Preserving Rivers, Lakes & Bays from Marinas, Piers-Docks & Boating Impacts

Marinas, piers-docks, launching and other boating facilities provide opportunities for many to enjoy our rivers, lakes, bays and other waters. However, as with most things, boating and support facilities can harm aquatic ecosystems. This is why it’s vitally important that new facilities be guided to locations where adverse effects will be minimal and designed to be low-impact. Guidance for achieving both goals is provided in this webpage.

But, if you’re concerned about a proposed boating facility anywhere in the USA and don’t have time to research impacts and strategies on your own, then contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or today for an initial no-cost discussion of your options.

Please don’t hesitate since delay almost always decreases the likelihood of success.

How boating facilities can harm our waters

Following are the ways in which marinas, piers-docks, ramps or other boating facilities can harm a river, lake or bay:

  • The shade cast by piers and docks can diminish seagrass and other Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) beds essential to healthy fish, shellfish and other communities,
  • The toxins released from pilings coated with creosote or metals, like chromium, copper or arsenic, can harm aquatic organisms,
  • Dredging boat channels or marinas basins can cause a temporary increase in suspended sediments, which are particularly harmful to shellfish and other filter feeders, and result in damage to SAVs or other bottom-dwelling communities with recovery taking years or decades,
  • High speed boat operation in shallow areas or close to land can elevate suspended sediment due to prop-wash caused bottom disturbance or shore erosion,
  • Poorly designed facilities, especially those like multi-level boat storage racks, can reduce waterway aesthetics and block water views of area residents,
  • Illegal sewage and other pollution discharges can harm aquatic communities by lowering oxygen levels and other mechanisms, especially in poorly flushed marina basins or creeks,
  • Boat noise can disrupt aquatic communities and be a nuisance to those living near a waterway, and
  • Runoff from marina buildings, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces can wash large amount of toxics, nutrients and other contaminants into waterways.

Unfortunately, these are just the more likely impacts.

Reducing new boating facility impacts

Many local, state and federal agencies have adopted laws and guidance to minimize the impact of new marinas, piers-docks, dredging and other boating facilities. It is rare though that these measures can completely protect aquatic resources. For this reason, new boating facilities should be discouraged in our most sensitive waters or those already congested with docks and other facilities. In less sensitive waters facilities should incorporate lower-impact siting and design features.

One of the best, comprehensive analyses of boat facility effects and impact reduction measures is the 2021 paper A Review of Habitat Impacts from Residential Docks
and Recommended Best Management Practices with an Emphasis
on the Northeastern United States. Here are a few examples of measures to safeguard highly-sensitive waters and reduce impacts in other areas:

  • Avoid siting new piers and docks in highly-sensitive areas such as salt marsh or SAV beds.
  • Avoid siting new boating facilities in waters that are poorly flushed. Tidal waters may be poorly flushed in an enclosed embayment or cove where the difference between high- and low-tide is minimal.
  • If these highly-sensitive areas cannot be avoided then pier-dock height should be a minimum of 1.5 times the pier-dock width above Mean Sea Level (MSL) so a four-foot wide pier should be six-feet above MSL. This measure reduces, but does not eliminate, impacts to salt marsh, SAV beds and other highly-sensitive aquatic communities.
  • Orient piers-docks north-south to reduce shade impacts. The effectiveness of this measure varies with latitude and season.
  • In poorly flushed waters pier-dock decking should be of lower-toxicity materials such as composites, fiberglass or local hardwood. However, composites like plastics can have a higher carbon footprint when compared to treated decking.

Resource management and regulatory agencies should use sensitivity indexes to identify waters where new boating facilities or expansion of existing ones should be discouraged. Here are three examples of indexes:

The first publication above, was written by CEDS president Richard Klein and is somewhat dated. However, the sensitivity index criteria presented in this publication remains valid. An updated publication is in the works and will be posted here.

The facility that tends to generate the greatest concern regarding visual impact is a multilevel boat storage like that pictured below.

multi level boat storage

Methodologies have also been developed regarding the visual impact of boating facilities, such as the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2005 publication Visual Impact Assessment Of Small Docks & Piers: Theory & Practice

Strategies to preserve waters from excessive boating facility impacts

CEDS has helped many folks around the U.S. preserve their cherished waters from impacts due to boating facilities and other activities. Examples of these successes can be seen at:

Most boating facilities will require a permit or other approval from local, state or federal agencies; frequently all three. It is easiest to prevent adverse effects by calling for changes that resolve your concerns while allowing the applicant to achieve most of their goals. Further detail on this Equitable Solutions approach can be found at the following CEDS webpage:

If a boating facility is proposed for a high-sensitive area or the applicant refuses to consider an Equitable Solution, then you may have no option but to seek to block a key permit-approval. The strategy for achieving this goal varies considerably depending upon whether the permit-approval decision-making body is local, state or federal.

Generally, it is easiest to win a boating facility battle at the local (town, city, county) level. Frequently, these battles can be won without having to go to the expense of hiring an attorney or expert witness. It is vitally important to not only show that the facts and legal requirements support permit-approval conditions or denial but that a large number of area voters share your concerns. Methods for generating support among area voters are outlined at the following CEDS webpage:

When an attorney is needed the CEDS Smart Legal Strategies approach, described at the following address, will increase the likelihood of success while minimizing costs:

There are three ways CEDS can help protect you and your neighbors from a poorly planned boating facility project.

  1. Please give us a call at 410-654-3021 for an initial, no-cost discussion of your goal(s), the likelihood of achieving them, and the steps likely needed to win.  During this first call we’ll try to answer your specific questions.  But if a question requires research then we may need to charge a fee.  It is rare though that this first phone call results in a definitive strategy since there are too many variables and we will not have the in-depth understanding frequently needed to propose a winning strategy.
  2. We can do a Zoom meeting to gain more detailed knowledge of your case then talk through possible strategy options.  Our fee for the Zoom meeting is $200/hour and most meetings (plus preparation time) last about an hour.  We can then do subsequent Zoom meetings to fine tune the strategy and resolve obstacles as you work toward a successful outcome.
  3. For a fee of $1,000, we can conduct the Initial Strategy Analysis research described below.  It is not unusual that this research results in victory at no additional expense to our clients.
    • We’ll verify your concerns regarding project impacts,
    • Next we’ll assess the proposal for additional impacts, such as those contained in our Project Impact Assessment Checklist,
    • We’ll identify all permits and other approval the applicant must obtain.
    • We’ll review the findings required to approve each permit-approval set forth in local, state or occasionally federal law,
    • We’ll compile the evidence needed to show that one or more of the required findings cannot be met,
    • We’ll research the decision-making history of the body required to act on the permits-approvals with the goal of identifying factors which prompted past denials so we can seek to structure your case around similar factors,
    • Based on the preceding research, we’ll identify the key permit-approval that provides you with the best opportunity to achieve your goals.
    • We’ll assist you in generating public support using methods such as those described in the CEDS Mobilizing Public Support for Preserving Neighborhoods webpage, and
    • We’ll seek to identify at least one – hopefully several – attorneys with a good reputation for helping folks in your state who were concerned about similar issues in case you need legal representation.