Built to weather a storm

Gulf Coast collaboration produces green marinas with designed-in hurricane resilience

In 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, devastating towns such as Bay St. Louis, where the waterfront and downtown suffered heavy damage.

Afterward the city needed an economic development spark, and a local business group — the Bay Area Recovery Team — found it in the form of a downtown harbor that Bay St. Louis would build, starting in late 2012, on a site the state had identified as favorable in the 1980s.

As Bay St. Louis was planning its new harbor, the Coastal Community Resilience Team of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance was completing a guidebook with recommendations for making marinas not only clean, but also resilient — better able to withstand disasters, natural and man-made.

Bay St. Louis officials embraced the new concept as they sought grants and other sources of funds for their new harbor, which opened in 2014 and has 163 slips for boats from 25 to 120 feet. The Bay St. Louis Municipal Harbor is adjacent to the city’s downtown and within walking distance of galleries, shops and restaurants.

Today there are 18 marinas in GOMA’s clean and resilient marinas program. Among them are two others in Mississippi — Pass Christian Harbor and Gulfport Municipal Marina. Florida has 15 certified clean and resilient marinas, and they include the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, Palm Harbor Marina, the City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin and the Clearwater Harbor Marina.

At this time of year — the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season — the value of having a Gulf Coast marina designed to limit the long-term impact of severe storms is greatest. This year, the Weather Channel says, the forecast prepared by Colorado State University is for a season near historical averages: 15 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. Bay St. Louis is one of the communities that has taken steps to be ready.

“There were no other clean and resilient marinas on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” says Jason Chiniche, a Bay St. Louis native and the city engineer. “We wanted to be the first. It was something that would set us apart and make us as environmentally conscious as we could be. We wanted to make the harbor as storm-resistant as possible.”

With its oyster reefs, Chiniche says the city is in an environmentally sensitive spot and the area attracts a lot of recreational fishermen.

“We didn’t want to end up with a marina that was oily and had a lot of sewer problems from the pumpout system,” he says.

Chiniche says Bay St. Louis officials worked with Rhonda Price, deputy director of the Office of Coastal Restoration and Resiliency for the state Department of Marine Resources, on ways to meet the objectives of the clean and resilient marina program.

Price led the team that created a guidebook on clean and resilient marinas for the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a partnership of the five Gulf states — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Texas.

“After Katrina, there was a real need for a collaboration” among the states, Price says. “We lost 85 percent of our marinas [in Mississippi].”

The goal of the guidebook is to provide uniform resiliency standards and complement existing clean marina programs. It includes guidelines for marina design and siting, emergency preparedness, evacuation procedures, stormwater management and erosion controls, and climate adaptation and sea-level rise.

Chiniche says features of the Bay St. Louis harbor that are both clean and resilient include a pumpout system that consists of a centralized facility near the fuel docks where boaters can pump out as they fuel up and two portable and trailer-mounted pumps.

“In the event of a storm [the pumps on trailers] can be uploaded to higher ground so they don’t get flooded or damaged,” he says.

Harbormaster Chuck Fortin says the harbor offers free pumpouts to the general public and will accept used oil and batteries for disposal at no charge.

“Quite a few boaters will take advantage of it, even when they don’t need fuel,” he says.

Fortin says the portability features of the harbor also extend to what is known as its comfort station.

“Our office and our restroom facilities are actually in a trailer, not a permanent structure,” he says. “If there’s a storm surge, they can be taken offsite.”

“Everything was built with the clean and resilient marina program in mind,” he adds. “It’s all designed for minimal loss and minimal downtime for the operation.”

Chiniche says the harbor, whose main contractor was Gill’s Crane and Dozer Service of Slidell, La., was built for $22 million, all of it with grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state’s Tidelands program and a boating infrastructure grant administered by the state Department of Marine Resources.

“No loans are involved,” he says. “There’s no debt payment.”

Price says officials in the GOMA states recognize that cost is a major concern when they consider creating clean and resilient marinas. When her team interviewed marina operators and harbormasters while developing the standards, they were often told, “We’d love to do this, but we have no money,” she says.

She is hopeful that GOMA will be able to develop a community grant program to help existing marinas and harbors meet the higher standards, but she acknowledges that building them into a marina offers only so much protection against the fury of nature.

“This is not hurricane-proofing,” Price says. Marinas that are certified as resilient as well as clean will suffer damage during strong and severe storms, but the goal of the program is to lessen the effects so business disruptions are short-lived, she says.

“It’s basically using sound management practices to get them back into business [sooner],” she says. “We try to make them more adaptable and sustainable to the hazards they face.”

Ultimately, Price says, the purpose of the program is to protect the quality of Gulf Coast waters.

“Bottom line, everybody likes clean water, pretty water,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue.


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