Business Leaders Form Alabama Working Waterfront Coalition

Thirty-nine representatives of water-dependent businesses from Orange Beach, Ala., to Bayou La Batre, Ala., recently formed the Alabama Working Waterfront Coalition (AWWC) to highlight the economic value of their industries and the issues threatening their sustainability.

Shrimp and oyster fishermen, shipbuilders, seafood processors, Realtors and other business leaders realize the need to protect water-dependent businesses and keep them afloat as land-use and development pressures threaten their water access and dock space.

The AWWC will help inform elected government officials and agency representatives, especially those who do not live near the coast, about the financial value and other value of the working waterfront, said Brett Dungan, who is a founding member of the coalition.

Dungan, president of Master Marine Inc. shipyard in Bayou La Batre, said the company has been building and repairing boats for more than 45 years. It wouldn’t exist without water access.

“In order to continue providing high-quality fabrication and repair services, it is imperative that we have access to deep water, such as that afforded by the Bayou La Batre Navigational Channel,” Dungan said.

Master Marine is just one Alabama business that depends on the water as its lifeline, and similar businesses along the country’s coastlines are facing development pressure and land-use changes that are putting them in jeopardy.

“The Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coast are not alone in this issue,” said Jody Thompson, extension agent at the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center.

Working through the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Thompson serves as a facilitator for the Alabama Working Waterfront Coalition.

“Areas from Key West, Fla., to North Carolina to Maine are dealing with these issues,” she said. “Louisiana is in the unique situation of rebuilding its working waterfronts from the ground up.”

In an effort to inventory water-dependent businesses, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium has funded a $90,000 grant that will catalog businesses and associated infrastructure in Southwest Alabama.

Researchers with the Auburn University Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology will create a database of all businesses operating along the coastline from just south of Mobile, Ala., to the Mississippi border. The businesses also will be mapped.
This information will serve as a baseline for analyzing change in an effort to provide recommendations for sustaining the local community culture and economy, while dealing with the realities of coastal development.

•About the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium

This organization supports scientific research, education and outreach programs to foster the conservation and sustainable development of oceanic and coastal resources for the benefit of both the economy and the environment.