Gulf Coast to face access crisis?

NEW ORLEANS – Today, the nation is pulling together to rush support to victims of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. In the weeks, months and even years to come, however, the long-term effects of the hurricane will start to show themselves.

One such effect will likely be a shortage of boat access. Long before the hurricane became a reality, some studies showed a shortage of slips along the Gulf Coast. A study conducted in the 1990s suggested a need for 6,000 additional slips along Mississippi’s coastline, for example.

In the wake of the hurricane, the question has become not how many marinas were damaged by the storm, but rather how many survived. Though NMMA President Thom Dammrich points out that “it will be months, at best, before people in the affected areas of the Gulf Coast will be worried about boating,” when they do, boaters in the region may find themselves without many options.

Tough decisions ahead

Florida’s marine industry can sympathize with that of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as it continues to recover from last year’s horrific hurricane season – and fights to retain and grow its boating access.

“Some marine businesses are just overwhelmed by the prospect of rebuilding,” said Frank Herhold of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida in an interview today. “Their docks are in shambles and they may or may not have insurance funds to rebuild. What IS on their desk is a developer’s offer to purchase.”

And there is always the possibility after rebuilding that it will happen again, Herhold pointed out.

“Add in evaporation of customer base,” he said. “After Hurricane Andrew, many people used their boat insurance payments to rebuild their homes.

“It takes a lot to separate a family from their weekend pleasure boating, but we’re going to probably see Katrina and the damage to the marine infrastructure of the Gulf Coast really test the resiliency of our industry and people’s desire to boat,” he added. “The bottom line is that it’s a very sad time for the nation’s marine industry. We need to all pull together and help our counterparts in the Gulf Coast get on their feet.”

One group that may be able to help is the Grow Boating Campaign’s Water Access Committee. Assisting the Gulf Coast in restoring boat access should be at the top of the committee’s priority list when it meets Oct. 25-26 in Hollywood, Fla., just prior to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Herhold suggested.

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