The Coastal Star

Opus the turtle comes in for a landing at Oceanfront Park

By Ron Hayes

Look, up in the sky!

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

It’s a … flying turtle?

Well, not flying, exactly.

Suspended from the 81-foot boom of a 25-ton crane, the turtle is twisting slowly, slowly, 40 feet above Oceanfront Park on a gloomy October afternoon.

And it’s not what any nitpicker would call a “real” turtle, either.

Opus 14 Sea Turtle is a 700-pound sculpture, 54 inches wide, 46 inches deep and 14 inches high, welded of steel with a bronze patina.

“It’s been on its way here since 1991,” says Rick Beau Lieu, the Boynton Beach artist who collaborated with Project Reef Keeper and the Center for Marine Conservation to create art out of repossessed metals associated with environmentally hazardous materials.

Constructed in 1990 from pipes that had once been fastened to the deck of an Exxon offshore oil rig in the Bahamas, Opus 14 went on tour for four years, carrying his
environmental message to venues from Long Island to Islamorada. In 1995, he came back to Boynton Beach, to spend two years raising money for the Historical Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and an additional 13 years in the lobby of City Hall.

Now the turtle has a permanent seaside home as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program, which bought the sculpture for $24,300 last year with money raised from impact fees.

“This is not just an opportunity to educate the public about marine life and sea turtles and why they come to lay their eggs in Boynton Beach,” says Debby Coles-Dobay, the city’s public art administrator. “It will also help to educate about how we can recycle materials, and it gives real character to the park.”

The sculpture is the artistic centerpiece of the park’s $1.7 million refurbishment, which will see the boardwalk, benches, picnic tables and trash receptacles replaced with new, more durable wood, along with the construction of eight nylon shade structures.

“The wood is called ipay,” says supervisor of parks Jody Rivers. “It’s all renewable, farmed for construction purposes in Brazil, and because of its density, it could last 30 to 40 years.”

The refurbishment is expected to be completed by December, with a ribbon cutting sometime in January.

On Oct. 12, as the first few drops of a threatening shower fell on Oceanfront Park, Opus was lowered to his final nesting place.

Up in his cab, Sid Morgan of Sid’s Crane Service brought the sculpture down while Dave Billington of Palm Beach Marine Construction, the project’s site supervisor, crouched on the plinth, conducting the action with minute hand gestures.

“You want it back a little bit,” he said, turning an imaginary dial ever so slightly. “Down a little … down a little.”

Slowly Opus descended, until he was hanging only a foot or two above the plinth.

As Rivers, Coles-Dobay and a gathering of curious passersby watched, Beau Lieu drilled four holes in the plinth and coated the sculpture’s mounting rods with epoxy. Another few inches and the rods slid snugly into the holes, only yards from those ocean dunes where real sea turtles come to lay their eggs.

“This feels good,” Beau Lieu said, stepping back to admire his work. “I live in Boynton Beach. I’m fine with it here.”

The turtle has landed.

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