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Introducing a new resource to help our nation's 'working waterfronts' flourish
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Introducing a new resource to help our nation's 'working waterfronts' flourish

Contact: Catherine Schmitt/Maine Sea Grant, 207-581-1434

U.S. ozone-monitoring sites

U.S. ozone-monitoring sites

Dark blue dots show sites that did not comply with the health-based federal standard of 75 parts per billion (ppbv) between 2011 and 2013. Additional sites would have been out of compliance with a 70 ppbv standard (light blue), a 65 ppbv standard (red), and a 60 ppbv standard (orange). (Cooper et al., Science)

Imagine Boston, Charleston, San Francisco or Seattle without fresh seafood, pleasure boats or shipping vessels. It is an impossible task. The history, culture and identity of these communities are inextricably linked to their "working waterfronts," which provide access to water  and serve as recreationsal and commercial hubs for water-dependent activities. Unfortunately, many of these working waterfronts face a growing number of challenges.

To meet these challenges, members of the National Working Waterfront Network, a group of municipalities, federal and state agencies, NOAA Sea Grant programs, businesses and community development organizations, conducted research and developed a new information resource, with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, to help secure the future of our nation's working waterfronts and waterways.

Working waterfront properties provide access to the water and serve as recreational and commercial hubs for water-dependent activities. Think of the land around a body of fresh or saltwater where people enjoy a variety of activities from swimming on public beaches to eating at a beachside restaurant to purchasing bait and tackle to watching fishing vessels move in and out of port.

Many of our country's coastal cities and towns began as ports and docks that grew into today's thriving working waterfronts. Mixed-use waterfronts contribute to our nation’s economic vitality and quality of life. Ocean- and Great Lakes-related economic activity in 2009 accounted for 130,855 businesses employing 2.398 million full-time and part-time employees.

But, along with their successes are challenges. Working waterfronts in Maine, Florida, Mississippi, California, Michigan and elsewhere are experiencing pressure from competing uses, coastal population growth, new development, changing regulations, increasing tax burdens, aging infrastructure and coastal hazards. When working waterfronts are converted to other uses, the loss of water-dependent business often has negative economic impacts on surrounding communities and related working waterfront jobs. As these resources disappear, the coastal cities and towns built around them can lose their cultural and community identities.

Coastal communities are working hard to maintain their working waterfronts because they know the importance of economic diversity and balancing future development with current industry. "Working watermen are an integral part of this economy and community," says Doug Meredith of Virginia’s Gloucester County Economic Development Department. "You want balanced development in your community, and that includes this important industry that has been a major part of our history."

To equip communities with the ability to develop creative solutions, citizens and decision makers must have access to strategies and tools to successfully preserve working waterfronts. NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program, a network of 33 programs based in every coastal and Great Lakes state and in Guam and Puerto Rico, works with coastal communities to enhance public access to the nation’s beaches and waterfronts through access-related needs assessments, conflict resolution, legal analysis and technical assistance.

In October 2011, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration provided a grant to the Maine, Florida and Virginia Sea Grant programs, the National Sea Grant Law Center, the Island Institute, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts (all founding members of the National Working Waterfront Network) to research historic trends impacting working waterfronts, analyze the economic value of the nation’s working waterfront sectors, and gather information to help preserve working waterfronts and waterways. 

The team created the newly released Sustainable Working Waterfront Toolkit — a web-based portal with information about the historical and current uses of our nation's waterfronts, as well as the economic value of these local and national resources. The toolkit includes legal, policy and financing tools communities can use to preserve, enhance and protect these valuable areas, along with a growing collection of case studies demonstrating how these tools have been applied. These success stories can help empower communities to learn what is possible. The National Working Waterfront Network’s new and improved website, which houses the Toolkit information, launched March 27 at the third annual National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium in Tacoma, Wash.

The Sustainable Working Waterfront Toolkit covers five general areas:

  • Historic Trends – information about how the past has shaped the future of American waterfronts to help in understanding their current evolution. 

  • Economics – a snapshot of how coastal industry influences the economy on a local and national level with possible future trends.

  • Financing – extensive resource offering ways to underwrite waterway budgetary constraints.

  • Law and Policy – an inventory of the laws that exist to protect and preserve working waterfronts and a clearinghouse for those who want to put these regulations into action.

  • Tools in Action – concrete examples of successful campaigns to preserve waterfronts.

In addition to the data on the site, an online community center serves as a living resource for those involved in planning and maintaining working waterfronts. Planners and leaders are able to stay abreast of issues and share their own case studies and lessons learned. According to Brett Dungan, Co-Chair of the Alabama Working Waterfront Coalition, "The toolkit and website highlight practical examples of the pro-active involvement of community and governmental leaders in the development of water resources. Having valuable, unbiased information available from credible sources is essential."

Stephanie Showalter Otts, a project team member and Director of the National Sea Grant Law Center, summed it up best. "Our new website enables us to present the current state of knowledge about working waterfronts and provides a portal through which decision-makers, business owners, and interested citizens can learn more about working waterfronts and how to preserve these important places." 

The Sustainable Working Waterfront Toolkit is available online.

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