Unconventional Wisdom

My young partner, Jerry voiced a potent concern the other day: “How are we going to sell boats if the buyers can’t find a place to put them in the water?”
Marinas are closing in favor of private uses. A condo development took out one near us recently, and the rumor surfaced yesterday that a movie star bought another to make it his private point of water entry.
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem on our sparsely settled Georgia coast, but the permit process seems interminable on new and expansion projects that are needed to fill the shortfall. Immediate job losses, as they cease business, are serious (especially to those who lost the jobs). The long-term losses on boats not sold and services not rendered could be major if they aren’t functionally replaced by expansion and new facilities.
I submitted, in October 2003, a minor request for 85 feet of additional dock at our little marina. I have had to furnish a variety of “studies” and drawings outside the submittal norm; undergo two requests (nearly a year apart) for public comment; and cut my plan by 60 percent to keep it alive. I shudder to think what starting from scratch would be like, but our industry desperately needs it to be easier. My first permit took five years.
If dealers and marinas way out in the sticks, like me, have problems, what must be happening in denser boating environments?
George Buckley, chairman of Brunswick, told a group of marina and boat yard operators a couple of years ago that his company was looking into solutions. Now word of an additional Grow Boating Initiative task force on water access has hit the press. It will be chaired by Tom Errath who heads up Brunswick’s internal water access initiative and administrated by National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Jim Frye. Jim is also president of the Association of Marina Industries. It sure feels nice to have some big guys like Brunswick and NMMA in our corner, but they are small potatoes compared to the plethora of government agencies complicating our access efforts and the radical environmental lobby complicating even the government’s efforts.
Lest anyone declare me an environmental libertine, I spent a diligent 35-year career designing (and selling) air pollution control systems. I like clean air, clean water, big trees, green plants and abundant wildlife that flies, swims, crawls or even just sits there. I will join the front line to combat any sort of irresponsible use of our environment.
I suspect that most boat dealers, marina operators and marine manufacturers will join me in the fight. However, I want to get out among all those trees, plants and wildlife, not watch them on CNN. I am not alone. The rational wing of the environmental movement, including most of you, joins me.
We have the technologies to do what needs doing. My engineer dad regularly said, “Anything mechanical is possible if adequately financed.” Government and environmental lawyers hadn’t been invented when he propounded this, however. I read a news release the other day bemoaning the fact that boaters could potentially damage an underwater shipwreck. Coral reefs I can understand, but what kind of twisted mind worries about damaging a shipwreck? To me, a shipwreck is pretty much the definition of something already damaged beyond redemption.
A couple of thousand years ago, Juvenal wrote in his “Satires,” “Quis costodiet ipsom custodies?” (If your high school Latin is weak like mine — “Who will watch the watchers?”)
Juvi, we still have the problem. Government agencies are watching boaters, and radical environmentalists are watching the agencies. We, unfortunately, have to do more than “watch” the watchers. I am really looking forward to what the Access Task Force can do. A few appropriate miracles would be to:
1. Actively encourage private enterprise in its attempts to complete responsible boating access projects, particularly on private property.
2. Remove the make-work barriers to permitting projects, telescoping the time needed to something that resembles reasonable, i.e., the permitting process should be at least a little shorter than the construction process. My own permit has been in the works 20 months on a job that will take 2-3 weeks if everything goes wrong.
3. Create or become the ombudsman for the water access seeker. Right now, only a congressman or senator can get the proper ears. Government agency folks tell me that legislative intervention actually slows down the process.
I know I need more patience, but I need it right now!

John Underwood is CEO of Lockwood Marine on the Georgia coast. He has served as chairman of the Marine Retailers Association of America (2001 and 2002) and on boards for the American Boatbuilders and Repairers Association and American Boat & Yacht Council. He can be reached at ftlockwood@cs.com.

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