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Pingree, Wittman Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Preserve Working Waterfronts

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), alongside Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Va.), today reintroduced the bipartisan Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act, legislation to preserve America’s working waterfronts by creating a grant program and establishing a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of Commerce. These resources would support coastal communities grappling with the climate crisis and preserve the character of coastal communities by protecting jobs, commercial activities, and public access to America’s coast. The legislation was passed in the 116th Congress but did not receive a vote in the Senate.

“Coastal communities nationwide are facing mounting economic and climate-related challenges. In Maine, working waterfronts support thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity, but we’re under increased pressure to develop that space in ways that can be contrary to the needs of our heritage industries,” said Pingree. “The Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act will support efforts to preserve working waterfronts and guard against the effects of both developers and climate change. These waterfronts need support from the federal government to protect aquaculture, boatbuilding, coastal tourism, commercial fishing and many others—which are the economic and cultural hearts of our water-dependent communities.”

"Deteriorating waterfronts don’t just hurt our economy, they hurt our communities,” Wittman said. “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 displace Virginia’s many water-dependent industries and the families that have deep cultural ties to the area. The Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act will protect communities along our coasts by supporting maritime industry, protecting vital jobs, and preserving our natural resources. I want to thank Congresswoman Pingree for her partnership on this legislation, I look forward to the House passing this important legislation again, and hope to see it signed into law.”

More than 30,000 Mainers rely on water-related industries for their livelihoods. Yet, despite our having more than 5,000 miles of shoreline, just 20 miles of working waterfronts remain in Maine. Pingree’s bill offers much needed support to states and municipalities seeking to preserve these invaluable spaces, while also making sure that they remain relevant for contemporary and future activities.

The Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act:

  • Establishes a Working Waterfronts Grant Program to provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states to help preserve and expand access to coastal waters for water-dependent businesses.
  • Creates a five-year pilot for a loan fund for working waterfronts preservation, modeled after state drinking water loans.
  • Authorizes $15 million each for both the loan and grant programs.
  • Organizes a Working Waterfronts 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.

This bill would enable coastal states and communities to determine what kinds of working waterfront projects are most important to them. States with coastal zone management or working waterfront plans approved by the Working Waterfronts Task Force would be eligible to apply for both grants and loans, which they could then allocate to local governments, Tribes, agencies, and nonprofits.

The legislation is supported by the Conservation Law Foundation, National Working Waterfront Network Advisory Committee, Marine Fish Conservation Network, Bigelow Labs, Island Institute, Washington Sea Grant, Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Coast Fishermen Association, Maine Sea Grant COA Maine, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Sea Grant College Program, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Lobstermen Association, Maine Lobster Dealers, and Maine Ocean Acidification Network. Supportive quotes are available below:

“Recreational boating and fishing are valuable, uniquely American traditions that continue to bring important economic benefits to waterfront communities as they look to recover from the pandemic. The bipartisan Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act will maintain the use of waterfront property for docks and marinas, while protecting and conserving recreational boating and angling access. On behalf of the recreational boating community, NMMA is pleased to support this legislation that will not only assist in revitalizing local economies, but will support and bolster working waterfront infrastructure.” – National Marine Manufacturers Association’s director of government relations, Callie Hoyt

I applaud Representative Pingree’s reintroduction of the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act. The Act would greatly enhance Maine’s thirty year-old Working Waterfront Access Protection Program that has safeguarded commercial fishing and aquaculture access at 29 working waterfront properties. With this proposed program, Maine DMR could support more projects that protect commercial access and help harvesters, boatbuilders and other water-dependent businesses to invest in infrastructure and dockside facilities. – Commissioner Keliher, Maine Department of Marine Resources

“New England’s coastal communities are on the frontlines of climate change. This bill is a step toward keeping Maine’s waterfront economy and culture alive. We appreciate Rep. Pingree’s leadership on this important issue.” – Sean Mahoney, Executive Vice President and Director of CLF Maine.

The East Coast Shellfish Growers Association enthusiastically supports this bill because we can't farm shellfish if we can't find convenient locations to land our crops and affordable dock space for our work boats. As more and more marinas are being gentrified for recreational boaters, it is getting harder for working boats to compete for space and access.” – Bob Rheault, Executive Director, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

"Heightened demands on working waterfronts in the last decade bring into sharp focus the need for federal legislation such as the 'Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act.' US coastal communities are grappling with the development of offshore renewable energy, the impacts of climate change on coastal property and fishery resources, aquaculture siting, and other pressing issues. The proposed legislation includes important stepping stones to support our working waterfronts with the designation of a task force to oversee the preparation of waterfront plans making coastal communities eligible for federal funding. These are critical efforts to ensure the economic and social health of our working waterfront communities." – The National Working Waterfront Network, a nationwide network of businesses, industry associations, nonprofits, local governments and communities, state and federal agencies, universities, Sea Grant programs, and individuals dedicated to supporting, preserving, and enhancing our nation’s working waterfronts and waterways.

"We are on the front lines here in the northwest corner of Washington state, trying to keep and enhance our working waterfront and its various maritime sector industries and organizations.  The Coalition has 140 plus member companies, organizations, commercial fishing boats, and individuals. This Act would certainly provide some of the resources we need to continue to keep our 'Waterfront Working'!"  – The Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County in Washington state

“The Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act addresses the needs of working waterfronts, which serve asvaluable gateways to our ocean resources that support local industries and economies far beyond the dock," said Robert Vandermark, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network. "Representative Pingree is a champion for business owners, workers, and coastal communities who will continue to depend on vibrant and prosperous working waterfronts for generations to come."  – Rob Vandermark, Executive Director, Marine Fish Conservation Network

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. She first introduced legislation to protect working waterfronts in the 111th Congress. 


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