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Rep. Pingree’s Bill to Preserve Working Waterfronts Gets First Hearing in 116th Congress

Pingree’s ‘Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act’ Would Establish Grant Funding for Coastal Economies Grappling with the Climate Crisis

Washington, July 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife in support of her bill, H.R. 3596, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act. The bill would create a Working Waterfront Grant Program and establish a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of Commerce. Pingree’s bipartisan bill was one of nine heard in committee on coastal zone management.   

To watch Pingree’s remarks before the committee, click here.

Pingree first introduced legislation to protect working waterfronts in the 111th Congress. In the 116th Congress, the Democratic majority has prioritized addressing climate change, including its effects on our oceans; this legislation is an important step to help support coastal communities faced with these impacts; earlier this year, her bill on the effects of ocean acidification on coastal communities, H.R. 1716, passed the House unanimously. 

In the face of rising sea levels and the intensifying climate crisis, Pingree’s bill seeks to preserve the character of coastal communities by protecting jobs, commercial activities, and public access to America’s coast. H.R. 3596 would:

  • establish a Working Waterfront Grant Program to provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states to help preserve and expand access to coastal waters for water-dependent businesses
  • create a five-year pilot for a loan fund for waterfront preservation, modeled after state drinking water loans
  • authorize $12 million each for both the loan and grant programs
  • organize a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of Commerce to identify and prioritize critical needs for working waterfronts, especially in the face of the climate crisis and increased trade threats.

Water-dependent commercial activities are the economic and cultural heart of many coastal communities. Working waterfronts support thousands of Maine jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity, but due to development pressures, they have been reduced to just 20 miles of Maine’s coastline, which measures over 5,000 miles. 

Pingree has long advocated for federal resources to help Maine communities preserve and expand shoreline access and infrastructure for water-dependent industries, such as fishing, boat building, and aquaculture. 

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR PINGREE’S BILL FROM MAINE

“The working waterfront is an anchor for coastal communities throughout the country but especially here in Maine. They provide a space for commonality, work, and human connection and are the gateway to the healthy sustainable seafood Maine and other American fishermen harvest. It is imperative that we invest in this essential infrastructure to support local food systems, creates good jobs, and protects future opportunities in the blue economy.” Monique Coombs, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association

“Working waterfronts are an integral part of the soul and character of the nation's coasts. In Maine, voters approved a visionary grant program to start protecting working waterfronts because residents and industry value these places and understand their critical role in the economy and culture of the state. Congresswoman Pingree takes this proven approach to the national level, finally giving states, the federal government and stakeholders the opportunity to work together to identify the highest priority waterfront properties for industry and implement a plan of action to Keep America's Waterfronts Working.” Natalie Springuel, Maine Sea Grant

“The National Working Waterfront Network (NWWN) supports H.R. 3596, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act. The NWWN increases the capacity of those who rely on, support, and enhance our nation’s working waterfronts and waterways to ensure continued viability. Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act will provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue, funding and planning for our working waterfronts.” Nicole Faghin, National Working Waterfront Network

The full text of Pingree’s testimony is as follows:

Thank you, Chairman Huffman and Ranking Member McClintock for giving me the opportunity to testify today about my bill: the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have advocated for the needs and priorities of coastal communities and those who use our working waterfronts. I am grateful to have this platform to discuss this bill with you today.

Like me, I know members of this Subcommittee hear regularly from their constituents who make a living on the water. Whether they are boatbuilders from the West Coast, recreational fishing guides in the Gulf of Mexico, or commercial fishermen and aquaculture business owners in New England, the refrain is the same: water-dependent businesses from coast to coast need our help. They want us to preserve access to the working waterfronts that make their livelihoods possible and keep our coastal economies thriving.

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that, “the ocean and Great Lakes economy directly supports more than three million jobs and contributes more than $350 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product.”[i] But this infusion of revenue, jobs, and business opportunities will only continue if we invest in the nation’s coastal infrastructure.

In Maine, our lobster industry alone contributes one billion dollars per year to the state economy and supports 4,000 jobs throughout the state. This is on top of the dockside value of lobsters brought home by fishermen, which totaled $484 million in 2018.

Maine’s aquaculture industry is growing rapidly. Right now, it generates $138 million for our state’s economy each year, as well as $56 million in wages and nearly 1100 jobs.

Boatbuilding is another of our state’s oldest industries, and it is directly tied to the success of the coastal economy. Maine has nearly 80 boatbuilding businesses employing approximately 1400 workers, with wages totaling about $59 million per year.

Our fishermen and seafood harvesters in Maine are deeply concerned about the future of their industries. They see climate-driven changes in our oceans every day. Shifting species ranges, shrinking fish stocks, acidifying waters, heightened storm surges…the list goes on. When fishermen can’t rely on their past experiences and hard-earned knowledge of their local waters, it makes fishing much more difficult.

Unfortunately, fishermen and other traditional waterfront users are now coming up against another challenge. Across the country, working waterfronts are rapidly disappearing under pressure from incompatible development. And once our working waterfronts are gone, they are almost always gone forever. When our fishermen have to grapple with losing fishing wharves, seafood processing and auction facilities, and other essential infrastructure in addition to the challenges of fishing in our changing oceans, it puts the survival of our coastal communities and economies at risk.

It’s up to elected leaders to support the industries that our coastal communities depend on. At the state level in Maine, we created the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program in 2005, which has funded projects at twenty-five working waterfronts since its founding. This year, six projects have received grant funding through the program. Among the recipients are fishing co-ops, coastal municipalities, and fishing wharves. The funding awards will be used to increase access to the waterfront by building new wharves and repairing old ones, as well as by creating critical dockside infrastructure like parking, fuel tanks, and bait freezers. Although this program has been very successful, the federal government must do more to preserve and sustain our working waterfronts in every coastal state.

At the federal level, we can support the great work that states are already doing by giving them access to funding and other resources. We don’t need to duplicate effort, but we can provide more resources and tools for states to preserve coastal economies.

With this in mind, I have been proud to work across the aisle with my colleagues, including Congressman Wittman of Virginia, to create bipartisan solutions that can work for all of our coastal communities.

The bill before us today, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act of 2019, would amend the Coastal Zone Management Act to create competitive loan and matching grant programs dedicated to working waterfront preservation and improvement projects, as well as preserving public access to the coast. $12 million would be authorized for each program. This bill would let states allocate funding to eligible local governments, nonprofits, and fishing co-ops. We chose to include both grant and loan funding sources after discussions with local stakeholders who explained the benefits that both kinds of financing options would have for them.

This bill would also establish a Working Waterfronts Task Force within the Department of Commerce to identify the needs of coastal communities related to changing environments, marketplace pressures, trade barriers, and other threats.

The programs created by this bill are voluntary, meaning that each state can choose to act on this opportunity or not. Through the creation of statewide working waterfront plans, each state, rather than Congress or federal agencies, can identify their own needs and create their own plans to address the problems faced by their working waterfronts. We chose to structure the program this way after discussions with the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the office of the former Governor of Maine, and we are very appreciative to have received their input on this bill.

It has been gratifying to hear so many proposals to solve the problems facing our coastal communities at today’s hearing. I strongly believe that working waterfronts are an integral part of our coastal economies, communities, and traditions, and we must do our part to make sure that they survive into the future. I would welcome the opportunity for the Subcommittee to move this bill.  I would also like to submit to the record letters of support from my constituents from for the record.

In closing, I’d like to share the words of one of my constituents from Orr’s Island…

“I've been a lobsterman for almost 30 years but I've depended on and cared about the health of the waterfront and Gulf of Maine for my entire life. Living in a coastal community and utilizing the working waterfront has never been an issue for me but climate change and a population that is shifting in my community are concerning to me. We need resources and financing to make sure the future of the working waterfront for fishing or boat building or kayaking are able to survive the many changes that we are seeing. These are the businesses that keep the lights on in coastal communities year-round and provide the life-blood for many families living on the coast. Most importantly, it is more than just a place of doing business, it is the heart of the community.”

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

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