The Miami River is the city’s birthplace. Its dark streaming waters are the 5 1/2-mile heart. The artifacts along its banks, like the 2,000-year-old Miami Circle, are its soul.
Here, too, is the Miami birthplace of captain Beau Payne, born Sept. 14, 1964, and raised in time-battered apartments along the Miami River, a vital, but oft-abused economic engine in cargo shipping.
A young Payne loved the sight of the river’s tugboats and was determined that he, too, would become a tugboat pilot. Friends Frances Bohnsack and Andrew Dickman recall how Payne took a job as a deck hand for a kindly but garrulous old-school river pilot and worked his way through every operation of the oft-precarious tug and towing business.
Eventually, he became the pilot who steered the large cargo ships from the aft tugboat, the most difficult position in towing on the water, said Bohnsack, who worked, and fought alongside, Payne during her tenures as director of the Miami River Marine Group, a private association of marine businesses, and the Urban Environment League. “He had a natural gift for it,” she wrote of his tugboat skills in his obituary.
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Payne, owner and CEO of Miami’s P&L Towing and Transportation, died on March 6 of natural causes, his family said. He was 52.
Payne had a fleet of five tugboats on the river and a 40-member crew working in both salvage and towing. Not every venture was for business. He once escorted a bride and groom by tugboat to their wedding at a Miami River park. He was also known for buying bicycles and toys for children attending his alma mater near the river, Citrus Grove Elementary School.
He was a real man of the people who loved the Miami River so much.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
And he fervently championed the river, fighting against developers of high-rise condos who, he felt, were encroaching on the land and threatening the character of his boyhood home and his business. The Miami River Group, of which he was a member, won a Third District Court of Appeal precedent-setting decision in 2007 that ruled in favor of river residents and marine business owners who fought Miami’s approval of a major condo project on the river.
“We are not against development,” Payne told the Miami Herald after the decision. “We’re against unreasonable development in the wrong place. Before there weren’t rulings judges could go by, but now there is one.”
Payne also supported a costly and complicated dredging project of the river a decade ago that aimed to scoop 900,000 tons of sediment from the waterway. The $84 million task was supported by both big business that wanted bigger ships and environmentalists who wanted the river cleaned to protect marine life.
The 300-foot-long cargo ships that Payne’s tugboats guided along the river could only manage the voyage at high tide before the dredging. “The water is way too shallow. Most of [the cargo vessels] can only go about 50 percent capacity. The frequency of the trips will increase if it’s deeper,” Payne told the Herald in 2006.
“Beau was one of the true Miami River Rats, an endearing term I used to describe our group members who successfully worked so hard to finally dredge the river,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “I took so many rides on the Miami River on his tugboats and we invited local, state and federal officials to join us with the purpose of convincing them of the need to dredge it. He was a real man of the people who loved the Miami River so much. He will be so missed by all of us Miami River Rats.”
Bohnsack, now director of South Atlantic Gateway, a field office of the Maritime Administration, says Payne’s reverence for the river will be his legacy.
“I believe the most important thing he did was save the working river —and he surely did,” she said. “He funded our efforts through three expensive lawsuits, even when it got difficult. He never complained.”
Payne is survived by his children Amanda, Rikki and Oliver; his sisters Kathleen and Catherine; and two granddaughters, Azriella and Allazayah. Services will be at noon Monday at Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home, 6301 Taft St., Hollywood.