American waterfront communities are engines for small business and job creation. Because the waterfront is an attractive place to live – especially in smaller waterfront fishing communities without significant industrial development – intense financial competition for the limited land area surrounding ports and harbors has emerged. Residential, retirement, and tourist development can force out water-dependent uses. In addition, competition amongst uses of the water along the waterfront represents an emerging threat to waterfront-dependent commerce, fishing, and other historic waterfront activities.
Nearly half of the population of the United States– 153 million people– lives along our nation's 95,331 miles of ocean and Great Lakes coast. Over 37 million people and 19 million homes were added to coastal areas over the last three decades and by 2015 the coastal population is projected to reach 165 million. The rise in coastal population density, and an expanding portfolio of competing coastal economic and social interests, exacerbates the demand and competition for our valuable and finite coastal resources.
In 1972 Congress enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) to provide a cohesive national policy to guide decision-making within this dynamic geographic region (see 16 U.S.C. 1451 et seq.). Under the CZMA, 34 out of 35 eligible coastal states and territories, which includes 99% of the U.S. coastline, have voluntarily developed and implemented federally-approved state coastal management programs (CMPs). For example, off the coast of Massachusetts, using CMP to reroute shipping channels in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will reduce the collision risk between ships and whales.
In exchange for developing and implementing CMPs, states acquire authority to review all federal actions and all federally-permitted actions affecting a state's coastal zone to ensure that they are consistent with state CMP programs and policies. This is commonly known as the "equal-footing" policy. Under this policy, federal consistency funds authorized under the Act are distributed to the states through two primary grant programs: section 306 management grants are used by states to implement their CMP; and section 309 Coastal Zone Enhancement Grants encourage the state programs to voluntarily pursue program changes in specific areas to strengthen their CMPs.
Under the CZMA, coastal states are required to maintain water-dependent uses. A water dependent use is defined as "an activity which can only be conducted on, in, over or adjacent to a water body because such activity requires direct access to that water body, and which involves, as an integral part of such activity, the use of water." Such uses include international shipping facilities, marinas, mooring areas, boat yards, commercial and recreational fishing operations, facilities for shipping petroleum products, chemicals or raw materials, ferry landings, and various support facilities for waterborne commerce and recreation. Together these uses generate billions of dollars for the nation's economy and are vital to the economic health and character of many waterfront communities.
In the 111th Congress, Congresswoman Pingree introduced H.R. 2548, the "Keep America's Waterfronts Working Act of 2009", which would amend the CZMA to establish a working waterfront grants program. The new grant program intends to preserve, protect, and expand commercial coastal access through the award of competitive matching grants to coastal states with approved comprehensive working waterfront plans. Grants may be used to acquire or make improvements to a working waterfront, and additionally, a provision of the bill would require grant projects to provide for expansion or improvement of opportunities for safe and appropriate coastal public access.
Attention to working waterfronts has been gaining traction, including the following initiatives: