Access battle fought in local trenches

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Forget interest rates and gas prices. Access to waterways will be the make-or-break issue ahead of us. Moreover, in many locations the access battle is between the haves and have nots and it’s hand-to-hand combat in the trenches! A great case in point is in the Gulf Coast resort City of Orange Beach, Alabama. The State wants to give 5 acres of land to the City and the latter wants to spend $2 million for a beautifully-designed and badly-needed launching ramp. Who wouldn’t want that? A group of vocal and politically-connected people on a nearby island, that’s who!

They’re the residents of a gated community named Ono Island, and while they wrap themselves in an “environmental flag,” they’re masking their real agenda regarding boating access -- I’ve got mine so pull up the drawbridge! Oh, yes, the residents on OnoIsland have their own private launch ramp. The proposed new ramp is located near the bridge to Ono (not on the island.) Boaters launching at the new ramp would have access to Ono’s canals, etc. Get the picture?

Enter dealer Gene Myers, Paradise Marine Center in nearby Gulf Shores, who recognizes that state and local municipalities must, first, be pushed to be pro-active and, then, supported when they come down on the side of access. In the end, the battle for access will always come down to a local fight. Myers used a variety of tactics, including direct contact with boaters, petitions, a website (www.petitiononline.com/oblaunch) that provides contact info for the Governor and Conservation Dept. Commissioner, news media advisory, a position white paper, among other things. It’s working.

What was initially running 90% against the ramp (vocal Ono residents) is now 83% for the ramp. He’s garnered letters of support from the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Orange Beach Fishing Association and many other organizations. But it’s still a fight in the trenches! I wish I could report the concrete is being poured as you read this. It’s not, yet, but the “Battle at OrangeBeach” is now considered winnable.

Moreover, the well-orchestrated efforts of Myers would be a great study model for the Water Access Committee of the Industry’s Grow Boating Initiative, a committee that’s struggling with an overwhelming challenge. After all, one of the stated goals of this Committee is to develop the content for an advocacy, public relations and communications “Tool Kit” that can be used by access fighters like Myers.

So far, the “Tool Kit” has not materialized, but guys like Myers will tell you it’s needed and they’d welcome that kind of help from our national organizations like the NMMA and the MRAA.

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