Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Rob Wittman (VA-01) are introducing bipartisan legislation today to protect the kind of waterfront access and infrastructure that many businesses—and thousands of jobs—depend on in Maine, Virginia, and in communities all over the country.
“The importance of Maine’s coastline to our state’s economy can’t be understated. It’s not only the reason millions of people visit our state every year, but many industries—like fishing, boat yards, and aquaculture—simply can’t operate without it,” said Pingree. “Development pressures mean that we’ve lost an enormous amount of working waterfront in recent decades. To ensure the future of these critical industries, Maine and other coastal states need tools to protect waterfront access and infrastructure. And that’s what our bill aims to do.”
"Deteriorating waterfronts don’t just hurt our economy, they hurt our communities," said Wittman. "These waterfronts support businesses, provide access to water, vitalize the economy, and improve quality of life for folks all over the country. Unfortunately, pressure from population growth and development threaten to destroy Virginia’s many water-dependent industries and displace families that have deep cultural ties to the area. This legislation will protect communities along our coasts by supporting maritime industry, protecting vital jobs, and preserving our natural resources."
Pingree and Wittman's bill, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act, would establish a Working Waterfront Grant Program that would provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states. The grants would go toward preserving and expanding access to coastal waters for commercial fishing, recreational guiding, aquaculture, boat building, and other water-dependent businesses.
The bill would also create a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of the Interior. The task force would identify and prioritize critical working waterfront needs with respect to their cultural and economic importance, climate change and other environmental threats, and market conditions for water-dependent businesses. It would also identify working waterfronts within communities.
“Strong working waterfronts are critical to the future of Maine's fishing communities and marine economy. Maine has less than 20 miles of working waterfront along our 3,500-mile coastline,” said Nick Battista, Marine Programs Director at the Island Institute. “In Maine, we have worked hard to ensure people can continue to make a living off of the water but we cannot do it alone. It’s essential that our federal agencies better incorporate the needs of our nation’s working waterfronts into their decision-making processes.”
According to the National Working Waterfront Network, working waterfronts support over 3.4 percent of the country’s total GDP, but there is no federal agency or program designed to help businesses, communities, and states protect these places.
“Once a working waterfront gets converted to another use, it’s very difficult to get it back. That means our coastlines can sustain fewer jobs both directly and indirectly,” Pingree said. “I don’t think the loss of our working waterfronts has been a high enough federal priority. The government needs a more coordinated response and to support states that want to protect the working waterfronts they still have and expand where possible.”