A bill now in Congress could help keep the Great Lakes' waterfront industries in business, and even put new ones to work.
H.R. 3223, also called the "Keep our Waterfronts Working" Act, would establish a grant program to provide funds to any coastal state to "preserve and expand access to coastal waters for persons engaged in commercial fishing, recreational fishing or other water-dependent coastal-related business."
"All over the country we're seeing marinas gobbled up for residential development," said Ryck Lydecker, assistant vice president of government relations with the Boat Owners Association of The United States. "Boaters need slip space, but they also need services."
While the Marina District redevelopment effort has been at the forefront of recent waterfront development discussions, talks of a shipyard on the west end of downtown has also sparked interest among local leaders. At the most recent Sandusky City Commission meeting, Put-In-Bay Port Authority Executive Director Monica Drake proposed a partnership with the city for a shipyard on the 11-acre property owned by the Kelleys Island Boat Line west of the Geo. Gradel property along Shoreline Drive.
"Increasingly, recreational boat marinas and launch ramps, repair yards, commercial fish docks, bait shops and other water-dependent businesses are being pushed off the waterfront as a result of residential development pressures, skyrocketing tax burdens and shortsighted planning," according to the Boat Owners Association of The United States, which supports H.R. 3223. "Local governments could use grant funds to purchase a threatened marina outright, or a non-profit entity could obtain a grant to buy development rights in order to keep a working boatyard, public marina, fish wharf or crab wholesaler in business, rather than sell out to a residential developer."
While much of the congressional support for the bill comes from representatives along the East and West coasts, the Great Lakes would be included in the "Keep our Waterfronts Working Act" as provided in the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, U.S. Code Title 16 Section 1451. Sandusky accounts for 22 miles of Lake Erie's shoreline.
H.R. 3223, introduced July 30 by U.S. Rep. Thomas Allen, D-Maine, and co-sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps, D-California, has since been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, then to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans.
"It is something that Congresswoman Kaptur will take a look at," said Steve Fought, spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo.
Fought said if the legislation provides a viable mechanism for funding to help our coastline and also strikes a proper balance between competing interests, it may be something Kaptur would support.
"As with every issue that involves the lake or the coast, there are several stakeholders involved," Fought said.
As the bill is currently worded, it may be something that would aid the development of the newly proposed shipyard.
Once a bill has been referred, the subcommittees often edit, add to, and have hearings on the bill before voting on whether to send it back to the House or Senate for a full vote. H.R. 3223 is one of 80 bills under consideration by the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans of the House Committee of Natural Resources.
"If this passes, boaters need to step up to the plate and be part of the solution," Lydecker said.