Send Letter to Editor

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

logo.gif - 12092 Bytes

August 2002

Partners on the water

Marina operators and boaters navigate to keep
coasts clean.

Natasha Kassulke


Recreational boating, and marinas that provide services for boaters, are important parts of most coastal communities marinas are the on ramp to coastal and inland water pursuits: a search for natural beauty, swimming, fishing and tranquillity.

Yet, enjoying these pursuits also may lead to their decline.

Since marinas are on the water's edge, the waters around them can become contaminated with pollutants from activities that take place there.

Maintaining, storing and operating boats can pollute waterways, shoreland and even the air. Litter, sewage, dust from hull maintenance, solvents from engine repair, petroleum from fueling, fish waste and paint chips can all be released directly into the water or carried there by stormwater.

Sometimes the amount of pollution is so small, it isn't noticed – a small drop in a big lake. But small drops add up and potential pollution grows as more marinas are built and more boaters look for places to dock.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, between 1992 and 1997 marina numbers grew 26 percent nationwide. In Wisconsin, many marinas boast 80 to 100 percent summer occupancy. Developers of a proposed Pewaukee Lake marina have a waiting list. The U.S. Coast Guard also reported a 14 percent increase in registered boats between 1990 and 1999. Wisconsin had 543,034 registered vessels in 1997, one of the top ten states.

And although greatly reduced from its early 20th century peak, both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior support commercial fisheries. Add to that a rise in charter businesses and cruise lines that offer Wisconsin excursions.

Steve LaValley, a DNR hazardous waste specialist in Superior, says he's seen more tour boat companies coming to the Great Lakes and their business depends on clean water.

"The VISTA Fleet in the Superior Harbor – while moored in Duluth – is still interested in environmental protection here," LaValley says. "Their business depends on the quality of the water, shoreland and life here."

LaValley adds that there are many boat maintenance operations springing up in coastal and inland communities. Additional pollution concerns come up during discussions of growing personal watercraft use, ferry operations, fishing tournaments and the debate over switching from two-stroke engines to four-stroke engines.

Boating also means business innovation. Last spring, state Commerce Department officials were approached to issue a permit for a first-of-its-kind floating filling station. The station, if approved, would operate on Nagawicka, Okauchee and Pine lakes in Waukesha County. The 20-foot barge with 500-gallon fuel tank would serve boaters on the lakes.

Coastal Planning and Design, Inc., located in Green Bay, designs marinas, harbors and water related facilities. Their clients include Bailey's Harbor Marina, Sister Bay Marina, Kewaunee Inner Harbor Marina and Sturgeon Bay Marina. The company also offers stormwater protection and erosion control plans, WPDES permit monitoring and more.

"Environmentally conscious planning is important simply because it's the right thing to do," says Joe Mills, a company environmental planner.

A recent Wisconsin DNR survey found that 95 percent of boaters agree, and are concerned about the marine environment. As a result, Wisconsin is looking to states like Maryland for examples of how marinas, boaters and others can control pollution in their daily operations.

A driving force behind the Maryland Clean Marina Initiative was protecting the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland's efforts follow a push by the federal government to control marine pollution. When Congress passed the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA), it required EPA to describe ways to control pollution from nonpoint sources, including marinas and recreational boating.

One stipulation, though, was that measures be economically "achievable and not impose unnecessary financial hardship on marinas and boaters. In 1996, EPA published its economic analysis in a "Clean Marinas – Clear Value" report. Neil Ross, a marina consultant, authored the report.

Ross surveyed 25 public and private marinas and boatyards across the country. Many had stormwater discharge permits and other permit requisites to improve water quality and reduce runoff.

"The majority of marinas made environmental changes voluntarily because they wanted to improve their services to boaters, and to stay ahead of regulations," Ross says. "Not one regretted making environmental changes and many realized that these improvements weren't going to put them out of business."

Ross says some of the marinas he surveyed had active public education programs. Most had free pumpout stations and promoted their use. About 90 percent implemented Steps to stabilize shorelines, control stormwater, manage liquid wastes and contain petroleum products. Over 70 percent had improved their fuel docks and boat cleaning practices. Several had fish cleaning stations. Others switched from traditional sanders to vacuum or dustless sanders.

"We found that using dustless sanders was not only better for the environment but for the employees who didn't get as dusty," Ross says. Marinas also saved cleanup costs by using vacuum sanders.

To counter costs, some marinas add a 1-2 1/2 percent environmental surcharge to sales, slip charges and service work.

"Most customers are accustomed to paying for environmental protection," Ross says. "They pay when they recycle batteries and when they buy cleaner electricity."

Marina operators believe that visible efforts to operate clean marinas also increase customer confidence that management would also give extra care to their boats.

Many marina operators say one of their goals is to create smarter boaters who enjoy recreating, but do so with minimal impacts on the environment.

"Why did I adopt cleaner marinas a mission? Why are many marina operators joining me?" Ross asks. "I feel strongly that a dirty house isn't a good place to live and dirty water isn't good for boating."

Natasha Kassulke is Associate Editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Produced by the Wisconsin DNR


Financial assistance for this project was provided by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended, administered by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pursuant to Grant #NA17OZ0138 and the WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM.

THE WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM, part of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, and overseen by the WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT COUNCIL, was established in 1978 to preserve, protect and manage the resources of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior coastline for this and future generations. Funded by the Wisconsin Department of Administration Wisconsin Coastal Management Program

Written by Natasha Kassulke
Edited by Mike Friis and Natasha Kassulke
© 2002, Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources