Questions arise about Boating Trust Fund reauthorization

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Arguably the most positive federal legislation for recreational boating, the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (SFR&BTF) is up for reauthorization next year, and while our industry is certain to do whatever it takes to see it renewed, new questions are being raised in advance.

The first move toward renewal has just been made with the introduction of the “Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2019” by Representatives Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Garret Graves (R-LA). Their bipartisan (a word seldom heard in D.C. these days!) action is applauded.

As background, it’s been 69 years since the initial act was passed, and over the decades, with periodic improvements, the positive results for fishing and boating make a great win-win story. The SFR&BTF serves as the backbone for fisheries conservation funding in the United States, and is a critical funding pool for a diverse set of state and national fishing and boating programs.

Even more important, it’s no government handout. It’s a pure user-pay, user-benefit program, solely funded by America’s boaters and anglers. Excise taxes on fishing equipment and tackle, on imported boats and small engines, and the largest source — the federal tax on motorboat fuel — are pooled together to create this fund of about $650 million a year. That money is then allocated to federal and state programs for boating safety, fisheries management, habitat conservation, water and boating access infrastructure, aquatic resource education programs, and much more.

Want some specifics? In just the last 6 years, SFR&BTF money has: stocked 3.8 billion fish; given 4.7 million students aquatic education; funded 8.5 million boat safety inspections; protected 63,337 acres of fish habitat; restored 6,484 acres of coastal wetlands; funded the Boating Infrastructure Grant Program to construct new transient docks; built hundreds of Clean Vessel Pump-out stations; created or improved over 11,000 boat ramps and access sites; and much more.

User Conflict Questions

Looking ahead, the explosive growth of paddle sports, including paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing, is raising new questions for local, state and federal agencies working to ensure there’s plenty of paddler access. This also includes questions about the allocation of funds to paddle craft-only launches, increased efforts to ensure paddler safety, and examining and minimizing the non-motorized vessels user conflicts with traditional boaters.

The insightful Cunningham/Graves bill includes a call for the Government Accountability Office to examine and report on the increasing use and impact of non-motorized vessels and how SFR&BTF funds are used to support non-motorized access and safety.

CVA Coverage Question

Another important question is why the Clean Vessel Act (CVA), which has done a great job of funding thousands of pump-out facilities across the nation, has not been expanded to address the need for bottom washing management facilities in marinas, clubs and boatyards. There is no question it should be included in the coming reauthorization of the SFR&BTF from which all CVA funds come.

“The CVA is an important part of the SFR&BTF’s mission to conserve and protect our waterways,” explains Ken Alvey, former chief of the Ohio Division of Watercraft and past president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “Under new initiatives, the US EPA is now stepping up enforcement with marinas to manage stormwater runoff and contain boat bottom-washing ​wastewater under the Clean Water Act. Making CVA grants eligible for this is clearly in line with the Act’s intent.”

Runoff of bottom paint, oil and chemical products falls under a federally mandated regulatory process that has been pushed down on the states. But this unfunded mandate places the burden on local agencies and, particularly, an excessive burden on many small family-owned recreational marine businesses. The cost to marinas both large and small can easily top $40,000 for even the simplest retention and collection system of boat wash runoff. Obviously, it costs much more for larger systems.

Finally, CVA funds are available and such grants would clearly reflect the intent of the CVA program. Accordingly, now is the opportunity for NMMA, MRAA, BoatUS and all state marine trade associations to pursue amending the Cunningham/Graves bill to allow CVA grants to be used in this additional way and help keep our waters clean.

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