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Okay – I admit the words “Congress” and “cutting” may seem incongruous, but boating could lose some outstanding programs depending on the outcome of budget battles in Washington. 

One big example: What program has contributed a whopping $143 million over the past 12 years to make boating better? Answer: The Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) Program administered by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service and funded from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. You may not know much about BIG, most don’t, but BIG provides federal funds through the states to construct, renovate and maintain either public or privately-owned facilities for transient boats 26 feet and up. Projects funded can include transient slips, day-docks, mooring buoys and dinghy docks, channel markers, floating or fixed breakwalls, restrooms, dockside utilities and lots more.

BIG dates back to 1998 when BoatUS took the lead to include the BIG program in the reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration Act, renamed the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund in 2005. Funds for SFRBTF come from manufacturers’ support through excise and other taxes on certain fishing and boating equipment and a portion of the federal gasoline tax attributable to off-highway use by America’s boaters.

Over the years, nearly every state has received BIG grants for boating projects at a total of 1,493 boating sites. Earlier this spring, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that $13.5 million had been awarded to 11 states for 16 major projects. In addition, another 27 states were receiving grants totaling $2.7 million. Equally important, the federal dollars are matched or exceeded by state and local contributions to the various access projects.

Here’s what the 11 states getting the major grants are doing for boating: Alabama – 30 boat transient dock at Barber Marina; California (three grants) – replacing old facility with new marina including 52-slips for transient boats on Channel Islands Harbor; converting 35 existing docks into 45 transient slips and new pumpouts in Los Angeles, and 13 new transient docks, a high-speed fueling station, oil recycling center, and ADA restrooms; Ohio – new floating docks for 53 transient boats including three ADA accessible slips and ramp, new restrooms and laundry building in downtown Cleveland; Illinois - 23 transient slips at Rock Island’s Schwiebert Riverfront Park; Maine - new docks for 12 transient boats; Mississippi – new marina in area devastated by Hurricane Katrina providing 475 feet of transient dockage and amenities; New York (four grants) - 64 transient slips at Rochester on Lake Ontario, renovate existing Hudson River Marina for 80 transient docks in New York City, install new utilities at Greenport Marina to accommodate large transients on Long Island Sound, and add new fueling station and dockage for 32 – 45 transient boats on the St. Lawrence River at Ogdensburg; Tennessee – add 21 transient tie-ups and amenities on Norris Lake; Texas - refurbish old Blackberry Island industrial marina creating 21 transient docks and amenities; Virginia - redevelop a vacant marina on Mattaponi River with 41 transient slips, fuel and restrooms; Washington - replace two docks with floating piers for 54 transient slips plus amenities.

Notably, programs like BIG go on year after year, providing important supports for boating and, in most instances, enable access development that our industry or state and local agencies would likely find financially impossible. As such, it’s imperative we all stay alert these days to any federal budget proposals that would negatively impact programs like BIG, and be ready and willing to respond to any call to action to protect the interests of boating.

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