A panel of marine industry experts and leaders, including representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, facilitated a discussion on water access following the Legislative Agenda. Industry panelists included Genmar's Irwin Jacobs and Dusty McCoy of Brunswick. U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Craig Bone, Director of Inspections and Compliance; and Gerald Barnes, Chief of Operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; also participated on the panel and offered perspectives from the federal vantage point. NMMA President Thom Dammrich moderated the panel's exchange.
Admiral Bone began the discussion talking about the importance of port security in a post-9/11 world. Bone said it was a sad fact that, in a crisis situation, the easiest reaction for the Coast Guard and the Port Captain is to close important waterways and ports to recreational users. Bone also suggested that further public dialogues occur on how best to use popular waterways that are becoming crowded with more commercial shipping and recreational boats. The Admiral also encouraged the industry to keep up their education and outreach efforts designed to foster boating safety.
Irwin Jacobs opened his remarks with an acknowledgement of just how serious water access is for the recreational marine industry. Jacobs stated his opinion that condominium development is a good thing for business if the land can be optimally used and that it is just a reflection of the operation of market forces: waterfront real estate values have gone through the roof and these kinds of properties are at the leading edge of those values. He said the industry should look to develop "brownfields," abandoned industrial lands that have traditionally not been attractive to real estate developers, as a potential source of new marinas and boating access points, and spoke of his efforts to demonstrate this with a marina development project he has undertaken. Jacobs also warned the audience not to expect government to provide solutions as government may not prevent problems and sometimes creates them.
Gerald Barnes spoke about the Army Corps of Engineers' role in recreation, but said that unfortunately "recreational projects do not get the largest part of the federal pie" in their budget. He emphasized his agency's commitment to seeking recreational sustainability and told the panelists and crowd that their research shows people are enjoying parks closer to home, and that there has been a large upsurge in younger populations using the parks, especially young families with children. He said the Corps is struggling with an aging infrastructure and constrained funding. Barnes also indicated that the variety and rates of user fees are expected to change in the future.
Dusty McCoy addressed the threat of diminishing water access to future boating growth and sales. He delivered startling statistics in Florida's Broward County that emphasized that "water access is a huge problem," saying some 1,600 people are on waiting lists for a marina slip. He referenced a figure indicating that 25% of unit sales 30' or over come from this county, and emphasized that a lack of marina dock space and water access is a huge threat to recreational boating's economic growth. McCoy said, "marinas have a real impact on their community, and communities should know that there is a real benefit to having marinas that coexist with development." McCoy emphasized the need to streamline the permitting process, saying it is broken and doesn't allow smaller marinas a chance because of the huge amounts of time and money it demands. He said it has taken 18 months to get a permit to fix and revamp a marina Brunswick currently owns, requiring lawyers to go through a process with three different government entities, each with a different permitting process. McCoy encouraged the industry to gather more hard data on the water access question, and echoed Jacobs's message of developing underused "brownfields" properties.