Clean Marina program deserves, needs support



September 07, 2000|By GILBERT LEWTHWAITE

When the state introduced the Maryland Clean Marina program in January 1999, it rejected the notion of mandatory compliance and opted for a voluntary approach.

The assumption was that marina owners have more interest than most Marylanders in running enviromentally responsible businesses. Indeed, the 450-member Marine Trades Association of Maryland is a full partner in, and enthusiastic booster of, the Clean Marina initiative.

In a state that enjoys the Atlantic, the Chesapeake Bay, and Deep Creek Lake, the wide distribution of water for pleasure and sport has fostered the creation of no fewer than 599 marinas.

But today, 20 months after the Clean Marina effort was launched, only 18 marinas have implemented the program. Another 76 have enrolled but have yet to sufficiently improve their handling of the various toxic wastes associated with boat maintenance to earn certification.

The vast majority of marinas in the state simply have not responded to the intitiative, said Elizabeth Valentine, who coordinates the program for the Department of Natural Resources.

"We are struggling to get more participation," says Valentine. "Time and money are the common complaints. But it is not necessarily an expensive undertaking to be a Clean Marina.

"In general, the marine industry is responsible. There is a direct connection between water quality, attractive waterfront areas, and their businesses. Marinas are not in the business of mucking up their own water."

Beth Kahr, director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, suggests that the response coincides with one of the industry's busiest boating seasons on record.

"Attention to day-to-day business during the season is first and foremost," she says. "As things wind down, I think you will see more marinas falling under the guidelines of the Clean Marina initiative.

"These are things that forward-looking marina managers realize make their marinas more marketable and are also the things to do. But they are time-consuming things. I feel very comfortable that the program has been very well received, very well accepted."

The measure is hardly draconian. It asks marina owners to pledge to "keep Maryland's waterways free of harmful chemicals, excess nutrients, and debris."

It promotes effective waste-water recycling, and the designation of areas away from the shore for such hazardous marina jobs as stripping toxic paint, fiberglassing, and spray painting.

Such operations should be conducted under cover, on impervious surfaces, and be surrounded by a berm or retaining wall to prevent toxic leakage. Vacuum sanders should be used.

It recommends appropriate precautions for fuel distribution, and sewage and waste disposal.

Once a marina signs the pledge, the next step is a self-assessment of its facilities, using a Clean Marina Award check-list. When it believes it is compliant, the marina requests a confirmation visit from Valentine, who has a master's degree in environmental management.

The reward for compliance: state certification, use of the Clean Marina logo on the marina's letterhead, a pennant to fly at its masthead, and a free page on the Maryland Clean Marina Web page.

The DNR also promises to promote the marina's compliance through its publications and press releases. There is also the approval of the Marine Trades Association, which looks to growing peer pressure to increase enrollment, and the applause of the boating public.

But the industry's slow response has precedent. In 1989, the state introduced a law stating that all new or expanding marinas must have a sewage pump-out facility. In 1994, the law was amended to require all marinas with more than 50 slips to be able to pump out boat holdings tanks.

This was as much a necessity as a convenience for boaters, because pumping raw sewage overboard anywhere in U.S. territorial waters is illegal.

Marinas were offered 100 percent funding - 75 percent from the federal government and 25 percent from the state. In return for the grant, marinas are restricted to charging no more than $5 for a pump-out and must open the facility to the public.

You would think that is a fair enough deal for everyone.

Initially, under state funding, only about 15 marinas a year installed pump-out stations, said Don O'Neill, who controls the program from the Department of Natural Resources.

When federal funding came on stream in 1994, the pace increased to about 50 marinas a year. Then it waned again, although the compliance deadline was July 1, 1997.

Today, more than three years after that deadline, 30 marinas still appear to be defying the law; the DNR has no record of their having pump-out facilities.

That law's strength may be about to be tested. The apparently non-compliant marinas have been reported to the Department of the Environment, the enforcement agency, for investigation and possible action.

"It has reached a point that a responsible person would say, `Look, the law is the law. We have given you plenty of time,'" says O'Neill.

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