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Working Waterfronts Community Forums: Resources and Responses to Questions

After hearing from coastal communities that they were struggling to maintain and/or evolve their traditional working waterfronts, the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and researchers from Clemson University and College of Charleston talked with stakeholders from Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, McClellanville, Mount Pleasant (Shem Creek), and Port Royal. In group meetings and individual interviews conducted during 2015 and 2016, researchers asked about the future of traditional working waterfronts and gathered information that helped identify needs, challenges, and opportunities for each community. The results of this research were presented at Community Forums designed to facilitate discussion and help prioritize issues.

Working Waterfront Community Forums
January 23 – Murrells Inlet Community Center
January 24 – Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments
January 25 – McClellanville Town Hall
January 30 – Beaufort County Clemson Cooperative Extension Office
January 31 – Mount Pleasant Regional Library

During the Forums, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium staff and Dr. Bill Norman, Clemson University, presented information collected for all of the working waterfront communities in the study. There are many more working waterfronts in South Carolina, however, these were selected because they were a representative sample of communities in the state and they had asked for information.  

The Future Of South Carolina Working Waterfronts: A Community Partnership Exploring Priorities (pdf)       

South Carolina Working Waterfronts: Exploring Priorities (pdf)   


S.C. Working Waterfronts: Traditions in Transition
Each of the communities in this project was highlighted in an interactive web-based Story Map, S.C. Working Waterfronts: Traditions in Transition. Use the story map to explore the past, present, and future of each waterfront in the context of changing cultures and climates. Specifically, the coastal locations of working waterfronts make them vulnerable to sea level rise. The Story Map summarizes information about changes in sea level in South Carolina and displays predicted sea level rise for each community. Although these are generalizations of how the water will rise (it is dependent on many local factors), this tool provides a discussion point for beginning to understand future working waterfront vulnerability.
Visual Story Map working waterfronts visual story map

S.C.’s Working Waterfronts: Fishing Villages Evolve
In the summer 2016 issue of Coastal Heritage magazine, we touched on the history, evolution and modern challenges of each of these waterfront communities. The overriding message was that each community is unique and must come up with its own vision for its waterfront’s future. The forums in early 2017 drove home that message. Murrells Inlet residents worry about the impact of crowds on the marsh. Progress in Georgetown is on hold depending on the future of the former waterfront steel mill. Residents of McClellanville wonder if it can remain a sleepy town with a vibrant fishery economy. Groups with diverse goals for the overused Shem Creek came together for a positive discussion in Mount Pleasant. And Port Royal attendees wait anxiously for the State Ports Authority property to finally be sold and developed.
Coastal Heritage (pdf) Coastal Heritage magazine

Media Stories
The forums drew a lot of attention from local media, a reflection on how much the communities care about their working waterfronts.

Questions Asked and Answered

Q    A participant wanted to know how the researchers were defining “neighborhood.”
A    These projects asked participants about their perspective on the past, present, and future of the individual working waterfronts, so their idea of neighborhood, community, industry etc. There was no need to constrain their thoughts based on another’s opinions. However, when planning for the future groups sharing the same language and gaining a common understanding of these terms is often the first step in the process.
   Why were community citizens (residents) not more involved in the study (e.g., interviews)?
A    The projects utilized key people in the community to provide a view of the past, current, and future state of the working waterfronts in each community. These included commercial fisherman and shellfish farmers; municipal officials and staff, such as planners; tourism professionals; SCDNR representatives; restaurateurs; retail seafood business owners; nonprofit directors; land managers; and other industry representatives. The scope of the projects was small and intended to provide an overview, a place to start in thinking about the future of these places. Planning could involve a larger part of the community.
Q    Are there any plans for the steel mill property in Georgetown?
A    ArcelorMittal, the owner of the steel mill property on the Georgetown waterfront, announced in February 2017 that it was in talks with a potential buyer for the property. What was left unclear in the announcement was the potential buyer’s identity, and whether that buyer wants to continue with steel production or explore other uses of the property. Many local leaders would like to see the property converted to some non-industrial use, but others in the community appreciate the higher-paying industrial jobs.
Q    How important is commercial fishing to your community?
A    All five of the communities expressed a desire to maintain a commercial fishery on their working waterfront. They recognize the importance, not only for jobs but for providing local seafood for the restaurants and a maritime ambience to the waterfront. McClellanville has zoning ordinances that make it difficult to supplant commercial fishing operations with restaurants or condos. Port Royal’s town government pays for the operation of a commercial dock. Mount Pleasant built a commercial dock as part of its Shem Creek improvements in recent years.

The economic importance of commercial fisheries has decreased in all South Carolina coastal communities in recent years. NOAA offered one look at the situation with its Ocean Jobs Snapshot in 2013. Those numbers indicate Georgetown County has 3,293 ocean-related jobs, with 98.4 percent of those in the tourism and recreation category, which includes restaurants. Charleston County has 28,183 ocean-related jobs, with 84.8 percent in the tourism and recreation sector and 8.5 percent in marine transportation (the majority at the Port of Charleston, not in smaller working waterfront communities). Beaufort County has 10,344 ocean-related jobs, with 99.6 percent in tourism and recreation. Commercial fisheries create fewer than 2 percent of the ocean-related jobs in those counties.
Q    Is there research out there that looks at the impacts of plastic pollution on working waterfronts and tourism?
A     Currently there is no research in this area.

Q    Why such a small interview sample of 4-6 people per community?
A    The second study interviewed individuals about their working waterfronts including climate impacts and involved only.
Q    Can S.C. Sea Grant Consortium reach out to the state legislature or any relevant agencies that could assist with the issues of working waterfronts?
A    The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium is available to assist people working to ensure the health of our working waterfronts within the scope of our agency. While it is not our job to reach out to other agencies or the legislature, we can supply information and help you identify agencies that might assist in the work, as well as facilitate conversations.
Q    Can S.C. Sea Grant Consortium present forum study results to the county government staff and officials?
A    The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium is available to assist people working to ensure the health of our working waterfronts within the scope of our agency. If we are invited, we are happy to present the results of this study to your communities.

Identified Needs

  • Impacts of plastic pollution on working waterfronts and tourism
  • Useful, applied research
  • Studies to update the value of economic impact (fishing and tourism) – numbers do not reflect the actual value (under-estimated value)
  • Survey of current fishing community (average age of fishermen; average age of facilities; average age of boats)
  • Community education
  • Examples of case studies for successful co-ops or other structured options
  • Financial assistance opportunities – grants, state-secured funding source
  • New series of charrettes that will include climate

Case Studies
These selected case studies of Working Waterfronts from around the country may inform planning and management of communities here in South Carolina. They were located at the National Working Waterfront Network Case Studies Page (NWWN) and may provide information particularly relevant to our communities.  Each paragraph, below, is the summary from the case study on the NWWN website. See the link for additional information.
Creating a Waterway Village overlay zone to promote community resilience, improve public access, and preserve waterfront heritage in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Location: Alabama, Timeframe: 2010 - present   
Located in the central Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores, Alabama has experienced significant challenges in recent years as the community works to recover from damaging hurricane and oil spill impacts on its beaches. In the wake of these disasters, Gulf Shores recognized the need to diversify the local economy. Through the development of a plan for a historic downtown overlay district called Waterway Village, the City seeks to spark a year-round economic driver that is less impacted by coastal hazards and improves community resilience. The Waterway Village overlay district is intended to improve access to the waterfront of the Intracoastal Waterway, and allow for the re-establishment of certain types of water-dependent businesses that historically were part of the waterfront. Leadership and investment from the City have been central to the district’s initiation, and long-term success hinges on public and private investment and partnerships. Analysis has been conducted of legal issues that present barriers to the district and approaches are being considered that will enable the implementation of the overlay district to proceed.

Gig Harbor's Historic Working WaterfrontLocation: Gig Harbor, WA (Pierce County), Timeframe: 2004 - present
Gig Harbor is a small city nestled just north of Tacoma on the shore of Puget Sound in Pierce County, WA. The historic waterfront village has a deep history of maritime activity. Despite its beginnings, the economy of Gig Harbor today looks very different, as resource economies have given way to recreation, tourism, and a large retirement community. However, boat building and commercial fishing is still of great significance to the area and are foundational to the history and culture of Gig Harbor.

Over the past decade, members of longtime fishing families and leaders in City government have led a “grassroots” effort to help preserve the historic working waterfronts of Gig Harbor and protect its maritime industries. This effort has overwhelmingly been supported by the community through bonds and fundraising, and has led to successful outcomes like construction of the multi-use Maritime Pier and renovation of the Gig Harbor Boatshop. The City is also protecting these working waterfronts by updating their Shoreline Management Program, in cooperation with the Washington Department of Ecology, and by designating these waterfront parcels as “historic waterfront districts.”

The City and community are still working toward achieving healthy growth of new uses and economies while retaining the history and culture that makes Gig Harbor a special place, providing for “the right kind of change” to the city.
Balancing Fishing, Tourism, and Research in Newport, Oregon Location: Newport, Oregon, Timeframe: 1880s - present

Newport, Oregon, was built on tourism and natural resource industries like timber and seafood, and the Bayfront quickly became its economic hub. Later, with the construction of jetties and dredging of the Yaquina Bay channel, the shipping industry took hold. In the early 1900s, the Bayfront began to change shape as businesses migrated away due to the construction of Highway 101. Then, in the 1980s, business and government leaders developed a revitalization plan to establish Newport as a destination resort and research hub to lessen the city’s dependence on natural resources and tourism. Today, Newport is home to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium (which attracts 500,000 visitors annually) and NOAA’s West Coast fleet. Newport also is homeport to one of Oregon’s largest commercial fishing fleets, which delivers fish year-round to the numerous processing plants along its waterfront. In 2011, approximately 326 commercial vessels landed over $44 million worth of seafood into Newport’s thriving working waterfront.

Newport continues to bring in millions of dollars in tourism to an economy that is contingent on a productive and authentic working waterfront. BayFront facilities include two berths capable of serving oceangoing vessels, 510 berths for mooring commercial and sportfishing vessels, frontage for servicing fishing boats, a dry boat moorage of 120 boats, and a 220-foot pier for docking large and small research vessels. The Bayfront also includes a public wharf full of shops, art galleries, chowder houses, restaurants, and museums.

Newport has been successful in preserving existing uses while actualizing a long-term vision for its future. However, achieving a balance of tourism, research, and fishing is not without its conflicts. With an uncertain future for fisheries and a burgeoning tourism industry, the community of Newport continues to seek a balance between new and existing uses for its waterfront.
Other Links of Interest
National Sea Grant Law Center (pdf)   

Article - Working waterfront legislative committees: do they instigate change?

Between 2001 and 2010, five state legislatures created special study committees to evaluate problems facing their working waterfronts. These committees, in Alabama, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, and Rhode Island, came up with strategies for land use planning, property taxation, funding, and education, among other ideas. The earliest committee in Maine successfully implemented a majority of the committee recommendations. The other states had mixed results primarily due to lack of funding during the recession starting in 2008. However, as the economy improves, these states have blueprints for action. This Article discusses the purpose and structure of these committees, summarizes the key committee recommendations, and examines progress toward implementation in each state.
  • Addressed the problems of working waterfronts in a specific way – through the establishment of legislative committees and their recommendation reports
  • This report only tracks those effort directly related to the legislative committee recommendations

       Issues driving creation of working waterfront committees
  • Maine – decline in fish stocks and rising costs of waterfront properties drove it
    • Focused on economic development strategies to support workforce affected by the loss of jobs in fishing industry
  • Maryland – increased development pressures – state needed to take a role in the protection and preservation of access for the commercial fishing industry
  • NC and AL – broadened their and were also tasked with determining loss of shorelines scope of their reviews beyond impacts on the fishing industry.
    • The North Carolina legislature directed the committee to “study the degree of loss and potential loss of the diversity of uses along the coastal shoreline…” The Alabama legislature patterned their bill and its purpose off of the North Carolina
      • RI – focused on their ports and wanted to ensure maritime growth beyond the fishing industry
  • National Working Waterfront Network
  • Relevant WW Case Studies –
  • Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California (pdf)
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Last updated: 12/7/2017 12:36:14 PM
Working Waterfronts Community Forums: Resources and Responses to Questions


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