Tidewater Yacht Service Center in Port Covington was named winner of the 2012 Maryland Clean Marina contest in the large boatyard category. The business was commended by the Department of Natural Resources for taking steps to protect the environment such as: having a recycling program for plastic shrink wrap, oil, cardboard, glass and plastic; taking part in oyster aquaculture to help clean the water; installing fixed and portable pump out stations; and having oil-spill response kits.
Owner Bob Brandon has been working in boatyards since he was 14, pumping gas at Tidewater Marina in his hometown of Havre de Grace. With a partner, he opened a sailboat brokerage in 1987 next to the Domino Sugar plant. When the city wanted to extend Key Highway and Domino wanted more storage space, Brandon turned to the Baltimore Development Corp., which found property in Port Covington. Tidewater Yacht Service opened in 2006, just in time to overhaul the seven Volvo Ocean Race yachts during their stopover.
His boatyard was certified a Clean Marina by the state in 2008 and was a runner-up last year for the annual honor. The program, started in 1997, has inspected and certified about 600 marinas, about 25 percent of the total number.
How did you get involved in the state's Clean Marina program?
I'm committed to this business forever and I want this business to be here forever. I feel very strongly that if we don't clean up the Chesapeake Bay, people aren't going to want to be out on it in a boat and they're going to find something else to do or somewhere else to go. Once the novelty of being in a city wears off, they'll look around for other places to be. There's not a mass exodus, but the condition of the water is a factor for boaters. After a big rain, it's not good and it doesn't have to be this way. You have to get people to realize that when they throw trash and stuff on the ground, it ends up here. We do whatever we can because it's vital to our success. I think the Clean Marina program is wonderful because its something we can strive to do.
Can you give me an example of the Clean Marina business model in practice here?
We do all of our bottom sanding with vacuum sanders. If we didn't use vacuum sanders all the old paint would be on the ground and it would wash into the river — here that's about 1,800 pounds of [paint] chips and material annually. We built catch basins at the Key Highway facility before it was a requirement at all. ... When I built this place, we went further. The yard was designed to drain not toward the water but away from it. We put sediment pits in for both lifts to catch everything when we pull a boat from the water. ... We're able to discharge all [waste] water right into the sanitary sewer for treatment. The regulations we're dealing with now didn't exist 20 years ago. And I don't want to say we're forced to do it because we're just doing what's right.
Is it harder to operate with those goals in mind?
It's a mind set and it has to come from the top. I think our facility is very clean. It's not difficult to do, but everyone here knows that it's the way it has to be. We don't have to sit employees down and tell them. They know and it catches on with other people. I've stood on the deck here and watched customers stop and pick up a piece of paper. There isn't much to pick up, but they do it. For us, it was easy because we always operated in that culture. Who wants to work in a rat hole?
It's not an adversarial situation with regulators?
The Department of Natural Resources does a really good job in disseminating information and the Maryland Marine Trades Association does an excellent job making sure we get all the information in a timely manner and they lobby for our interests. Without those two, it would be very difficult to know what to do.
Do you get discouraged when you think you're doing the right thing and year after year, the bay still gets a bad report card from environmental groups and other marinas aren't joining?
I worry about the viability of the boating business because it relies on the Chesapeake Bay. [Government] needs to address farm runoff and industrial runoff. We have to do this. What other choice do we have? The Clean Marina program I see as a mechanism through which we not only help clean up the Chesapeake but we get recognized for our efforts. I don't think I've ever gone to someone and said, "You ought to be a Clean Marina." But when you get recognized for your efforts, one of the benefits is people know you're doing things right and people who strive to be bigger and better see how we're doing and say, "Maybe I should be doing it, too."
Hometown: Havre de Grace
Years in business: 47
Years in Baltimore: 27
Number of employees: 23