Working waterfronts – a national context: Part 1

National Working Waterfronts and Waterways conference in Florida highlights ongoing challenges, opportunities.

Michigan, along with our neighboring Great Lake states and provinces, is blessed with numerous harbors, both big and small, and wonderful communities located along the coast. On the United States side of the Great Lakes alone, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversees a navigation system that includes 140 harbors; additionally, there are many important small harbors that exist which are not officially part of this federal system. Inside these coastal communities are working waterfronts which allow and provide for a diversity of jobs and quality of life by accessing these public trust waters.

By definition, working waterfronts are waterfront lands, waterfront infrastructure, and waterways that are used for a water-dependent activity, such as ports, small recreational boat harbors, fishing docks, and hundreds of other places across the country where people use and access the water. To better understand current challenges and opportunities of working waterfronts, Florida Sea Grant, the National Sea Grant Law Center, and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium are sponsoring the 4th National Working Waterfronts & Waterways Symposium November 16-19, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.

By design, the triennial symposium moves around the country to highlight the diversity of our nation’s working waterfronts, to foster a cross-fertilization of ideas, knowledge and solutions, and to generate strategic partnerships. The first symposium was held in Norfolk, Virginia (2007), the second in Portland, Maine (2010), and the third in Tacoma, Washington (2013). The fourth symposium will shine a light on Gulf of Mexico coastal communities and their waterfronts. The Gulf region comprises five (1/6th) of the thirty U.S. coastal (and Great Lakes) states, yet accounts for about 24 percent of ocean-related jobs, 29 percent of ocean-related wages, and 35 percent of the nation’s ocean-related Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The ultimate goal of the symposium, and the Network, is to increase the capacity of saltwater- and freshwater-based coastal communities and for stakeholders to make informed decisions, balance diverse uses, ensure access, and plan for the future of their working waterfronts. Michigan Sea Grant is an official silver level sponsor of this conference and will have team members giving presentations, chairing a session and serving on the national conference planning committee. This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight issues of working waterfronts and prosperous coastal communities as we learn and share in the national context discussions and our ongoing projects in Michigan.

Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension are funding and actively involved in a small harbor sustainability research and outreach project in 2015/2016 which has involved a coastal community along each of our four Great Lakes (New Baltimore, Pentwater, Au Gres and Ontonagon). Each of these small harbor communities has their own scale working waterfronts and these areas are integral to the communities’ long term sustainability. From this research, there will be transferrable lessons captured and toolkits developed to share with other communities as we strive to use, steward and enjoy the Freshwater Seas.

Working waterfronts are truly important in many ways and new information and lessons will be shared  at the conference.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Read the second article in this 2-part series: National working waterfronts - a national context: Part 2

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