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Water: Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments

C. Habitat Assessment Management Measure

Site and design marinas to protect against adverse effects on shellfish resources, wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation, or other important riparian and aquatic habitat areas as designated by local, State, or Federal governments.


1. Applicability

This management measure is intended to be applied by States to new and expanding marinas where site changes may impact on wetlands, shellfish beds, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), or other important habitats. The habitats of nonindigenous nuisance species, such as some clogging vegetation or zebra mussels, are not considered important habitats. Under the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990, States are subject to a number of requirements as they develop coastal nonpoint source programs in conformity with this measure and will have some flexibility in doing so. The application of management measures by States is described more fully in Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program: Program Development and Approval Guidance, published jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.


2. Description

Coastal marinas are often located in estuaries, one of the most diverse of all habitats. Estuaries contain many plant and animal communities that are of economic, recreational, ecological, and aesthetic value. These communities are frequently sensitive to habitat alteration that can result from marina siting and design. Biological siting and design provisions for marinas are based on the premise that marinas should not destroy important aquatic habitat, should not diminish the harvestability of organisms in adjacent habitats, and should accommodate the same biological uses (e.g., reproduction, migration) for which the source waters have been classified (Cardwell et al., 1980). Important types of habitat for an area, such as wetlands, shellfish beds, and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), are usually designated by local, State, and Federal agencies. In most situations the locations of all important habitats are not known. Geographic information systems are used to map biological resources in Delaware and show promise as a method of conveying important habitat and other siting information to marina developers and environmental protection agencies (DNREC, 1990).


3. Management Measure Selection

The selection of this measure was based on its widespread use in siting and design and the fact that proper siting and design can reduce short-term impacts (habitat destruction during construction) and long-term impacts (water quality, sedimentation, circulation, wake energy) on the surrounding environment (USEPA, 1992b). Currently, 50 percent of the coastal States minimize adverse impacts caused by siting and design by requiring a habitat assessment prior to siting a marina, and an additional 40 percent require a habitat assessment under special conditions (Appendix 5A).


4. Practices

As discussed more fully at the beginning of this chapter and in Chapter 1, the following practices are described for illustrative purposes only. State programs need not require implementation of these practices. However, as a practical matter, EPA anticipates that the management measure set forth above generally will be implemented by applying one or more management practices appropriate to the source, location, and climate. The practices set forth below have been found by EPA to be representative of the types of practices that can be applied successfully to achieve the management measure described above.


  • a. Conduct surveys and characterize the project site.

The first step in achieving compatibility between coastal development and coastal resources is to properly characterize the proposed project site. The site's physical properties and water quality characteristics must be assessed. To minimize potential impacts, available habitat and seasonal use of the site by benthos, macroinvertebrates, and ichthyofauna should be evaluated. Once these data are assembled, it becomes possible to identify environmental risks associated with development of the site. Through site-design modifications, preservation of critical or unique habitat, and biological/chemical/physical monitoring, it is possible to minimize the direct and indirect impacts associated with a specific waterfront development (USEPA, 1985a). To properly evaluate development applications for projects at the periphery of critical or endangered habitat areas, it may be necessary to conduct on-site visits and surveys to determine the distribution of critical habitat such as spawning substrate and usage by spawning fish.

Based on data compiled primarily by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) prior to construction, it was concluded that a large proposed marina (Port Liberte) could have a serious environmental impact on resident and transient fish and macroinvertebrates. Loss of unique habitat, water quality degradation, and disturbance of contaminated sediments were some of the more severe anticipated impacts. Following a comprehensive NJDEP review process, the developer modified the site plan and phased construction activities, thereby satisfying the concerns of the various environmental regulatory agencies and minimizing potential direct and indirect impacts (Souza et al., 1990). Follow-up monitoring established that the management practices were effective in avoiding impacts to important fishery habitat.


  • b. Redevelop coastal waterfront sites that have been previously disturbed; expand existing marinas or consider alternative sites to minimize potential environmental impacts.

Proper marina site selection is a practice that can minimize adverse impacts on nearby habitats. For example, the selected site for North Point Marina in Illinois was not a suitable environment for either floral or faunal habitat because of high erosion rates, high ground-water conditions, and the high potential for flooding (Braam and Jansen, 1991). Despite the surrounding environment, this site was thought to be suitable for marina development because the site had been previously disturbed. Within existing urban harbors where the shorelines have been modified previously by bulkheading and filling, there will be many opportunities to site recreational boating facilities with minimal adverse environmental consequences (Goodwin, 1988).

Alternative site analysis may be used to demonstrate that a chosen site is the most economic and environmentally suitable. Alternative site/design analysis has been found effective at reducing potential impacts from many proposed marinas. The proposed Rive St. Johns Canal, Willbrook Island, and John Wayne marinas used this practice and demonstrated the effectiveness of analyzing alternative sites and designs to minimize environmental impacts. For example, eight design alternatives were considered for the John Wayne marina. The selected alternative reduced tideland alteration, biological destruction, and stream diversion. This was accomplished by moving the marina basin nearly 1,000 feet north of the original site and reducing the basin capacity (Holland, 1986). Five alternatives were considered for the Rive St. Johns Canal. The selected site avoided impacts to wetland habitats and has better flushing characteristics. The Willbrook study considered five alternatives, and the site selected successfully minimized impacts to submerged aquatic vegetation and wetlands.


  • c. Employ rapid bioassessment techniques to assess impacts to biological resources.

Rapid bioassessment techniques, when fully developed, will provide cost-effective biological assessments of potential marina development sites. Rapid bioassessment uses biological criteria and is based on comparing the community assemblages of the potential development site to an undisturbed reference condition. Biological criteria or biocriteria describe the reference condition of aquatic communities inhabiting unimpaired waterbodies (USEPA, 1992a). These methods consist of community-level assessments designed to evaluate the communities based on a variety of functional and structural attributes or metrics. Rapid bioassessment protocols for freshwater streams and rivers were published in 1989 for macroinvertebrates and fish to provide States with guidelines for conducting cost-effective biological assessments (USEPA, 1989). Development of similar protocols for application in estuaries and near coastal areas is under way (USEPA, 1992a).

Scores from rapid bioassessments may be used to determine the biological integrity of a site. Sites that are comparable to pristine conditions, with complete assemblages of species, should not be developed as marinas because of the unavoidable impacts associated with such development. The level of effort required to characterize a site will depend on the specific protocol (level of detail required and organisms used) employed. The time needed to perform a rapid bioassessment in freshwater streams varied from 1.5-3 hours to 5-10 hours for benthos and 3 to 17 hours for fish (USEPA, 1989).


  • d. Assess historic habitat function (e.g., spawning area, nursery area, migration pathway) to minimize indirect impacts.

Washington State issued siting and tidal height provisions (WDF, 1971, 1974) to ensure that bulkheads do not destroy spawning of surf smelt habitat and increase the vulnerability of juvenile salmon. In addition, marina breakwaters may disrupt the migration pattern of migratory fish, such as salmon. The design of marinas should consider the migration, survival, and the harvestability of food fish and shellfish.


  • e. Minimize disturbance to indigenous vegetation in the riparian area.

A riparian area is defined as:


Vegetated ecosystems along a waterbody through which energy, materials, and water pass. Riparian areas characteristically have a high water table and are subject to periodic flooding and influence from the adjacent waterbody. These systems encompass wetlands, uplands, or some combination of these two land forms. They will not in all cases have all of the characteristics necessary for them to be classified as wetlands.

Riparian areas are generally more productive habitat, in both diversity and biomass, than adjacent uplands because of their unique hydrologic condition. Many important processes occur in the riparian zone, including the following:


  • Because of their linear form along waterways, riparian areas process large fluxes of energy and materials from upstream systems as well as from ground-water seepage and upland runoff.
  • They can serve as effective filters, sinks, and transformers of nutrients, eroded soils, and other pollutants.
  • They often appear to be nutrient transformers that have a net import of inorganic nutrient forms and a net export of organic forms.

Chapter 7 of this document, which also requires protection of riparian areas when they have significant nonpoint pollution control value, contains a more detailed discussion of riparian functions.


  • f. Encourage the redevelopment or expansion of existing marina facilities that have minimal environmental impacts instead of new marina development in habitat areas that local, State, or Federal agencies have designated important.

One method to avoid new marina development in areas containing important habitat is the purchase of development rights of existing marinas or important habitat. In the case of preserving an existing marina (thus avoiding the impacts associated with developing new marinas), the government pays the difference (if there is one) between the just value and the water-dependent value and owns the rights to develop the property for other uses. This approach provides instant liquidity for the marina owner, who keeps the profits derived from all marina assets even though the government may have paid 80 to 90 percent of the value of the land. This would in theory offset the inability to sell the marina for non-water-dependent activities and decrease marina development in areas containing important habitat. The purchase of development rights and conservation easements for land containing important habitat or NPS control values is discussed in Chapter 4. In the Broward County (Florida) Comprehensive Plan, expansion of existing marina facilities is preferred over development of new facilities (Bell, 1990).


  • g. Develop a marina siting policy to discourage development in areas containing important habitat as designated by local, State, or Federal agencies.

Establishing a marina siting policy is an efficient and effective way to control habitat degradation and water pollution impacts associated with marinas. Creating such a policy involves:


  • Establishing goals for coastal resource use and protection;
  • Cataloging coastal resources; and
  • Analyzing existing conditions and problems, as well as future needs.

A siting policy benefits the environment, the public, regulatory agencies, and the marina industry. Examples of such benefits include:


  • Impacts to and destruction of environmentally sensitive areas (such as wetlands, fish nursery areas, and shellfish beds) are avoided by directing development to sites more appropriate for marina development;
  • Coastal resources (such as submerged aquatic vegetation and beaches) are protected;
  • Cumulative impacts from numerous pollution sources are more easily assessed;
  • Coastal development and economic growth are balanced with environmental protection, and the continued viability of water-dependent uses is ensured;
  • The needs of the marina industry and rights of public access are accounted for;
  • The permitting process is streamlined;
  • Regulatory efforts are coordinated; and
  • Interjurisdictional consistency is improved.

Many States already address coastal resource and development needs through coastal zone management plans, growth management plans, critical area programs, and other means. The following examples illustrate the high level of acceptance such planning has achieved and the variety of program types upon which a marina siting policy could be built:


  • Twelve States have established critical area programs that protect public health and safety, the quality of natural features, scenic value, recreational opportunities, and the historical and cultural significance of coastal areas (Myers, 1991).
  • North Carolina has a water use classification system to assist in the implementation of land use policies. Coastal areas are designated for preservation, conservation, or development (Clark, 1990).
  • Massachusetts has a Harbor Management Program, wherein municipalities devise specific harbor management plans consistent with State goals (Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management, 1988).
  • The Narragansett Bay Project, part of EPA's National Estuary Program, recognizes land use planning as the key to accomplishing many goals, including controlling NPS pollution, protecting and restoring habitat, and preserving public access and recreational opportunities (Myers, 1991).
  • The Cape Cod Commission found that unplanned growth over the last several decades has limited public access, displaced marinas and boatyards in favor of non-water-dependent uses, encroached on fishermen's access, degraded water quality, destroyed habitat, and created use conflicts (Cape Cod Commission, 1991).



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