Communities Find Creative Ways To Maintain Boating Access

By Nicole Palya Wood

In the wake of budget shortfalls, U.S. communities from coast to coast are raising their own funds to underwrite boating access and facilities, to better compete for matching grants.

Photo of shrimp boats along the South Carolina coastlineShrimpers and recreational boaters alike are dependent on two inlets near
McClellanville, South Carolina, that are badly in need of dredging. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The amount of money available for dredging from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and state coffers has not been able to keep up with demand, leaving a growing number of communities in need of dredging and maintenance of existing boating facilities. From some of the priciest oceanfront properties on North Carolina's Outer Banks to communities with average incomes struggling to stay above the poverty line, here are a few stories of how everyday people are committed to keeping boating strong in their communities.

Charleston County, South Carolina

The town of McClellanville, with a population of 500, sits north of Charleston and is home to two inlets on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway that are in desperate need of dredging. Economic drivers of the town are the shrimp and seafood boats that currently have to wait for high tide to navigate through McClellanville Inlet or Breach Inlet, between Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island. In late 2014, the Charleston County council voted to set aside $500,000 over two years as a local cost share for waterway maintenance. The estimated cost of dredging the channel in McClellanville Inlet is about $3 million, but McClellanville Mayor Rutledge Leland and Charleston County Commissioner Dickie Schweers initiated a tax increase for the additional funds to have some leverage when competing for matching dollars from state and federal sources. "In late February, we got word that we now have a federal commitment from the ACOE project director of dredging," said Mayor Leland. The seed money will come from the county's accommodations tax dollars, such as those assessed on hotel rooms, and the balance will come from ACOE dredging dollars. "Not once throughout the hearings and proceedings did I ever hear anyone oppose this tax. The need was just understood," added Mayor Leland.

Martinez Marina, California

California State Senator Lois Wolk got a bill passed that would allow Martinez Marina, in her San Francisco district, to restructure its debt and make revenue-producing upgrades. The legislation was originally viewed as a local issue rather than a statewide one, but Senator Wolk argued that the improvements would allow the marina to maintain its fishing industry while stimulating economic development and attracting recreational boaters. Plans include a new launch ramp, deeper channels, a new bait shop, boat storage, and a waterfront restaurant. Although this project was funded through a legislative fix, it also could have applied for matching dollars from such programs as U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) Program (see sidebar).

North Carolina

In 2012, the North Carolina State Legislature passed a bill that raised the cost of boat registrations across the state and specifically allocated the funds to pay for the dredging of numerous shallow-draft inlets. BoatUS worked with legislators to make sure that the bill treated all users of the waterways equally and that commercial as well as recreational users shouldered an acceptable increase in fees. For decades, the ACOE has maintained the multitude of shallow-draft inlets that line the North Carolina coasts. However, lack of funds has left these inlets in dangerous condition. Additionally, the Outer Banks are a magnet for storms moving up the Atlantic coast. Dramatic shoaling is often a result of these storms. Having its own source of registration fee revenue, half of which goes directly into the shallow-draft-inlet fund, allows the state to better weather the waning availability of dredging support from the ACOE.

Northport, Washington

The sleepy town of Northport, population 300, sits on the Columbia River where the Grand Coulee Dam creates the 150-mile-long Lake Roosevelt. Although the lake has many boat launches, many become unusable during long stretches due to low water levels. Through the tenacity of volunteer Rebecca Middlesworth, the town raised almost $100,000 to cost share for a new Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant boat launch that has a natural breakwater and deeper water and a refurbished picnic and parking area. This money helped secure the grant, which totaled just under $300,000 and was awarded to Northport by the Washington State Boating Facilities Program. This progam is supported by state boating gas-tax dollars.

Photo of the town of Northport, WashingtonThe tiny town of Northport, Washington, fought for a new launch ramp to maintain access to Lake Roosevelt and the Columbia River.

"They were kind of an underdog," said Kim Sellers of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. "The woman who brought in the application was a mom who'd never done anything like this before. She and the project ended up ranked first among all the projects that year. I think their intent was to bring in more recreation dollars to their little town. It was a real sacrifice for their town," said Sellers. "But it paid off."

Weighing Options

As communities deal with the tightly cinched belt of today's ACOE budget, city officials and boaters will have to be creative in maintaining water access. Whether it's to attract more recreation or keep an existing seafood industry or angling charter up and running, communities are coming together to raise funds.

"Spending state and local dollars on maintaining a federal waterway can be a tough decision in these tight-budget times. But with limited federal dollars, it's reaching a point where these investments may have to be further supported by all partners," said Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association Executive Director Brad Pickel. "Obviously, we want to continue to fight for federal money to keep the AICW, what I call Marine Highway 95, open for generations to come, but it's great to see communities showing their commitment." 

— Published: June/July 2015

Boaters' BIG Tax Return

The federal Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) Program, established with the help of BoatUS, is a critical tool for helping communities keep boating accessible, fun, and affordable. The grant program utilizes taxes assessed on the sales of motor fuel, marine engines, and fishing tackle, and it redistributes needed funds to boating facilities and projects across the country. In February 2015, the BIG Program announced the awards of more than $14,301,250.

The BIG Program has two tiers of grants. Tier 1 awards go to projects competing against other projects in the same state, with a maximum of $100,000 going out to each state annually. Tier 2 grant applicants compete nationally and are for larger-scale projects, with grant awards up to $1.5 million.

If you've identified a local boating-facility need in your community, consider applying for a BIG grant through your state boating access agency.


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