New coalition focuses on preserving working waterfronts

by Bill Nachman - Posted on Dec 15, 2010 - 03:06 PM

A new coalition has been formed to focus on the nation’s working waterways and waterfronts.

Tom Murray, associate director of Advisory Services at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point, said he was one of the local representatives among the 200-plus participants at the Working Waterways and Waterfronts National Symposium on Water Access 2010, held recently in Portland, Maine.

At the conclusion of the conference, Murray said, representatives from federal, state and local governments and organizations announced the formation of the new National Working Waterways & Waterfronts Coalition.

Sea Grant programs from around the country are helping take the lead in the coalition, Murray said, with special support from Sea Grant programs in Maine, Virginia and Florida. These representatives will partner with Island Institute and Coastal Enterprises, Inc., both based in Maine, and the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

The steering committee will explore funding mechanisms and organizational structure, Murray said.

The primary focus of the coalition is education and awareness of the values of working waterways and waterfronts to local economies. In too many places, Murray said, working watermen are being forced out of long-standing working waterfront areas in favor of other forms of development that might yield increased revenue from higher taxes.

Some areas, such as Newport News, have established effective small boat harbors to help consolidate the watermen in a central docking area.

Not only are watermen pressed for docking space, Murray said, but so are the processing houses that support them. Fifty years ago there were about 100 seafood processing houses throughout Tidewater, Murray said, and today there might be a dozen.

Besides trying to maintain waterfront access and supporting watermen initiatives, Murray said, the coalition will work to promote value-added seafood products which will cater to new markets and bring new streams of revenue to watermen.

Also, Murray said another objective of the coalition will be to serve as a resource for policymakers on the national level.

Lewis Lawrence, regional planner for the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, presented a talk about public waterway access at the conference, Murray said, and Lisa Lawrence, marine education specialist at VIMS, also attended.