Washington state Maritime Heritage Area act fails to pass

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The Washington State legislature closed up shop last week without having passed either of two proposed bills introduced last year to designate the state shoreline as a State Maritime Heritage Area.

House Bill 2386 and a corresponding Senate Bill, 6246, were introduced in January. Both were heard in committee and the House version passed 57 to 39 in that body, but failed to come to a vote in the Senate

Had either bill passed, they would have affected all publicly accessible lands within 1/4 mile of the saltwater shore (and including the Ship Canal and Lake Union) in all coastal counties save Pacific (at the mouth of the Columbia; how the winter stomping grounds of Lewis and Clark, the place Robert Gray first crossed the Columbia Bar, and the site of one of the earliest trading posts in the territory somehow didn’t make the cut as “cultural heritage” is a mystery of the legislative process), calling for increased public awareness and appreciation, promotion of tourism, and honoring the cultural resources of the area.

You might be wondering why we need a piece of legislation for this; after all, we have a maritime heritage, and plus or minus two pages of legalese does not substantially change that fact either way.

But there is a growing sense that Washingtonians have lost touch with the waters that nurtured the growth of the state, and which still bring it sustenance and make it great. From scenic vistas to tourist attractions to a main line on the circuit of global commerce, Washington’s waters are still vital to the state.

Use of the water materially affects boaters, as does the public perception of our waterways. Misconceptions about boats and boaters are rampant, and the more people hold those misconceptions, the less political support the boating industry will enjoy. There are many cascading effects from this, but the most frightening is that folks who don’t know much about life on the water are increasingly making decisions about how boaters boat in Washington.

The bills are also part of a larger effort to have our state saltwater coastline designated as a National Maritime Heritage Area. Only the United States Senate can make that happen, but a sign from the state itself, in the form of the state bill, is a good first step.

The ultimate goal of the National Heritage Area designation is tourism. The National Park Service provides financial and technical assistance to local entities to promote tourism and trade within the designated area.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is some controversy brewing over the bills. Some legislators, and their constituents, are worried that the designation of a Maritime Heritage Area is just the first stop along the way toward more regulations on the water and waterfront. Certainly the sponsors are not being helped by current debates over the proposed Puget Sound No-Discharge Zone or recent legislation passed phasing out copper-based bottom paints in the state. Gun-shy boaters, as much as they might themselves appreciate our maritime heritage, aren’t inclined to place a lot of faith in the legislative process at this point.

The state bills both include specific language excluding any sort of regulatory jurisdiction or new administrative or environmental obligations as part of the heritage area. But opponents are more concerned with the federal process that supporters hope will follow. A proposed amendment, in fact, eliminated language in the original bill encouraging the further establishment of a federal heritage area.

There are 49 federally-designated National Heritage Areas in the United States currently, a few of them covering coastlines or canals (the Erie Canal, for example, is a “National Heritage Corridor”). Whether or not Washington’s coastline will join them, however, will be a question for future legislative sessions.

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One Response to Washington state Maritime Heritage Area act fails to pass

  1. Steve Hulsizer March 15, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    I think that a Maritime Heritage Area will increase the opportunity for recreational vessel use. More importantly, it could be used to stop the gentrification of the shoreline, turning the shoreline into private housing with no public access to the shoreline. It should not necessarily mean that commercial marine would be prohibited, since commercial marine is part of our heritage.

    I am concerned about the No Discharge rule. I would like the state to show that vessel discharge is a significant cause of any sewage pollution in Puget Sound. So far, they have only shown that sewage pollution is significant in heavily populated areas, but not that the pollution comes from recreational Type 1 or commercial vessel Type II on-board sewage treatment systems.

    The best estimate is that only 5% of recreational boats use a Type 1 system. We used a Type 1 system until two years ago when we changed to vacuum system because of a rule change in Canada where we spend a significant amount of time. But Canada allows discharge underway in areas where pumpouts are not available, which is most of BC. I suggest that those owners who have spent the two thousand dollars on a Type 1 system should be allowed to use it as long as it is operational. They certainly have tried to meet the rules.

    The non-copper bottom paint issue really gripes me. There is no really good non-copper bottom paint on the market now for low speed, often idle recreational vessels. All the commercial paints are designed for ships that are in nearly constant motion at relatively high speeds, at 8 knots or better. For sailboats, this means having to scrub the bottom frequently and hauling for a repaint more often. I can get three years on the my existing bottom paint (Ameron ABC#3) without any scrubbing, and being a sailboat it is a rare day that I can get 8 Kts. This rule with at least double my costs for bottom paint.

    And more infuriating, the bottom paint requirement only applies to recreational boats under 65 feet. Supposedly, the larger boats don’t sit idle as much as smaller boats. Bat guano. And NMTA says if we don’t give the these rich owners a break they will go to Canada. Well, these owners aren’t dumb. BC is a least, if not more, expensive than Washington. They aren’t going anywhere. NMTA managed to flimflam the legislature one more time.

    Steve Hulsizer

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