Marina owners, charter boat captains and others in Anne Arundel County's thriving maritime industry will soon have a unified voice to represent their interests on local policies.
The County Council unanimously approved Monday night the creation of a 16-member Martime Industry Advisory Board that will guide county officials on such matters as ethanol fuel, maritime zoning and utilities at marinas.
"I think it creates a unique and beneficial opportunity for the maritime industry," said Bob Burdon, president and chief executive officer of the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. "If the maritime advisory board performs the intended function, it can benefit not only the maritime industry but the broader economy in Anne Arundel County."
According to the most recent numbers available, recreational boaters spent more than $400 million in Anne Arundel County in 2000, a figure that accounts for 22 percent of total spending on recreational boating in the state.
Councilman Josh Cohen, who introduced the advisory board bill with Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, said such a group is more important now than ever.
The council is planning to undergo an extensive review of land use and development plans for the next decade. Most of the planning's focus has been on the military base realignment and closure process that will mean much expansion at Fort Meade, he said, so the board is a good way to make sure that maritime interests are not overlooked.
"I think it's past time that this county looked at the maritime industry's needs and see what we can do to help it thrive as it continues to change and evolve," Cohen said.
Board members will be appointed by the county executive for terms of up to three years, and council members will make recommendations, Cohen said.
Eight of the board members must come from the commercial sector, including marinas, the tourism business and charter boat companies. There are two seats on the board for representatives of yacht clubs and other recreational boating organizations, and one seat for a riverkeeper, or environmental watchdog, according to the bill.
An advisory board might have been helpful in addressing a 2006 state law that requires ethanol in fuel, which can damage boats, said Rod Jabin, owner of Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard in Annapolis. Some boat owners had to shell out money for repairs and pay to have their boats upgraded, Jabin said.
"In the maritime industry it has had some far-reaching effects that ... we are sorting out," Jabin said. "If our knowledge of ethanol were voiced, perhaps some consideration would have been given to the maritime industry."
Hamilton Chaney, whose family owns the two Herrington Harbour marinas in South County, said the board will help the council make more informed policy decisions.
"There have been a lot of changes in the last 20 years that have not been reflected in a lot of the thinking of the county," he said. Boat owners and customers want more amenities such as cable television, telephone and Internet service at the marinas.
"We are a fragile industry, and we need to get all the support we can get," Chaney said. "We are an important part of history and the heritage of Anne Arundel County and Maryland. And it's an industry that supports the local economy."
"My hope is that the board will help the maritime industry so that it remains a viable, healthy industry so we don't lose more marinas to housing developments or other uses."