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Preserving Virginia's Working Waterfronts

photo courtesy of Middle Peninsula Planning District Commissionphoto courtesy of Middle Peninsula Planning District Commissionphoto by Larry Chowning - permission to use requiredphoto courtesy of Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission

What Are Working Waterfronts?

The Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act of 2011, defines a working waterfront as:
real property (including support structures over and adjacent to the water or inland property engaged in significant water-related activities) that provides access to coastal waters or that supports commercial fishing, recreational fishing, businesses, boat building, shipping and rail yards, aquaculture, national defense, public safety, marine research, offshore energy production, or other water-related commercial, industrial, and recreational business.

Why are Virginia's Working Waterfronts important?

Download Virginia Working Waterfront Backgrounder (PDF)

Value --- 

Virginia’s working waterfronts are of great historic, economic and cultural value.

Since the early 1600s, the bounty of Virginia’s coastal waters has sustained a rich culture of seafood harvest and cultivation.  Toward the middle of the twentieth century, the Chesapeake Bay is said to have supported up to 9,000 fulltime watermen. In 2013, approximately 3,000 licensed commercial fisherman and aquaculture permit holders relied on access to Virginia’s working waterfronts.

Today working waterfronts continue to provide critical access to coastal waters for people engaged in commercial and recreational fishing, seafood processing, boat building, aquaculture and other water-dependent businesses.

Challenges ---

Unfortunately, they are disappearing. It’s time to find solutions.

Increasing demand for waterfront properties along Virginia’s coast has resulted in an increase in property values and higher costs for traditional water-front businesses.  Because of these and other factors, Virginia is slowly losing its working waterfronts – an issue that may have long-term consequences for local economies, the environment, coastal culture and quality of life.  A loss of Working Waterfronts in these areas constitutes a potential loss of jobs for watermen (e.g. fishers, shellfish farmers) and the agriculture industry (timber and grain barges); a loss of the identity of the region; and a loss of support industry jobs (boat building, transport, seafood processing, etc.).

What is the Virginia CZM Program doing to preserve Virginia's working waterfronts?

While threats to the viability of our working waterfronts remain, there is growing recognition of the problem and an expanding list of possible solutions.  Nationally, coastal states and localities are using planning, zoning, land conservation and acquisition, tax incentives, public improvements and state and local regulations to help preserve their working waterfronts.  In many cases these initiatives are the result of a coalition of groups with similar interests including industry associations, nonprofit groups and government agencies.   For more visit the National Working Waterfronts Network website.

The Virginia CZM Program already has a significant investment in the restoration of key coastal resources such as oysters and underwater grasses which provide habitat for many commercial fisheries. The mission of the program is to both preserve these resources as well as to help ensure that the Commonwealth can continue to derive economic benefit from the sustainable harvest of these resources.  It is now critical that the program focus on protecting the land-side infrastructure that keeps our coastal communities and economies thriving.

The Virginia CZM Program has been working with the Virginia Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service at VIMS to begin developing public policy designed to protect and enhance Virginia’s working waterfronts - as part of a Virginia Working Waterfronts Strategy funded through a CZMA Section 309 grant from NOAA.

Defining Working Waterfronts --- The first step in this strategy was for coastal regions - with a tradition of commercial fishing and other water dependent activities - to derive their own definition of a working waterfront.  Accomack-Northampton, Hampton Roads, Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck planning district commissions started with the model definition developed at the national level - see the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act of 2011 definition provided above - and tailored it to capture additional details of their region.

Inventory of Working Waterfronts --- The next step in the strategy was to conduct an inventory of existing working waterfront sites within these planning districts.  Tom Murray, Director of Marine Advisory Services at VIMS was the project lead.  The inventories captured information about each site including: precise location (digital maps and photos); specialized support services; unique site features; and, in some cases, planning effort toward future transfer of site ownership. VA Working Waterfronts Workshop

Engaging stakeholders --- In 2007, the Commonwealth hosted the first national Working Waterfronts Symposium in Norfolk, sponsored by the Virginia CZM Program.  In March 2013, the third national symposium was held in Tacoma Washington.  Results and presentations from these symposiums can be viewed on the National Working Waterfront Network website. 

In February 2014, Virginia CZM and its partners followed these symposiums with the first Virginia Working Waterfronts Workshop.

For more information on Virginia CZM's working waterfront preservation efforts contact:

Beth Polak
Coastal Planner, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program

VA Coastal Zone Management Program logo

Virginia Working Waterfont Master Plan

Virginia Working Waterfront Strategy

Feb 2014 Virginia Working Waterfronts Workshop Summary

VA Working Waterfronts Workshop


Virginia Working Waterfront Regional Fact Sheets:
Eastern Shore
Hampton Roads
Middle Peninsula
Northern Neck

The Virginia CZM Program is funding development of the Virginia Working Waterfronts Strategy through a CZMA Section 309 grant from NOAA (FY 11-16 Coastal Needs Assessment and Strategies) .

Aims to help communities:

  • Understand the long-term costs associated with loss of working waterfronts.
  • Develop new policy tools to help communities manage increasing growth pressures.
  • Build capacity to retain working waterfronts as a thriving component of local economic development for current and future generations.

Virginia CZM grants to VIMS/Virginia Sea Grant and four PDCs (NN,MP, HR,ES) during FY11 -13 enabled:

  • Defining working waterfronts.
  • Creating an inventory of existing working waterfront infrastructure throughout the costal zone.
  • Conducting an economic analysis of 4 different types of working waterfront infrastructure to demonstrate their economic importance to the community.

During FY14 & 15, Virginia CZM and it’s partners will:

  • Identify and develop policy tools appropriate for local government adoption that will support retention of working waterfronts.
  • Identify a locality to participate in a demonstration project that will test the feasibility of implementing the identified tools.

Virginia CZM Program Working Waterfronts Grant Projects

Grantee   Grant Year Task   Project
Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission
 2006   93.01  Middle Peninsula Public Policy Project for Waterside-Landside Use Conflicts  
   2007   2.06  Middle Peninsula Shallow Water Dredging Master Plan Framework: A Strategy for Dredging Sustainability  
   2007   93.01  York River Use Conflicts- Issue Framing and Policy Need Identification (Phase 3)  
   2008  2.02 Law and Policy Regarding Floating Homes
   2008  92 Aquaculture: Local Policy Development  

 2010  52 Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority: Perrin Wharf Waterfront Revitalization
 2011  53 Rural Chesapeake Bay/Seaside of Virginia Working Waterfront Coalition 
   2011  56  Aberdeen Creek Harbor Master Plan 
   2012  55 Rural Chesapeake Bay/Seaside of Virginia Working Waterfront Coalition Phase 2 - Virginia Summit
   2013  51 Preserving Aberdeen Creek Working Waterfronts: Survey and Study of Dredging, Working Waterfront Infrastructure and Financial Need 
  2014   92 Policy Development for Virginia's Working Waterfronts Plan 
Virginia Institute of Marine Science  2006  92.01  Shellfish Aquaculture Suitability Model 
  2006  92.02  Identification of management strategies for promoting shellfish aquaculture in Virginia  
  2006  92.03  Management Initiatives for Shellfish Aquaculture – Development of an Environmental Code of Practice and Best Management Practices for Virginia  
  2007  92.01  Assessment of Aquaculture Potential Within Baylor Grounds in the Lower Rappahannock River 
  2007  92.03  Management Initiatives for Shellfish Aquaculture – Development of an Environmental Code of Practice and Best Management Practices for Virginia – Year 2  

2011  92 Cumulative and Secondary Impacts: Developing a Working Waterfronts Plan for Virginia's Coastal Zone
  2012  92 Developing a Working Waterfronts Plan for Virginia's Coastal Zone
   2013  92 Developing a Working Waterfronts Plan for Virginia's Coastal Zone, Year 3
Virginia Tech  2006  92.04  An Economic Analysis of a Proposed Management Plan for the Public Oyster Grounds of the Rappahannock River  
  2007  92.02  Economic Implications of Promoting the Aquaculture Industry in Virginia: Alternative Management Strategies  
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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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