Cruising

IntraCoastal to get money after all?

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The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association now runs a message board of updated information regarding the waterway. We have a link at the bottom of this story. Meanwhile, we have more good news ...

Are you a racer? A cruiser? Doesn't matter. If you transit the Eastern seaboard, you probably use the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, and the food news is that the great letter-writing campaign of 2004 actually made a difference.

An avalanche of letters from recreational boaters has apparently shocked Congress into appropriating funds to maintain the deteriorating waterway—not to the extent that we'd like, but enough to make a difference. When 2004 opened, the waterway was off the charts of anyone in Washington, and there were no plans to give even a nickel to the Corps of Engineers for maintenance dredging. Then came that letter-writing campaign, sparked in part by Boat/US (we like to think that writing about the situation in SAIL helped too), and the letters actually got the attention of our legislators. Congratulations, involved citizens.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway—a protected, inland passage—is used by commercial and recreational traffic alike to transit the Eastern seaboard without the hazards of sailing offshore around areas such as Cape Hattaras. The waterway is an economic driver for the region, but it's been allowed to languish. When the channel at Lockwood's Folly Inlet, North Carolina got down to four feet of clearance, however, that finally hit the panic button in enough people. Channel dredging at Lockwood's Folly (not just the inlet dredging previously intended) is now part of the proposed 2005 budget.

Rosemary Lynch, executive director of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association, a lobbying group mostly concerned with keeping the waterway open for commercial traffic, said, "A lot of credit goes to recreational boaters. They buried Congress in letters." A spokesperson for Ohio congressman Dave Hobson, chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, affirmed that, "It's been years since we have received so many letters on a single issue. The letters definitely made a difference."

The appropriations plan next moved to the Senate, and nothing will be finalized until after the November elections.

And, of course, the funding as proposed is less than what's needed. The states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia are overdue to step up and take part in maintaining their portions of the waterway. At this point, Florida is the only state that does so—largely because Florida understands the economic value. The waterway contributes $7.5 billion each year and 125,000 jobs to the state's economy, says Navigation District executive director David Roach: "If we didn't maintain the ICW, we could lose 50 percent of that. It's a no-brainer. And all our research tells us that 86 percent of recreational boats are trailered, and that means that the economic benefits are spread around, not limited to the shores of the waterway."

The Florida Inland Navigation District is a taxing authority that generates the revenue to keep Florida's portion of the waterway open and even enhanced despite low levels of support at the Federal level.

Roach says, "No matter how successful we are at getting Congress to inch up the funding, the states as major recipients of the benefits are going to have to look in the mirror, make a decision, and provide funding."

You can find out more and to access the new bulletin board for waterway information, go to:
Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association

To see a bit more of how things are done in Florida, go to:
Florida Inland Navigation District

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