It’s one of my favorite photos of Refugio State Beach: A cross between a sand castle and the White House, this lovely sculpture created on Refugio State Beach. And there’s a swimmer in that clean water. I took this photo on a lovely family day at this beautiful beach a few years ago.

Patriotic sand castle at Refugio State Beach
Patriotic sand castle at Refugio State Beach

Refugio is a place where my family loves to spend time; we kayak, ride bikes, boogie board, picnic and take hikes up-coast and down. When I think of Refugio State Beach on a patriotic holiday weekend, this is the photo that makes me proud.

But Refugio State Beach, Memorial Day 2015, doesn’t look like this anymore.

Today no one is allowed on or near Refugio State Beach, and no one in his or her right mind would enter the water for miles in either direction.

It’s particularly poignant to view this image today, on the day set aside to honor our Americans in uniform—who once fought to liberate the world from tyranny, and now seem to fight for access to oil fields. We’re determined to drain every last drop in every area—far offshore, and close to home.

Petrochemical Sunset at Refugio State Beach (photo by Tom Piozet)
Petrochemical Sunset at Refugio State Beach (photo by Tom Piozet)

Very close to my own home in Santa Barbara where offshore oil rigs dot the horizon and the specter of the 1969 oil spill remains in the hearts and minds of the community. Today, politics, economics and national security interests converge on Refugio State Beach, where Memorial Day vacationers should be, now chased out by dark, stinking, gooey oil taking a toll as it oozes, clings and smothers.

On this Memorial Day, Refugio Beach is off limits: The palm-lined campground now resembles a military outpost with huge trucks and workers in hazmat suits; missives are issued by the Refugio Oil Response Unified Command and the public is kept well away from ground zero by miles and miles of strategically placed traffic cones.

Surely we can do better. It’s the American Way to come up with innovative solutions to provide for our energy needs, while we preserve and protect our land, our water and our people.