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ABC: Advocacy Panel shares different ways to lobby for boating

A panel of industry stakeholders at the American Boating Congress (ABC) shared ways they have advanced boating’s interests by lobbying and interacting with government agencies. NMMA Vice President of Federal and Legal Affairs Nicole Vasilaros moderated the panel at Friday’s opening session of the American Boating Congress (ABC).

“One thing that has made lobbying work is by making it easier for the dealer to advocate on behalf of the issues we face,” said Martin Peters, government relations manager for Yamaha Marine. “We communicate with our dealers on the issues and provide much of the message for them.” Peters said that most dealers would not have time to write letters to legislators, so Yamaha provides letters about specific issues. “You might think that these form letters would be ineffective, but they don’t go unnoticed by these legislators and agencies,” said Peters. “They actually work quite well because we’ve come to understand that constant communication is critical to keeping these issues in front of the legislators and public.”

Yamaha President Ben Speciale also mentions these issues at all dealer meetings and company functions. “He talks about fisheries, E15 and other important issues and we include these in every publication we send to dealers,” said Peters. Yamaha has also integrated lobbying into other marketing platforms. Its Pro Staff of anglers speak about fisheries management to amateur fishermen and their fan base. “They have become key communicators on fisheries issues,” said Peters. “It keeps the message in front of everyone.”

Dana Russikoff, co-founder of SureShade, took a lead advocacy role in developing sections of the Delaware River around Philadelphia because of her love of boating. “It was a city that, because of historic reasons, offered no public access to the waterfronts,” said Russikoff. “The boating community, of course, found ways to get to the water. I joined a group devoted to developing the river’s waterfront.” Russikoff said that the efforts of local advocacy groups had tangible results for boating access. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation developed a six-mile stretch of waterfront that has opened up the river to neighborhoods outside of Philadelphia. The group has since worked hard to provide waterfront access to the city of Philadelphia. “The stars aligned and we now have approval for an 11-acre park that will absolutely transform the city waterfront and access to the river,” said Russikoff. “The project is fully funded for $225 million, with city state and private investments.”

Russikoff and her company are now seen as an “ambassador” for the boating community on a stretch of water that had very little access. Recent redistricting of the Philadelphia waterfront will also be a boon for the boating industry in the city. “Having three Congress members instead of one will give our industry a much larger voice,” said Russikoff. “It’s a very exciting time for Philadelphia.”

Melissa Danko, executive director of the New Jersey Marine Trades Association, told the ABC audience that she sees her job as “educating people,” rather than as a traditional lobbyist. “We’ve moved our approach to the local level and the results have been encouraging,” said Danko. The key has been to get its members to act as advocates for the boating industry. “Having members of our association share their stories with legislators has been very effective,’ she said. “We give them the message and make it simple. But what really makes a difference is having them share that message with legislators and each other.”

Others have worked directly with government agencies for issues impacting the industry, rather than lobbying legislators. Jeff Wasil, engineer for emissions compliance at BRP, said a group of marine engine makers decided to provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a proven alternative to E15 fuel, rather than just object to E15, which has proven to damage marine engines. “We got together as an industry and looked at alternative fuels that are more compatible with traditional boats and engines,” said Wasil. “We used peer-reviewed studies and public research and then went to E.P.A. with our proposal to substitute biobutanol for E15. We’ve seen that agency quoting our research and now they have a public comment period around the sale of biobutanol on public highways.”

With similar tactics, the engine makers also provided data to officials in California looking at greenhouse gas emissions. “They accepted that data and so we didn’t have to go through testing that could have cost the industry millions of dollars.” Wasil said collecting science and data, and then presenting it in an “effective way” has helped push marine propulsion interests forward. “Having a more effective way to measure the data seems to be working,” said Wasil. “It’s also an alternative to traditional lobbying.” 

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