No Country for Old Ways

No Country for Old Ways


Good news! We’re probably going to be paying even more for haulouts beginning next year because of the new Boatyard Stormwater General Permit regulations. And do-it-yourselfers may have a hard time finding a yard to work in. Oh, and there’s a chance your boatyard won’t allow bottom painting at all and might even have to close its doors.


What, you say, pay even more? Boatyards shutting down? Good?? Yep, and we should be pretty happy about it.


The basic story here is that boatyards have been the target of environmental watchdogs and the stormwater permit that they’ve been operating under for the last few years has been temporary and voluntary. There was a serious, credible danger that regulations that could not be met would be installed and boatyards would be forced out of business.


The larger story is, of course, more complicated. In decades and centuries past, boatyards and shipyards have a well-earned reputation for, shall we say, indifference to the environment. If I think back to what the yards were like in the 1960s, I shudder. Along came the Clean Water Act of 1972 and sincere if sometimes misguided efforts to clean up some seriously polluted waterways. It became a boater versus the government situation, one that in which there were only occasional winners.


Adversarial relationships have defined the environmental movement in this country for several decades, and for the most part still do. If the time and money spent on lawyers were put into environmental cleanup and education, we’d be better off. That’s another story.


But the main characters in this story aren’t lawyers. The characters here are the Washington boatyards, particularly those who are Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) members, the Puget Soundkeeper’s Alliance (in particular Sue Joerger, “Soundkeeper” of PSA), the Washington State Department of Ecology and NMTA itself, particularly its president, Michael Campbell. Everybody involved compromised, sacrificed and in short worked really hard.


This is a story of what guarded cooperation can do. The existing stormwater permit was objectionable to both boatyard industry (as represented by NMTA), and PSA, and both sued the Department of Ecology over the issue. Over time people sat down with each other and charted a course that would get them to a new place. It involved testing three different filtration systems in three different boatyards (Port of Edmonds Boat Workyard, Canal Boatyard and CSR Marine), which did so voluntarily. That established pretty clearly what levels of copper and other toxins were realistically attainable. From that point on, compromises were made and a few hairs pulled out, but in the end the “adversaries” could go to Department of Ecology with a proposal, which was finished in mid-August. Ecology will now put everything into documents with crossed “Ts” and dotted “Is” for public comment this fall. With luck and some more perseverance the new permits will be issued early next year.


Michael Campbell may not be running for the US presidency, but as NMTA president he appears to work as a uniter, keeping all parties on track. While representing the member boatyards, he had to faithfully represent their interests while cognizant of the imperative to move forward. And Soundkeeper Sue, while a strict environmental advocate, knows as a Shilshole liveaboard the realities of life afloat.


While there are no plans to all sit around a campfire together, the parties involved seem to have the kind of relationships that produces respect and results. “It’s been a great process,” Joerger says. “A shout should go out to the boatyards. They are really under-recognized and are on the cutting edge of environmental issues.” When do you hear that kind of talk about boatyards?


The levels agreed upon might be achievable by religious adherence to Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as tarping, sealing asphalt, really cleaning up after work, using vacuums whenever possible and all sorts of other means to not pollute in the first place. These are all the types of things we’ve seen more and more of in recent years. “Source Control is preferable to treatment,” explains Michael Campbell. Whether or not the sources can be controlled to that extent is extremely doubtful, but it will help even if treatment is ultimately required.


Of course your first question might well be “How much will it cost me?” The jury is out on that one. Phil Riise of Seaview Boatyards guesses the surcharge added on to the existing environmental surcharge could be around $25 per haulout on top of the existing $75 at Seaview. But, really, it’s not known how much extra cost there will be. What is known is that boatyards will be forced to spend money to meet these new regulations. Depending on the specifics of the boatyard and the kinds of work going on there, treatment equipment, tanks and so on will run into the hundreds of thousand of dollars.


Why is this good? Lots of reasons, starting with, it’s the right thing to do. For the boatyards, it means the uncertainty is over and the work done here has established working relationships and precedence for any changes in the future. “We’ve been hamstrung until now, not knowing the regulations,” says Don Benson of Canal Boatyard, who just signed a 20-year lease. Any yard can appeal the decision. That said, the relief from many of the yard owners is clear and it seems while some yards won’t make it, the yards that survive will be better for it.


It also allows the Washington marine industry to hold its head high. “To my knowledge,” Campbell says, “we’re the only state in the country dealing with the stormwater runoff permitting.” Furthermore, he adds, the boating industry and Puget Sounds’ shipping industries are far ahead of other local industries in proactively establishing standards.


There will be lots of boaters and pundits rolling their eyes while moaning loudly about how unfair it is, how regulating the relatively insignificant percentage of copper toxins (by general agreement <1% of all copper pollution) isn’t measurably helping the overall situation as compared to other sources. By example, plenty of copper comes from wear on brakepads. It sits on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, I-5 or your driveway and then gets washed into our waterways along with all the other toxins modern life produces. Nobody can deny that boaters are but a tiny factor or that it’s proportionally unfair. “Life’s not fair,” points out Phil Riise.


Here’s the thing, it’s in our interest to have really clean water. Salmon find copper particularly harmful, and a lot of us like to catch and eat our tasty friends. Of course pollution is bad. If you don’t agree, you probably stopped reading this a few paragraphs ago. The rest of us can now say, “Hey, we’re doing our part” and demand others like other states and Canada to do so as well. By stepping up as they have, our boatyards have earned our business. Saving a few dollars by going out of the area to someplace without environmental controls is like throwing garbage overboard to save the walk to the pier head. It’s not the right thing to do.


Of course, the real solution is not regulation or paying more and more. The market will ultimately provide the real solution. Hopefully someone will figure out a way to combine jalepenos with yak manure to create an antifouling cocktail that is supremely distasteful to barnacles while simultaneously acting as salmon aphrodisiac. In the meantime, congratulate all the folk who were able to work together and move forward, and pay the surcharge with a smile. Use tarps, vacuums and brooms like it was your own back yard. It’s time to leave the old ways far behind.


Besides, if we don’t stay ahead of this inevitable environmental shift, someone else, not prone to compromise and who knows nothing about boats, may regulate boating into oblivion.


Oh yeah, and it’s the right thing to do.


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