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Access battle fought in local trenches

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.

Comments

2 comments on “Access battle fought in local trenches

  1. Gene Myers

    Norm,

    Thank you so much for putting our boat launch battle into the limelight. I would like to start with a small point of clarification. I must mention that what you refer to in your article as our website is actually our online petition site (please feel free to visit). We use both an online petition and paper petitions to rally support for our cause. This in turn can help government officials realize just how important water access is to their citizens and taxpayers.

    We have created a new website, http://www.bamaboating.com that we use to put the facts out so that people can make informed decisions about the merits of this project. On our site, we go so far as to also publish links to the project opponent’s website so that their side can also be heard. They have not returned the favor but we firmly believe that people can make up their own mind once they get factual, non biased information. We envision this website to become a springboard to be used in Alabama to bring attention to other water access issues that will most certainly crop up in the future.

    What troubles me as a dealer, is that the creation of a website such as this should be the job of the MRAA or NMMA, not a local boat dealer. The arsenal we need to fight this and future water access battles, both locally and nationally, needs to be fully stocked and ready to be deployed as needed. My experience with the MRAA on this issue was that their toolbox is far from being full; in fact it is pitifully empty. Our national industry associations must take the lead in fighting this battle and rally the troops around these causes. As you so profoundly stated in the opening of your article, this is an issue that is more important than interest rates or gas prices.

    I would like to remind both the NMMA and the MRAA that water access should be more than just a “talking point” and that actions speak much louder than words. These organizations can do little to influence interest rates or gas prices but they can do a hell of a lot in regards to promoting water access. I do not see much sense in spending all this money to “Grow Boating” when we have no place to put this growth. You will not see any video or pictures of crowded launching ramps in the Grow Boating campaign materials, but we all know our customers see these conditions on a regular basis. I challenge the MRAA and NMMA to work on this badly needed infrastructure at the same time they are “Growing” this industry.

    Do not take any of these access battles lightly. In our case we have a pro-active, progressive, water oriented city (Orange Beach) that recognizes the need for more launch facilities and is willing to make a $2,000,000 investment in a state of the art boat launch facility (see http://www.bamaboating.com for conceptual drawings). This should be a no brainer, but unfortunately it is not. I would like to remind all boat dealers that these issues can never be won if we are not willing to fight. Your business may not be affected yet, but I guarantee that over the next few years, a similar scenario will be replayed in your own backyard.

    In closing I would like to let readers know that we are willing to share what we have learned in mounting this grass roots campaign. Contact me at gene@paradisemarine.com. Our campaign is nothing fancy, just bulldog determination, the mobilization of support and the spreading of information. Sitting on your duff on the sidelines is going to do little to help your business, your customers or your industry.

  2. Mike Caudle

    I too have ceased to bring our boat over to Orange Beach for the very reasons that Mr. Meyers has stated. We have a condo at Phoenix-I, and used to love bringing our boat over & spending our family boating vacation in Orange Beach. The lack of launching facilities and dangerous conditions that exist there have caused us to stay at home in New Orleans and continue to spend our time on Lake Pontchartrain. The past four years have been unbelievable in growth of boaters needing access to our boating waters, and the city evidently has negoected to see this demand, and will certianly lose these boaters to other safe palces to bring families.

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