By Steve Morrell
Preserve Working Waterfronts “Maine’s working waterfronts bring $800-million into our economy while supporting 30,000 jobs. They represent only 20 miles of our 3,300-mile coastline, meaning that a condo development here or a few summer houses there can swallow a huge portion of working land.” — Maine Representative Chellie Pingree Sound familiar? Like Florida for the past 50 years? We should call it “The Florida Syndrome”—reminiscent of the movie, The China Syndrome. If readers recall, that movie was about a meltdown of a nuclear reactor melting its way to China, destroying everything in its path. Because that’s what “The Florida Syndrome” does—it destroys all the working waterfronts along coastal areas and replaces them with condos and luxury homes. I hate to say this, but the best thing that happened from the 2008 economic meltdown was that it stopped much of the development of condos along the coasts—that was destroying working waterfronts, i.e., killing the goose that laid the golden egg, turning ‘Ol Florida—which was a dream to come to—into a disconnected, communitydestroying wall of concrete and luxury homes along much of the state’s beautiful waterways. Before the economy collapsed in late 2008, Florida was already awakening to the waterfront meltdown with legislation—through tax breaks—that helped end the destruction of working waterfronts. But the momentum of economic forces still had many waterfront developments in the works, and only the end of the building bubble brought them to a halt. Now, Rep. Pingree is seeing “The Florida Syndrome” coming to Maine and has introduced legislation seeking funding to help fight the end of working waterfronts in Maine and other coastal areas around the country. Quoting Sea Grant Fellow Hannah Dean, “the ‘Keep America’s Waterfront Working Act of 2011,’ would create a federal
grant program to acquire working piers and other points of waterfront access and provide funding for waterfront planning. The program is designed to allow states and local communities to support and protect places along the coast where commercial fishermen, boatbuilders, excursion and tour boat operators and other small businesses operate.” Some will fight this just because it’s a federal program, but when so many states are really controlled by powerful financial interests—and not people—something new must be done—or our working waterfronts will slowly melt away, many of which already have. Who supports this concept? Boaters, fishermen, surfers, divers, beach walkers, swimmers, marinas, boatyards, marine businesses, kayakers, tour boats, wildlife lovers, waterfront restaurants/bars, charter groups, crabbers, pier lovers, lobstermen, lovers of ‘Ol Florida waterfront restaurant/bars, and tourists and locals who want to see the coast instead of a concrete wall or a string of luxury homes as they drive along the waterways; people who still want to drive down a gravel road to a hidden and quiet ’Ol Florida wooden shack for a fish burger and cold beer on the water; boaters who want to work on their boat in a waterfront boatyard and not have to drive their boat miles up back waterways to the few leftover places where the land—and taxes—are still cheap enough to “allow” boatyards to simply exist. What’s the current trend? The general public will only be able to access the water by public beach access, since all the other waterfront property will be private luxury homes and condos. And I guarantee some will even want to end the public beach, or charge user fees to all who enter. And it will be the same from Florida to Maine unless we do something about it now—at a time when demand for waterfront condo development is low although demand for waterfront luxury homes is still high.
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