When the state introduced the Maryland Clean Marina program in January 1999, it rejected the notion of mandatory compliance and opted for a voluntary approach.
The assumption was that marina owners have more interest than most Marylanders in running enviromentally responsible businesses. Indeed, the 450-member Marine Trades Association of Maryland is a full partner in, and enthusiastic booster of, the Clean Marina initiative.
In a state that enjoys the Atlantic, the Chesapeake Bay, and Deep Creek Lake, the wide distribution of water for pleasure and sport has fostered the creation of no fewer than 599 marinas.
But today, 20 months after the Clean Marina effort was launched, only 18 marinas have implemented the program. Another 76 have enrolled but have yet to sufficiently improve their handling of the various toxic wastes associated with boat maintenance to earn certification.
The vast majority of marinas in the state simply have not responded to the intitiative, said Elizabeth Valentine, who coordinates the program for the Department of Natural Resources.
"We are struggling to get more participation," says Valentine. "Time and money are the common complaints. But it is not necessarily an expensive undertaking to be a Clean Marina.
"In general, the marine industry is responsible. There is a direct connection between water quality, attractive waterfront areas, and their businesses. Marinas are not in the business of mucking up their own water."
Beth Kahr, director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, suggests that the response coincides with one of the industry's busiest boating seasons on record.
"Attention to day-to-day business during the season is first and foremost," she says. "As things wind down, I think you will see more marinas falling under the guidelines of the Clean Marina initiative.
"These are things that forward-looking marina managers realize make their marinas more marketable and are also the things to do. But they are time-consuming things. I feel very comfortable that the program has been very well received, very well accepted."
The measure is hardly draconian. It asks marina owners to pledge to "keep Maryland's waterways free of harmful chemicals, excess nutrients, and debris."
It promotes effective waste-water recycling, and the designation of areas away from the shore for such hazardous marina jobs as stripping toxic paint, fiberglassing, and spray painting.
Such operations should be conducted under cover, on impervious surfaces, and be surrounded by a berm or retaining wall to prevent toxic leakage. Vacuum sanders should be used.
It recommends appropriate precautions for fuel distribution, and sewage and waste disposal.
Once a marina signs the pledge, the next step is a self-assessment of its facilities, using a Clean Marina Award check-list. When it believes it is compliant, the marina requests a confirmation visit from Valentine, who has a master's degree in environmental management.
The reward for compliance: state certification, use of the Clean Marina logo on the marina's letterhead, a pennant to fly at its masthead, and a free page on the Maryland Clean Marina Web page.
The DNR also promises to promote the marina's compliance through its publications and press releases. There is also the approval of the Marine Trades Association, which looks to growing peer pressure to increase enrollment, and the applause of the boating public.
But the industry's slow response has precedent. In 1989, the state introduced a law stating that all new or expanding marinas must have a sewage pump-out facility. In 1994, the law was amended to require all marinas with more than 50 slips to be able to pump out boat holdings tanks.
This was as much a necessity as a convenience for boaters, because pumping raw sewage overboard anywhere in U.S. territorial waters is illegal.
Marinas were offered 100 percent funding - 75 percent from the federal government and 25 percent from the state. In return for the grant, marinas are restricted to charging no more than $5 for a pump-out and must open the facility to the public.
You would think that is a fair enough deal for everyone.
Initially, under state funding, only about 15 marinas a year installed pump-out stations, said Don O'Neill, who controls the program from the Department of Natural Resources.
When federal funding came on stream in 1994, the pace increased to about 50 marinas a year. Then it waned again, although the compliance deadline was July 1, 1997.
Today, more than three years after that deadline, 30 marinas still appear to be defying the law; the DNR has no record of their having pump-out facilities.
That law's strength may be about to be tested. The apparently non-compliant marinas have been reported to the Department of the Environment, the enforcement agency, for investigation and possible action.
"It has reached a point that a responsible person would say, 'Look, the law is the law. We have given you plenty of time,'" says O'Neill.
Kahr, who has seen the list of non-compliant marinas, said most are community associations, which are not commercial members of the Marine Trades Association and are reluctant to open their facilities to the public by accepting pump-out grants.
It is, of course, difficult to quantify the precise environmental effects of particular clean-up programs on such a diverse stretch of water as the bay.
Scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Program, a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency and the waterfront states, have "guess-timated" that the 428,000 recreational boats on the bay in Maryland and Virginia would discharge about 35,000 pounds of nitrogen into the water yearly, absent pump-out facilities.
It sounds like a lot, but it is less than one percent of the total nutrient pollution from such major sources as farm run-off, sewage treatment, urban development, and de-forestation.
There is now a move to make the bay a no-discharge zone. This would prevent the estimated 10 percent of boats that have marine sanitation devices that treat waste chemically - instead of using holding tanks - from emptying the sludge into the bay.
That would be another step, albeit it tiny, toward improving the water quality. Whatever the shortage of scientific data, there can be no doubt that the Clean Marina initiative and other boat programs will contribute cumulatively to improving the bay and other state waters.
"There are those who argue that, more than anything, [the Clean Marina initative] would be a symbolic gesture by a fairly well-off sector of people who have most to benefit by what happens in the bay and who should be doing their part," said Peter Marx, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Foot-dragging marina-owners should be aware that the clock is ticking. If 25 percent of the state's marinas are not in the program by 2004 - only 3 percent have implemented it to date - the feds could step in and make it mandatory.
And so they should.
With the boat industry booming, there is no excuse for the marina owners to delay doing their bit, however marginal and however busy they are, to protect the natural resource that gives them their livelihoods and us our enjoyment.
If your marina isn't on the list with this column, give the owner or manager a nudge.
Details of the Clean Marina program are available by calling the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at 410-260-8770 or can be downloaded from www.dnr.state.md.us/boating.
If you have a boating event or experience - power or sail - you would like to share, Gilbert Lewthwaite can be contacted on 202-416-0262, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are the holders of the first 18 Maryland Clean Marina certificates issued over the last 20 months:
Annapolis: Port Annapolis, Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard (Eastport); Baltimore: Baltimore Yacht Club, Parkside Marina; Crisfield: Somers Cove; Dundalk: Anchor Bay East; Edgemere: Young's Boat Yard; Elkton: Locust Point; Fort Washington: Fort Washington; Friendship: Herrington Harbour South; Ocean City: Ocean City Fishing Center; Oxford: Crockett Bros., Mears Yacht Haven; Rock Hall: Haven Harbor, Osprey Point; Severna Park: Magothy; Solomons: Spring Cove; Tracy's Landing: Herrington Harbour North.
Also, Garrett County's Jennings Lake Boat Ramp is termed a "Clean Marina Partner."