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State program aims to protect waterways

Last summer, Marathon Boat Yard and its retail outlet, Marathon Boats and Yachts, become the first Clean Boatyard and Clean Marine Retailer in the Florida Keys.

Last month, Sombrero Marina in Marathon became the Keys’ 16th Clean Marina.

The Florida “Clean” programs serve as a positive alternative to handing out fines and citations, giving boaters, marinas, boatyards and marine retailers an incentive to self-improve and to take a more proactive role in keeping Florida waters clean.

In a state with more than 2,200 marinas, 771,000 registered motorized boats, 300,000 annual visiting vessels, and more than 8,400 miles of shoreline, 7,000 lakes, and 51,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection looked for voluntary ways of involving more of the public and the marine industry. In the past, environmental and operational problems were often addressed only after they occurred, and many marina owners were not fully aware of all the environmental laws, rules, and jurisdictions that impact them.

In addition to improving public awareness and education and giving out incentive grants and loans, Clean Marina awards became an effective way to recognize participating marinas for their efforts.

Even individual boaters can get on board. Florida’s Clean Boater program encourages boaters to do their part to safeguard the state’s waterways by adopting environmentally-friendly practices such as using bilge socks and fueling collars as well as developing good recycling habits. They are urged to check bilge, live wells and trailers for exotic plants and remove them before leaving ramps. While navigating,they should note any signs, maps or charts displaying cautionary areas such as shallow bottoms, speed zones, sea grass beds or endangered species habitat. Clean boaters pledge to always use a pumpout station to dispose of waste, and to never discharge overboard. They promise to use environmentally-friendly cleaning products. They are also urged to patronize the state’s Clean Marinas, Boatyards and Marine Retailers.

But for the big guys — marinas, boatyards and retail outlets — compliance means a lot more than signing a pledge card. It requires adherence to a detailed checklist that mandates a big commitment on the part of the business. Just ask Bruce Popham at Marathon Boat Yard.

Popham served as chair of the state’s Clean Boating Partnership,which he says was the first clean marina endeavor in the country, bringing people together from all over Florida to finish the preliminary work started by the state DEP.

“It was so successful that other states have followed our lead,” he says. Popham has served on several review committees, and today there are 167 Clean Marinas in Florida.

But neither the Marathon Boat Yard nor its retail outlet could be classified as a marina, so Popham applied for the Clean Boatyard (the 25th in Florida, first in the Keys) and Clean Marine Retailer (third in Florida, first in the Keys) designations. (There are now 29 boatyards and four retailers participating statewide.)

To qualify, he and his employees implemented a major renovation on the boatyard, following stringent requirements that took them four years to complete.

Today the Marathon Boat Yard is the model of a clean facility. Popham says Clean Boatyards must pay close attention to how they handle waste products, water, solvents and other materials used for cleaning and painting boats. Today most boat work takes place above impervious surfaces such as asphalt, where hazardous materials can be caught before they enter the soil or the water. “Today we recycle nearly everything,” he says, including oil, antifreeze, dirty bilge water and all kinds of metals. “Our sanders have special vacuum bags. We use non-hazardous paints.”

“Over at our retail facility, education is the key,” he says. “It is our job to educate our customers, especially first-time boaters, on learning clean boating practices.”

Clean Boatyards must qualify by initiating measures such as using dustless sanders, recycling oils and solvents, and installing a re-circulating pressure wash system to recycle wastewater when cleaning boats out of the water. Boats should be painted in an appropriate structure to keep toxins away from the land and waterways. Even boatyard landscaping is a factor, since native plants can be placed in strategic locations to reduce storm water pollutants from reaching the water.

A Clean Marine Retailer encourages and educates boaters by selling them “green” products such as phosphate-free soaps and cleaning products that are environmentally-friendly. In its boat service department, the clean retailer trains its staff to respond to fire emergencies. Convenient trash disposal and recycling receptacles are provided for handling contaminants such as used antifreeze.

To receive the Clean designation, a marina, boatyard or marine retailer must first pass a detailed action plan and meet current environmental regulations. Following a “walk through” by members of the Clean Boating Partnership and the district DEP, a facility is then recommended for designation.

Candidates receive advice on avoiding harmful environmental impacts and the implementation of action plans. These include emergency plans in the event of a hurricane or fuel spill, and deal with things like the placement of signs, fire safety, stormwater management, guidelines for engine repair and boat cleaning, as well as how waste should be handled on a day-to-day basis. Compliance is rated on a point system.

The business receives a plaque and flag to proclaim their new status. The business is listed on the DEP Web site and in publications such as the Florida Cruising Directory and Florida’s Marina Guide.

Clean facilities

So far, the following Monroe County marinas have earned the Clean Marina designation:

  • Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key.
  • Boca Chica Marina, Naval Air Station, Key West.
  • Boot Key Harbor City Marina, Marathon
  • Marathon Boats & Yachts and Boat Yard, Marathon
  • Marathon Yacht Club, Marathon
  • Bayside Marina, World Wide Sportsman, Islamorada
  • Caribee Boat Sales and Marina, Islamorada
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
  • Key Largo Kampground Marina, Key Largo
  • Lookout Lodge Marina, Islamorada
  • Mangrove Marina, Tavernier
  • Plantation Yacht Harbor Resort & Marina, Islamorada
  • Sea Bird Marina, Long Key
  • Sombrero Marina & Dockside Lounge, Marathon
  • Tavernier Creek Marina, Tavernier
  • Flamingo Marina, Everglades National Park
  • Watermark Marina Snake Creek, Islamorada
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