Mr. Clean would be proud to dock his boat in any of Baltimore County's Clean Marinas.
After all, they have passed stringent federal requirements for certification.
Clean Marinas isn't a boat housekeeping program. It is a state Department of Natural Resources initiative that started in 1998 when federal legislation required that Maryland do more to prevent pollution in its waters.
Specifically, the legislation targeted nonpoint-source pollution, caused when rain and melting snow wash oil, grease and toxic chemicals into the water.
Donna Morrow, coordinator for the Maryland Clean Marina initiative, said the Natural Resources Department recognized the importance of the program but sought to make it voluntary.
"Many of the marinas in the state are very small, and they were slammed by [Tropical Storm] Isabel and they can't afford a lot of the things that are required for Clean Marina certification," she said. "If it were a requirement, some of the marinas would be out of business."
Grants, good weather
Morrow said the Natural Resources Department is doing its part to help by awarding reimbursable grants. Since the program's inception, more than $500,000 has been awarded to state boating businesses for pollution prevention.
For several Baltimore County marinas, the grant money - and cooperation from Mother Nature - was all the motivation they needed to get on board.
Jeff Zahner, vice president of Weaver's Marine Service Inc. in Essex, said the Clean Marina certification was bittersweet, considering the difficult years it took to earn it.
The marina's quest started in 1998, when the Natural Resources Department launched the program. Weaver's immediately signed on to become a Clean Marina. But efforts were set back when a fire that year destroyed the offices. The marina spent the next two years rebuilding.
Once new offices were completed, the marina again got on track for the program. In 2003, Tropical Storm Isabel delayed the efforts.
"We had 4 feet of water throughout the shop building. The bathrooms and piers were totaled," said Zahner. "We were rebuilding again anyway and decided: Why not do it right this time as a Clean Marina?"
Zahner said a Natural Resources Department grant helped speed the Clean Marina process, which is outlined in documents distributed in a 2-inch-thick binder. The book contains information on the seven areas of concern: petroleum control, emergency planning, sewage handling, waste containment and disposal, marina management, storm water management and marina design and maintenance.
"It isn't easy to get through this," said Zahner. "You have to self-test your marina in each of the categories. The state comes out and does an on-site evaluation of the marina and tells you what you need to do for certification."
Among other things, Zahner said, "We had to create a response plan to be signed off on by an engineer. We had to pull in-ground fuel tanks out of the ground and come up with a spill-prevention plan. It's a lot of work and money. We've put about $100,000 into getting certified, and only $20,000 of it was grant money."
Morrow said she conducts the on-site walkthroughs to evaluate marinas. To put owners at ease, she brings the manager of another Clean Marina with her.
Morrow said the prospect of the state evaluation gives some marina owners pause.
"Small-business owners are reluctant to invite the government to inspect their businesses," she said. "They're realizing that they don't need to be. We don't have any regulatory rights over their businesses."
William Jones, coordinator for the Clean Marinas program in Baltimore County, attributes the growth in marinas becoming certified to people such as Samuel Weaver Sr., owner of Weaver's Marine.
"Samuel Weaver Sr. is committed to environmentally friendly places," said Jones. "People know him and they respect him. He's been in the business for 60 years. He's doing it, so everyone else is starting to do it."
Jones said the county is doing its part by offering no-interest loans of up to $25,000 to help marinas become clean and low-interest loans for pollution control.
Baltimore County has 96 marinas and boating businesses. Only 10 are certified as Clean Marinas.
"When we started this program, we wanted to get 25 percent of our 600 state marinas and boating businesses signed on," said Morrow. "So far, we are at 18 percent. Baltimore County is below the state, with about 10 percent.
"Ten more marinas in the county have signed the pledge to become clean, which would bring the county closer to the state participation percentages. I think people in the county have seen Weaver's and Cutter's and the other marinas who are certified, and they're getting more receptive."
Another driving force is the customer.
If you visit Cutter Marine Yacht Basin in Middle River, office manager Ruth Rosenberger, who is married to owner Gary Rosenberger, will show you her prized possession. It isn't the Clean Marina flag or sign she's proudest of, it's a card from a customer.
It reads, "Congratulations on being named a clean marina! We are thankful for your efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay and will do our part."
Rosenberger said, "That means so much to us that our customers care. When we became clean, we sent a pledge to each of our customers. They had to sign it and agree to do their part to help us keep the water clean, and they all signed them and returned them."
The certification process doesn't end with the certificate and flag. The marinas must continue to meet the certification standards.
"Once the marina becomes certified, they do a written recertification for the first two years. Then, in the third year, I go back out and recertify them," Morrow said.
According to Zahner, it is worth the effort. He said customers are looking for the certification.
Though it just received the certificate recently, the marina is noticing benefits, Zahner said.
"We are attracting customers who see the sign or see it advertised in a boating magazine that we're a Clean Marina," Zahner said. "We get free publicity for it."
Jones said everyone who visits notices that the certified marinas are sparkling clean.
"Weaver's marina is just beautiful," said Jones. "But, it's across the river from the sewage treatment plant. If you tell a Baltimorean that you were at a beautiful marina across the river from a sewage treatment plant, they'll think you're crazy. They just have to come out and see for themselves."
Baltimore County's Certified Clean Marinas:
Anchor Bay East
Baltimore Yacht Club Inc.
Chesapeake Yachting Center
Cutter Marine Yacht Basin
Porter's Seneca Marina
Weaver's Marine Service
West Shore Yacht Center
Marinas that have signed the Clean Marina pledge and are working toward certification:
Beacon Light Marina
Dundee Creek Marina
Essex Yacht Harbor Marina
Key Yacht Club
Long Beach Marina
Red Eye Yacht Club Inc.
Roudebush Yacht and Engine Works
Sunset Harbor Marina
Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources