Working together to create awareness of the value of waterfronts
The National Working Waterways and Waterfronts Coalition works to create awareness of the value of working waterways and waterfronts to local communities and economies, according to Bob Swett, the Coordinator of Florida Sea Grant’s Boating and Waterway Planning Program.
“Florida Sea Grant has a long-standing commitment to the development of innovative policy and planning tools that help coastal communities balance the use and protection of their waterfronts and waterways,” Swett said.
“Participation in this national coalition unifies our work with a number of similar efforts across the nation so that we can continue to apply the best-available ideas and information to these emerging issues.”
Florida’s Unique Voice in the Conversation
In recent decades, population growth and intense development have transformed Florida’s coasts. Many communities struggle to preserve recreational and commercial access to their waterfronts and navigable waterways.
These trends threaten to jeopardize the viability of traditional waterfronts that a community’s character.
Due to the knowledge gained through Florida Sea Grant’s emphasis on recreational boating research and outreach, Florida brings a unique and important perspective to the national discussion on working waterfronts, Swett said.
“It is important to recognize that recreational boating is an important part of Florida’s economy and cultural heritage, along with the traditional commercial working waterfronts. Florida Sea Grant supports both.”
One of Sea Grant’s research outcomes is the Regional Waterway Management System, a methodology that provides state and local decision-makers with a science-based analysis of navigation patterns in coastal areas. They can then prioritize where dredging and other waterway maintenance priorities can be implemented with the least harm to the environment. It was developed by Florida Sea Grant in cooperation with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the West Coast Inland Navigation District, and local partners.
“It exemplifies the type of coastal planning ‘best practices’ that we need,” Swett said.
Sea Grant is also approaching the preservation and revitalization of working waterfronts from land-use perspectives provided by its Marine and Coastal Law specialist, Tom Ankersen, who is also director of the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law Conservation Clinic.
“Florida is one of the states in the forefront of protecting its working waterfronts, both legislatively through comprehensive planning requirements, and financially through constitutionally mandated tax incentives and targeted legislatively created grant programs,” Ankersen said.
Ankersen and his students lead Sea Grant’s participation in Florida’s Waterfronts Florida partnership, a program administered by the Florida Department of Community Affairs that provides technical and financial services to communities struggling to preserve their waterfronts.
“This is grass roots, where the rubber hits the road waterfront preservation, and the envy of other coastal programs,” Ankersen said.
One example of a community-based initiative to promote working waterfronts is the annual Cortez Fishing Festival in the historic fishing village of Cortez, Fla. John Stevely, Florida Sea Grant’s marine extension agent in Manatee County, has been actively involved in the development of the festival since its founding more than 25 years ago. Proceeds from the festival support the purchase and restoration of the mangrove wetlands adjacent to the village.
Next Steps for the Coalition
The decision to form a National Working Waterways and Waterfronts Coalition was an outcome of the Working Waterways 2010 National Symposium. The coalition’s goal is to increase awareness of the economic, social, cultural, and environmental values of waterfronts, as well as the important role of water-dependent businesses in coastal communities.
Other coalition members include the Island Institute, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The coalition will grow in the weeks and months ahead as its organizational structure and mission are formalized.
A second objective of the coalition will be to serve as a resource to policymakers at the national level. Symposium keynote speaker and NOAA Deputy Administrator Larry Robinson highlighted opportunities for the 220 symposium attendees to engage in the new National Ocean Policy.
The upcoming reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act also was identified as an opportunity to secure support for water-dependent economies. Coalition members hope that an organized presence will leverage support for several bills under consideration in Congress that would provide funding to keep working waterfronts and waterways intact.
“Some of the key principles we’ve identified are vision, transparency, and partnerships,” said Natalie Springuel of Maine Sea Grant. “We intend to reach out to those organizations and initiatives that have similar goals and interests in preserving what makes unique and thriving working landscapes.”
More information about the symposium and follow-up activities can be found at www.wateraccessus.com.
Sea Grant specialists Bob Swett and Tom Ankersen, along with Alan Hodges, IFAS Food and Resource Economics, are part of a national team that received $297,000 in October 2011 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to create community and economic development tools for preserving working waterfronts and waterways.
The team is a subset of the National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Coalition (WWF&WW) that formed in the aftermath of the 2010 Working Waterways and Waterfronts National Symposium on Water Access in Portland, Maine. Members hail from Sea Grant Programs in Florida, Maine, Michigan and Virginia; the National Sea Grant Law Center; the Island Institute and the Coastal Enterprises Institute of Maine; and the Urban Harbors Institute of UMASS.
The expected outcomes and products of the EDA grant align closely with those envisioned by the WWF&WW coalition during its year-long work that culminated in a two-day August meeting in Boston. The coalition’s mission is to increase the capacity of coastal communities and stakeholders to make informed decisions, balance diverse uses, and plan for the future of their working waterfronts and waterways.