Broili, still principal of Living Systems Design, is passionate about sustainable development.
He is also enthusiastic about whole systems, and sees the built environment as part of a symbiotic relationship to the natural world. “The goal is to not notice the transition from inside to outside.” Mike’s talking about the Japanese concepts of ma and oku¬ which are more or less these architectural gates to open and expand perceptual experiences. Mike calls it, “space interacting with the environment.”
From a youth growing up on the Oregon Coast, to retired Newport resident embracing concepts of Eastern architecture and landscape design, Mike represents for me the idea of shakkei, which means “borrowed space” and could be a subtheme to this column.
Mike Broili embodies this belief in creating the perception of infinitely expansive fields.
He and his wife of 30 years, Karen, share their South Beach home as a way to experience nature and their sea-view home. Mike has been involved in volunteering at the Hatfield, has worked with NOAA and continues to tinker around with equipment STEM students in the ROV program are using to hone their technical skills.
These remotely operated vehicles are built for MATE (California-based Marine Advanced Technology Education) through funds by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.
Less than three years into his time on our coast, Mike Broili is helping prepare local students for technical careers by being the hands-on volunteer.
Full-steam ahead might be Mike’s motto as he believes South Beach will be where he has finally set down his anchor for good.
Going against the flow: part II
The Summer of Love was 1967, and on through ’68, ’69 and ’70 the USA was being reshaped by struggle: Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, anti-war protests unfolded, the environmental movement kickstarted and the country was in constant spasms around generational tugs and pulls.
South Beach resident Mike Broili was in Williamsburg, Virginia, as a 26-year-old Vietnam veteran looking for answers when Kennedy was killed.
Shortly thereafter he ended up in Salem, Oregon, using the GI Bill to get a forestry degree from Chemeketa Community College.
“Why forestry?” he shoots back while we talk outside Café Mundo on Nye Beach. “I had a connection to the environment as the son of a logger and fisherman. But going up against some of those forestry instructors, I knew I wasn’t going to do well in a normal forestry job.”
Broili was ahead of his time in terms of sustainability and the ecological footprint. He said the forestry program lauded an annual harvest of 18 billion board feet from America’s forests, but that the program failed to point out only seven to eight billion board feet were part of the yearly growth rate.
I also met him at the Newport Visual Arts Center to hear about and see some of his creations he implemented in cities like Seattle, Shoreline and Edmunds to help rivers stay healthy through less disturbance (scrubbing) from surges during rain events.
Rain gardens and bio swales are two demonstrable ways to get water from a parking lot to filter back to the watershed, through biological means (grass, soil, gravel, plant roots) so the runoff ends up cleaner as it heads back into the stormwater systems.
Mortality of salmon species can be reduced through mitigating the hydrocarbons that might have ended up directly into streams but are instead held and retained through several biofiltration landscape designs, Broili explains.
Mike Broili is jazzed about all this “design and sustainability stuff.”
Back to Early Roots
With logging, fishing and US Navy histories, Mike ends up east of Salem for two and a half years at Opal Creek mine, now known as a cutting-edge environmental center, Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. He worked on assessments of mining claims through the Shiny Rock Mining Co. near Jawbone Flats and Oregon’s oldest intact old-growth forest watershed.
“That was probably the most momentous time in my life living and working with people I agreed with --against the Vietnam War and for the environment.”
While we jump around in our talk, from sustainability and hydrologic restoration, to Eastern principles of holism and stewardship of the land, it’s clear to me that a life lived in many parts makes for a variegated narrative.
You take a kid from a cranberry farm in Port Orford, send him overseas to fight in war, then throw him into the pulse of America in the 1960s, and then plop him down as a bartender at the Rock Creek Tavern (first McMenamin’s venture) north of Eugene loving the live music, drinking and carousing.
Then, bam, another iteration of Mike’s life – Wenatchee at Pangborn Field learning to become a pilot with a commercial instrument rating. Then, again, bam, Mike’s living in a cabin with pilot friend Bill on the Kasilof River (Ggasilatnu in the Dena'ina language) in southern Alaska.
“I supported myself doing carpentry and construction. I spent one year working the Alaska pipeline. Then I sat down and asked myself, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’”
He was in his 30s, and decided that something tied to the marine world and fisheries would be his next calling. He ended up working for the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) studying the efficacy of octopus pot fishing, clam dredging and other R&D programs to support the seafood industry.
Another right-turn Mike makes in his life in 1983 with a conference titled, “Is Pollock a Red Herring?”
Soon, he and friend Chris Riley are getting into a huge Japanese-dominated market – fake crab meat, or surimi, largely made from white fish like pollock. “We studied the process in Japan, and then bought tons of it, froze it and then began to develop markets for the stuff.”
That included Chris creating a flow-through production process run out of Kodiak, and Mike’s marketing acumen, including a surimi promotional film that won an advertising award. Mike hawked the 20-pound blocks of surimi, basically dehydrated deboned fish with sorbitol and sugar added, to any and all US markets.
That was a multi-year project, and then, in 1988, Alaska’s economy went belly up.
“I knew I was never going to live anywhere other than in the Northwest, so I went to Seattle. I went through a period wondering what I wanted to do for the next part of my life.”
Being a yacht broker wasn’t his cup of tea, so with his able-bodied seaman and merchant seaman certifications, he ended up living on a sailboat on Lake Union, showering three times a week at the YMCA-Seattle 10 blocks away.
That’s when he met Karen, who worked as a YMCA programmer.
Life really gets interesting for Mike – he ends up piloting tugs for Foss Maritime, and eventually gets his 3rd mate’s certification and begins working in Alaska for Exxon.
“The best job I ever had was working in Prince William Sound heading up the barges used for support personnel on the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.” That was in 1989, and Mike had 11 barges under his purview – a hotel barge with 220 rooms, four to a room; a sewer barge; a barge for supplies; crew barges; a kitchen barge. He also was part of the decommissioning of the 250-foot vessels for their return trip to Seattle.
Mike lived six months out of each year getting “big bucks” in the marine shipping industry and then had six months of personal time to figure out his life’s next iteration. He said he met many people in the environmental community in Seattle, some tied to permaculture.
He even tried his hand at helping the AFDF research a Swedish company’s jigging machines (with data collection and report writing) to see how they fared with cod and rock fish harvesting.
The next phase of Mike’s life unfolded after a 1993 gathering at the Orcas Island-based Bullock's Permaculture Homestead.
“All the pieces came together for a perfect learning opportunity to understand whole systems design.”
In the early 1990s, Seattle was learning how valuable salmon habitat had become to continuing the existence of the struggling species which had just been listed as endangered by the US government.
Mike learned about concepts around “Salmon in the City,” like linking waste streams and water runoff to salmon rivers and creeks. He learned about composting and soil amendment to enrich salmon habitat in the built environment.
“One thing I was struggling to understand was a whole-systems approach with permaculture designed in. I knew I wanted to work for myself. The more I thought about sustainability and the environment, I came to see that water is at the root of every environmental issue. I saw the danger our water systems were in.”
He and a friend looked at the problem from a design perspective – roofscapes, hardscapes and landscapes were those links to how water is handled in the built/urban environment. “We came up with the idea, “Surfaces for Salmon.”
That’s when the “hydrologic fanatic” moniker comes in – Mike has since, for more than a quarter of a century, worked on how to “reconnect the original function of the water cycle” handling the suite of natural hydrologic systems when all parts are properly functioning.
He has worked with engineers, planners and architects from various county and city agencies, as well as with individuals and private companies to help them use cutting-edge techniques and materials to work with precious water and the built-upon-land that comprises urban-suburban-rural interfaces.
His mantra is simple when it comes to construction sites – “Find ways to reduce site disturbance and restore soil function.”
Some of the members of the MidCoast Watershed Council wanted to know about permeable road and parking surfaces as well as green roofs. “The goal is to disconnect hard surfaces and bring back the water cycle to a near forested situation where no runoff occurs because of the natural features of complex soil layers, leaf litter (duff) and transpiration from trees,” Mike repeats several times.
We discussed Newport City Hall’s Ocean Friendly Garden that was spearheaded several years ago by Surfrider. Members also looked at pollution going into Nye Creek, finding several homes’ sewers discharging directly into the stormwater system.
The City’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure has been mapped and various groups including Surfrider helped advocate for revisions to the municipal code to mandate best management practices for sewer, stormwater and other non-point-source pollution controls.
Six years ago, the City of Newport created a new stormwater utility and an opt-out incentive program for residents and businesses who want to disconnect from the system in order to install the green infrastructure Broili discusses to prevent rainwater from leaving their property.
“This may seem like big city stuff,” Broili tells the crowd. “But rural communities and a city like Newport can benefit from integrated water management.”
The best way to end this profile is by mentioning Mike’s rules of the sea he has extrapolated into what we as a global 7.5 billion collection of people should be doing around pollution, overharvesting of the oceans, global warming and degradation of sustainable systems.
These three Rules of the Sea he ends our talk with:
• The “Rule of Prudence” — If we are in a situation where we confirm that there is a danger of harm – heavy seas – then we should avoid it at all costs. He sees climate change as that impending gale.
• Maintaining a proper lookout — “A captain must use all resources available to alert yourself to potential threats to the vessel and crew.” Mike likens this to how our society has to believe in scientists and experts who are the lookouts for any harms caused by our ways of life and processes.
“Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position and opinion of a community of scientists in a particular field. Our leaders serving as captains of the ship of state should take heed of the reports from our lookouts. Unfortunately, many choose to either reject or ignore the warnings from science.”
• “Risk of Collision” — “The moment you ask yourself, ‘Is this a crossing situation?’ you must assume there is one. From there you must make whatever adjustments and take any precautions necessary to avoid collision.”
For Mike Broili, it all comes down to how we take care of the environment, how many risks are out there, what sort of collisions are about to occur because of climate change, and how we might better heed the lookouts on our watch.
Mike’s one of those captains and one of those lookouts, paired up in one person here at South Beach.
Paul Haeder is a writer living and working in Lincoln County. He has two books coming out, one a short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” and a non-fiction book, “No More Messing Around: The Good, Bad and Ugly of America's Education System.”