Association of Marina Industries to Develop a National Clean Marina Program

On February 18, the Association of Marina Industries (AMI) announced its plan to develop a national Clean Marina program. The thinking behind putting clean marina on a national platform had been ongoing for years, but with much discussion, financial backing, and finding the perfect person to lead the effort, the thoughts are finally becoming reality.

Clean Marina has been a staple on the shelves of many U.S. states since the late 1990s when it became apparent marinas’ reputation for being polluting menaces was not doing any favors for the industry and for boating overall. It was a reputation built on the backs of few facilities, but it was enough to raise the suspicions of regulators who imagined more rules would solve the problem.

The marina industry took a proactive view and decided starting a voluntary program where marinas could implement best management practices, as well as adhere to regulations, was a better solution than more rules. Spurred on by the availability of funding from Coastal Zone Management programs, states created clean marina initiatives.

Over the years the program migrated from just coastal states, inland, and hundreds of facilities have become certified clean marinas. The heyday of the program however has passed, and many state programs are struggling trying to find funding to support not just the program, but the staff, leaving many states with just one employee to do it all. Some states have simply closed the door on the clean marina.

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A Plan Comes Together
Recognizing the struggle AMI’s plan is to alter the approach from certifying marinas to certifying people and to work on a coordinated national program instead of state by state. They plan to run regular training programs under their International Marina Institute umbrella, whereby individuals will be trained on what encompasses a clean marina program, how to run a program at their own facility, and how to pay it back by working with other marinas to implement clean marina practices.

Eric Kretsch, legislative coordinator for AMI, said the first gap AMI is trying to fill is with its corporate members who want a clean marina designation for part of their branding and want to see this as a uniform standard. “Internally we’ve been having that conversation for many years. It took a confluence of having expertise on hand and available, finding someone like Erin who could take up the initiatives, and having members who are interested and willing to help fund the program. Over the summer of 2020 things came together,” he said.

Leading the effort is Erin De Vries, formerly of Michigan Sea Grant, and with more than a decade of experience in program development including work with clean marina programs. De Vries came up with the idea to certify people instead of facilities while she was still working with the Great Lakes Clean Marina Network and experienced the difficulty of finding dollars and days to conduct site-visits. Telling a marina who wanted to certify that they’d have to wait several months until someone could get to them took the enthusiasm for the program away.

To ease this struggle the national Clean Marina will put more people in the category of trained experts. Where states now often rely on one or two clean marina program managers to visit hundreds of marinas, clean checklist in hand, to guide them into implementing BMPs and ensuring regulatory consistency, now there will be fleets of clean marina experts ready to share information and advice.

Coordination With State Programs
But what about the existing state programs? De Vries says she has not spoken to all states yet, but imagines there will be a mixed response. For programs that are thriving, there will be some question as to the need for a seemingly redundant certification process, but she anticipates an offer of more boots on the ground to conduct those certification visits will be appreciated.

For states that don’t have programs, AMI can offer up their program as something to be adopted and implemented through traditional Clean Marina conduits such as state offices of natural resources, Sea Grant, or similar agencies with an environmental slant.

“I have talked to states that are excited about the prospect of rolling what they are already doing into a partnership with our goals. For instance, a state that is working hard on shrink wrap recycling and even fiberglass boat recycling, they see great opportunity of pitching what they do through our clean marina program,” De Vries said.

From Kretsch’s perspective, by training more people and instilling the fundamentals of basic BMPs, the national program can help states to update what they are already doing. “It also opens up coordinated efforts to grab some money on the federal level for clean marinas. We can have a coordinated network of strong advocates for clean marina programs across the board and make them more visible,” Kretsch said.

Tom DeLotto, regional manager at Suntex Marinas, says Suntex has been at the forefront of this initiative and has been pushing for AMI to take on the challenge of a national program. “From the perspective of companies like Suntex, Westrec, Safe Harbor Marinas and others that are in the business of acquiring many marinas, having clean marina programs that vary across state lines is challenging and frustrating.”

National Clean Marina
Right now AMI is in the program development phase collecting information from a needs assessment, putting together relevant resources, developing a guidebook and figuring out how the program will be delivered. Decisions are being made through an advisory committee that includes representatives from Safe Harbor Marinas, Suntex Marinas, Westrec Marinas, and MarineMax, each of which is also sponsoring the rollout.

De Vries says the committee has identified three main goals – to develop a national framework and process to train and certify marina professionals; to expand the clean marina network to enable more certifications; and to increase awareness of the value of resilient and clean efforts.

“By fall we hope to have training sessions and have this be part of our training portfolio as a self-sustaining product,” said Kretsch.

DeLotto says that marinas should be excited about the prospect of an additional avenue to tout their role as environmental stewards. As a nearly 30-year veteran of the marina industry, DeLotto admits environment was not always a buzzword. “I can tell you without a doubt that we were not so concerned or aware of the environment in our business but marinas and the whole recreational boating industry has come so far,” he said.

While he admits some of that has come from government regulation, a lot has been internal to the industry. Suntex’s objective is to have marina operators perceived as good stewards of the environment, but also have its employees understand the value and importance of that stewardship. DeLotto thinks all marinas should carry that same objective. “If we take care of our properties and how they interact with Mother Nature that puts us in a better place with customers and how we are perceived. We all are focused on doing the best job we possibly can for the company, customers, and employees and number one is to protect what we love about what we do,” DeLotto said.