The Amazing History of the Amazing Richard Kirschman, Part VII

Dear Readers: Richard Kirschman died peacefully at home in Point Reyes Station on November 6, a dear friend to many and a voice in West Marin that will never be silenced. I miss him already. — Pat

Word from Inverness journalist Mark Dowie adds yet another adventure to the six-part posting about Richard Kirschman of Dogtown and Point Reyes. I called that series Changing the World, One Idea at a Time, but Mark’s suggestion reflects just about everybody’s awe, so here is Part VII, and it is amazing, as Mark explains below:

Richard circa 1970

If one more chapter were to be added to your recent series, which might be renamed The Amazing History of the Amazing Richard Kirschman, it could be about the lawsuit Richard filed in the early 1970s against the US Navy.

Richard was a retired Navy officer and knew from his years of service that when Navy ships entered urban ports around the world, they unloaded their human waste into harbor waters.

So he sued, hoping to force the Navy to install sewage treatment plants or gigantic holding tanks on all Navy ships.

When he traveled to Europe, Richard asked me to keep an eye on the litigation. I didn’t have to do much more than call his lawyers from time to time and ask them how the case was proceeding. I nonetheless regarded myself, and still do, as an informal co-complainant in the case … WHICH WE WON!

The most memorable vignette I recall from this time was a comment Richard made when he appeared on a popular morning radio talk show (Dan Sorkin’s?). Asked about the lawsuit, he observed that any aircraft carrier sailing through San Francisco Bay with a full crew was the equivalent of the entire town of Sausalito flushing all of its toilets directly into the Bay, every day.

“Just think about that,” he said, “next time you order a Bay Shrimp Cocktail.”

[Note from Pat: This is what I loved about writing this series — for a guy who’s done hundreds of good deeds, Richard Kirschman had a wicked sense of humor.]

Richard’s lawsuit was brought against the US Navy only, and it referenced the behavior of Navy ships only, specifically in regard to the dumping of human sewage in ports and harbors.

But a case could be made that a year later, his lawsuit inspired Congress to draft and pass the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA). This legislation, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, prohibits the dumping of all material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment.

iWhat an incredible story so typical of Richard’s go-for-it mentality when faced with something this outrageous and previously impenetrable. Thanks to Mark Dowie for sending it in and to Richard’s neighbor Myn Adess for mentioning that, on top of everything else, Richard once taught flying lessons to glider enthusiasts. Who knows where he flew sailplanes or became an instructor, but maybe one day that could be Part VIII. Pat)