Syndicated Column

DSN&A authors an internationally syndicated column entitled NATCHEZ ON THE WATERFRONT regarding marinas and recreational boating.

Current Column:

Natchez on the Waterfront

Sea Level Rise/Climate Change -

      Dealing with Rising Waters


There is no doubt that climate change and sea level rise are happening. The only real questions are how fast and how high are the waters rising – and how bad and more frequent are the storms going to be?


Unfortunately many politicians do not want to deal with the reality and do not want to plan for it.  Why?  Well, it could be that it can seem frightening if one really looks hard at it, whether from a cost (which also likely includes taxes) or emotional perspective, and it unfortunately has become a hyper-partisan issue in the US in the current national political environment – even as local politicians are increasingly faced with the realities on the increasingly flooded ground.


I can remember way back to my youth seeing what was referred to as the “grassy knoll” in the middle of our harbor. I think it was even mapped on the NOAA chart that way. In fact it was a predominantly a Spartina alterniflora wetland area and at high tides only the tops of the grasses were visible. As I got older the wetlands kept getting smaller to the point where they eventually disappeared altogether. The common thought was that pollution must have done the grasses in, but that did not make sense as other wetland areas in the harbor’s creeks were thriving. As I learned more about wetlands and their sensitivity to elevations, it became increasingly clear that sea level rise was the most likely culprit, and while it was only a few inches, which in effect did not allow this particular wetland to survive. I am sure there is no shortage of similar stories from pretty much anyone who has spent any real time on the waterfront.


One of our local marina operators, who has quite literally spent his entire life on the harbor, has pegged the increase in sea level during his lifetime at about 7”. While not at all scientific, it aligns pretty well with the overall NOAA estimates.


Predicting the future rise and its timing is of course much trickier business and there are countless variables to take into account, with more being discovered most every year. But most projections seem to be in the range of 12” by 2050, and somewhere between two and six feet by 2100. And while there are disagreements within the scientific community, most agree that sea level rise is accelerating, as is climate change.


So, since almost every marina, boatyard and yacht club is located along the water, as the waters rise and climate change brings more frequent and severe storm events, the vulnerability is increasing.


Episodic storms are occurring more often, bringing strong wave energies and higher flood water levels, with those storms impacting inland facilities, especially those on larger river systems, just about as much as those on the coast. The damage that is already being sustained is staggering, causing breaches in breakwaters, crumpling both fixed and floating docks like sheets of paper. Seawalls are being overtopped, bulkheads are being undermined along with tiebacks being pulled out, buildings are being flooded and lifted off their foundations and innumerable other problems are being created.


On a more mundane level are the number of roads, parking lots and other areas now being flooded most every moon tide.  This type of flooding has become so common along the Grand Canal in Venice that many of the cafes along the waterfront keep a stock of waterproof boots on hand, and it’s not uncommon to see diners sitting at the tables with their feet in the water!


So, what can be done?


Well, there is an old Jerry Lewis movie that comes to mind, “If You Can’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the Water.” In fact I think we need to work on both raising the bridges, and lowering the water – or at least helping to keep the water from reaching those six foot projections mentioned earlier. And in order to do this one needs to take a longer term view of capital planning, maintenance and operations.


On the raising the bridges side, facilities that have pile anchored floating docks should think about longer piles to hold their docks in place in rising water elevations as well as flood levels. Thought should be given to raising the top elevations of the shoreline interfaces as well as raising their low uplands if within the flood elevation ranges. Raising office, ships store, restaurants and other buildings in flood areas may be   encouraged by governmental agencies but many times mandated. The trick is to be proactive and the most cost efficient. Many times raising the building a bit higher than the minimum current requirement will provide a longer term flood solution while also allowing for parking or low profile boat storage beneath the building. Facilities always need more parking with winter storage as well as in season events, festivals and holidays.


Among the challenges on the infrastructure front is getting the regulatory bureaucracy moving in a direction that might help facilitate the changes that will need to happen if existing lands and facilities are to be defended. We are forever running into battles when it comes to having higher pile heights, taller buildings (because they are elevated) or bringing in fill to raise the ground elevation. We are too often dealing with rules that are quickly becoming outdated by the new realities. To create these changes the industry needs to work together to get things moving in an “upward” direction. 


On the lowering the water side, marinas can and many are trying to do their part in trying to reduce global warming by trying to be more energy efficient and environmentally conscious, incorporating green approaches wherever possible, including recycling as well as what materials they are purchasing.


  • A good example comes to mind. A marina was embarking on a project to refurbish its docks and facilities. They abandoned their strong desire to use ipe or mahogany or other rainforest woods, and even decided against oak or southern yellow pine, and decided to go with a composite material. They believe it to be more environmentally responsible and it resulted in a significant cost savings. It also is believed to have a longer life, as well as less maintenance and care. For lighting they went with motion detectors for much of their outdoor lighting, restrooms, laundry rooms, hallways, storage areas as well as work sheds and the part of their offices. They switched to more environmentally friendly paints for their buildings, switched to led lighting and even installed solar panels. They continue to enhance their recycling program for newspapers, bottles, plastics and papers, as well as used oils and batteries. They have also set up "swap” recycle days where customers can swap, sell or just give away unused equipment to other customers.


Where the recreational boating industry has been a bit further behind is pushing for higher fuel efficiency engines, hybrid, electric and alternative propulsion systems – even that propulsion system that has been around a while. Yes – it might be time for the boating industry to focus a lot more effort on promoting sailing than it has tended to in the recent past! Don’t get me wrong, I love my ski boat, but it is awfully hard not to appreciate how “green” sailing can be.


 When one starts to look at putting all these approaches together it has a significant cumulative positive effect in dealing with climate change, episodic storms, and rising water levels. Long term thinking and phased implementation where realistic go a long way with coping with the inevitable as well as being prudent and cost effective. On the flip side, if we just stick are heads in the sand, we may well find ourselves underwater when the rising tides sweep in!

Previous Column:

Natchez on the Waterfront

The Politics of Boating

Politics. Not something many of us really like to talk about, and about the last thing we probably want to think about when messing around with our boats – particularly as we seem to fall into an increasingly hyper-political world. But how many times have you stopped to think about how your vote will effect boating?


Okay, I do realize that most candidates, and particularly those running for higher offices, are probably not tailoring their campaigns to specifically woo the boater vote, so figuring out which candidates are best for boating may not be too easy. And there may even be some other issues that some of you may weigh more heavily than boating – as hard as that may be to believe!


Who is running the government at every level does matter, as does making sure those who are running it know what matters to you, and one of the times you are most likely to get some attention is when someone is looking for your vote. Take advantage of it.


It is also no secret that the laws and regulations regarding boating are flowing at a fast and furious pace. Most start with a meaningful concept, but over time many have been interpreted, expanded and compounded to become onerous and regressive, and, unfortunately, often dismally fail to foster their originally intended purpose.  


A good example in the US might be the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act, which in its original form was a far reaching piece of pro marine dependent legislation that sought to maintain, foster and expand recreational and commercial boating, whilst also protecting the environment and balancing competing waterfront uses.


But as regulators and lawmakers change, so have the results.


One of main goals of the legislation was specifically aimed at maintaining water dependent uses such as marinas, boatyards, service areas, fishing ports, etc., and preventing them from being pushed out by other more profit making opportunities. Yet in most developed countries, the number of marinas and boatyards has actually shrunk dramatically. Hardest hit have been the ‘mom & pop’ and smaller facilities.


Regulators have been handing down more and more restrictions and operating requirements. Again, most with laudable goals, but without considering practicality and cause and effect temperance.


At the same time the same regulators and lawmakers are gutting the CZMA by not only allowing but in many cases fostering the elimination of the scenic vistas and marinas and boatyards along the waterfront. This is especially true within urbanized areas. It is being accomplished through various means, including by zoning changes, eliminating height restrictions, creating special use districts, subsidizing brownfield developments and fostering gentrification.


Today medium to high rise residential real estate plays at the waterfront are increasingly the norm, not the exception. They haves driven up real estate values exponentially.


The result for medium to small marinas and boatyards is that one’s facility often is worth more dead than alive. The facilities are struggling to economically stay in business, but if they sell out to developers, they can earn more from that transaction than they can from many years if not decades of operations.


When this is raised in the public forum, we find two major trends – most are not even conscious of the change and longer term effect of privatizing the waterfront; or, there are those who feel the government cannot afford the infrastructure or cleanups, so they need to partner with and subsidize private development to take care of the conditions that have been allowed to be created.


So what we often seem to have in government is a dual standard. Something we try hard to make sure our children do not fall victim to.


And then comes the rationale from many planners that … well, we got a lineal park as a buffer and a few slips – that’s enough.


So what does my moaning have to do with elections? EVERYTHING!!


It is your opportunity to flush out (pun not intended) where candidates stand on the future of recreational boating and water dependent uses. Your vote has more impact than you might believe. Creating public discussions, having candidates really think about the issues and commit to proactive approaches is extremely meaningful to the future of boating and related waterfront development.


And for those reading this who might think I’m not pro development, my day job for decades has been representing waterfront projects. And we are quite proud of our record of understanding and opening up scenic vistas, and allowing meaningful marina expansions, while at the same time providing low rise mixed use complexes that enhance the community and the waterfront, not block it off.


But trying to expand a marina is worse than having one’s tooth pulled without Novocain. The process is long, costly and burdensome.


In the US historically Connecticut and California were perhaps the most progressive at fostering marine dependent uses. But, like many other regions in the world, the tide has turned from encouraging them to allowing one to keep what one has …maybe…, but not expanding.


If we all take the time to talk with candidates, it WILL make a difference.


Unlike many industries, the boating industry has most often been a reactive industry as opposed proactive. While there has been some notable progress in some cases, it is unfortunate that our trade associations and other organizations do not allocate more resources to this effort.


But all of us as voters have the ability to make our voices be heard, whether it is a one-on-one with a candidate at the national down to the local level, or even when it comes to those running our various associations – ALL ARE IMPORTANT! For unless we do, marinas, boatyards and other water dependent uses will fast become an endangered species.


I recently came across an article on telling the story of a dad who had told his young daughter he needed to go out because he was going to vote. When he got back home, sporting his ‘I Voted Today’ sticker, his daughter was in tears, “Dad, why didn’t you take me?” So the dad said he was sorry and that since she was so unhappy he would go back out with her, thinking this would be a great civics lesson. And while his daughter did find the whole thing interesting, she finally grew impatient and asked, “Dad, when are we going to get to the boating, you said you were going out to boat!” which is why she had been so sad. Now that’s a sentiment I can certainly relate to. 


Have you boated today?

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Previous Columns:

2018 - 2019

September- What Customers Want Most

October- Pollution, Red Tide & Fish Kills - What Does It Mean to Marinas

November- Stimulating Traffic to Marinas?

January- Combining Maintenance, Operational and Capital Planning​

February- Regulatory 101 - The Do’s and Don’ts of the Regulatory Process

March- Profit Making Ideas

May- Know Your Market

2017 - 2018

September- ADA Making It Work For You

October- Trends - Road Map For Recreational Boating - Let's Not Miss The Boat​

November- All Mixed Up - Marinas Within Mixed Used Developments

January- Dry Stack V's In-Water

February- Managing Stormwater In a Meaningful Manner

March- Dredging & Relocation Of Dredge Materials​

May- If You Had Three Wishes

2016 - 2017

September- Just Old Fashioned Service

October- Trends - Meeting Tomorrow's Challenges 

November- Clean and Green

January- Glitz Sells - Substance Sustain​

February- The Changing use of Boats​

March- Marinas / Boaters / Online

May- In the Spotlight with Regulatory Views

July- Chains vs. Independents - the Yin-Yang

2019 - 2020

September- The Politics of Boating

October- Sea Level Rise/Climate Change - Dealing with Rising Waters


January- ​

February- ​



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