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The Economic and Environmental Challenges of Marinas in Massachusetts
By Robin Lacey, CZM
Marinas—for many these coastal businesses are the primary gateway to the Commonwealth's coastal waters. Providing a variety of important services and facilities to boaters, such as vessel dockage and storage, fueling, maintenance, and sewage pumpouts, marinas are also large contributors to the state and local economy, employing skilled workers and bringing valued tourism dollars to Massachusetts. In a study conducted in 2001, the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association estimated that recreational boaters generate nearly $1.7 billion for the state's economy, including total industry revenues and associated spending. With 1,500 miles of coastline and more than 5 million residents living within 10 miles of the coast, it's no wonder that boating and the industries that support it are such a mainstay in the coastal communities of the Commonwealth.
Officially, the term "marina" covers marine boating facilities that provide essential services to boaters, and includes boatyards, yacht clubs, and town docks. Located right at the water's edge, sometimes in the most scenic and pristine coastal areas of the state, marinas have a significant potential to impact water quality. In addition, upwards of 186,000 vessels are registered or documented in Massachusetts and the growing popularity of boating combined with increased developmental pressures along the coast have focused attention on the water quality implications of marina practices.
Marinas and Nonpoint Source Pollution
A variety of routine activities can generate contaminants that are washed into rivers, streams, and the ocean when it rains. Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is the technical term for this indirect runoff contamination, and the combined impacts of these countless small sources add up to significant pollution problems. In fact, NPS pollution is now the number one pollution problem facing coastal waters.
Marinas, like most other businesses, can generate significant amounts of NPS pollution, especially when they are improperly sited, designed, or operated. A variety of activities, including hull repair, engine maintenance, and fueling, have the potential to significantly impact nearby coastal water quality. For example, paints, solvents, oil and gasoline, and other hazardous materials generated through boat operation and maintenance are toxic to humans and marine life. In addition, sewage released by boaters contains bacteria that can make people sick and contaminate shellfish resources. Because of the close proximity of marinas to shore, the chance that these contaminants will reach the water is increased.
Many of these pollution sources from marinas can be addressed through cost-effective practices and the education of resident boaters. As part of its Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Program, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) has focused on the development of a guidance document, technical assistance, and education to help marina operators and boaters control their NPS pollution. The guidance document, drafted collaboratively with the marina industry, provides marina operators with a simple list of best management practices (BMPs) and other suggestions to reduce the environmental impacts of marinas. Titled Massachusetts Clean Marine Guide, this detailed document is available electronically on the CZM website at http://www.mass.gov/czm/marinas. To order a hard copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CZM Information Line at (617) 626-1212, and be sure to give the name of the publication, along with your name and address.
Because of their potential environmental impacts, these generally small businesses have become some of the state's most heavily regulated. Marinas face a variety of federal, state, and local regulatory requirements covering such issues as structures in navigable waters, dredging to maintain boat access, and stormwater runoff. To comply with regulations regarding hazardous materials and waste, fueling operations, and oil spill planning, marina owners and operators must undergo significant planning and reporting exercises. Overall, the costs associated with regulatory compliance can be significant to marinas, which operate already within a highly competitive industry.
These costs, coupled with development pressure in coastal communities, can lead marinas to seriously consider other options, such as selling to developers of housing or retail establishments. Private development of this kind generates its own potential pollution problems, and exacerbates issues of increasingly limited water access and available boat slips and moorings.
One practice that can impose a regulatory burden and cost to marinas is pressure washing boat hulls. Because copper and other contaminants in boat paint can be washed into nearby water bodies, pressure washing is subject to federal regulations that require significant pretreatment of the wash-water prior to discharge. As part of a comprehensive effort to assist marinas in tackling this difficult issue, CZM awarded $12,500 each to Cape Ann Marina in Gloucester and Arey's Pond Boatyard in Orleans to install treatment systems that will remove pollutants from the washwater, as well as to host demonstrations so that other marina operators, state officials, and the public can see how these systems work. The CZM website has additional information about this program at http://www.mass.gov/czm/marinas/pressurewashing.
Clean Marina Program
To help balance water quality protection with the benefits of improving boater access to the coast, CZM, in partnership with the marina industry, is developing the Massachusetts Clean Marina Program. This volunteer, incentive-based effort will recognize marinas that are not only in environmental compliance, but strive to go a step further in lessening their impact on the coastal environment. This program is modeled after successful programs in other states, such as Maryland, which certified 74 clean marinas as of August 2004. Maryland Clean Marinas benefit from the significant publicity the program provides, which includes periodic newsletters and press releases, a flag to fly at the marina, and use of the program logo on stationary and other marina correspondence. The positive working relationship created also results in better compliance with environmental regulations without the need for costly enforcement actions.
Through the Massachusetts Clean Marina Program, CZM will be available to assist marinas with regulatory compliance and strategies to address the wide array of pollution issues. Together, this will result in effective, individual, and innovative solutions to environmental problems, improved public access to the water, and an economic boost to an industry so vital to the Massachusetts maritime economy.