Sen. Whitehouse: Environmental and economic interests converge

WASHINGTON – For every slip or mooring that comes available in Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s home state of Rhode Island, there are three people waiting in line to tie their boat up in it. For a family man who has a steep tradition of involvement in the marine industry, Whitehouse knows all-too-well the issues that face the marine industry.

Sheldon’s wife, who he introduced to attendees of this week’s American Boating Congress here, is a marine biologist who has been involved in issues regarding dredging and other marine-related issues. Sheldon himself led the investigation into a devastating oil spill in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and made sure the fine – the largest in the state’s history – was used for conservation. He also considers himself a novice sailor.

But through all the experience Sheldon has gathered through this history, the one thing he says he is learning more and more is that the environmental interests of Rhode Island and the economic interests of Rhode Island converge, most of the time.

“Recreational boating has been a very critical part of Rhode Island’s history, Rhode Island’s recreational activity, of Rhode Island’s economy,” he says, pointing out that $160 million is paid out in wages from the recreational boating industry in the state of 1 million people. Sheldon was involved in efforts to repeal the luxury tax, which has spawned growth for the industry in the state. He says that Rhode Island was the first state to mandate no discharge in coastal waters.

“It’s vitally important,” Whitehouse says, “for people who want folks to come and rent slips in their marinas, rent moorings in their harbors, to buy boats and watercraft to go out and spend time on beautiful, sparkling Narragansett Bay to have Narragansett Bay, in fact, be beautiful and sparkling.”

But Rhode Island is an example of the issues most coastal states, indeed the entire marine industry faces. And out front of all those issues is the conflict between access to the water and development along the water.

The state’s businesses could sell more boats, he says. But the concern of where the consumers will put the boats limits potential sales.

“People come to the boat shows and they bring their checkbook and they’re ready to write a check,” he explains. “And the question is ‘where am I going to put it?’ Where’s the mooring? Where’s the slip? And because there’s a shortage of moorings and slips, they put that checkbook back in their pocket and they walk away.”

This topic will take center stage later this week at the first-ever Working Waterways & Waterfronts, a National Symposium on Water Access, taking place in Norfolk, Va., May 9-11. For full coverage of this event, watch for forthcoming editions of Boating Industry’s e-newsletter.

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