Bald eagle, cattails, boat dock, fish

Siting Considerations and Marina Design

Unit 1

The natural plant and animal communities found in coastal areas serve multiple functions. Wetlands, for example, provide habitat for fish and birds. They form a natural buffer against incoming storms and act as a filter to purify stormwater runoff. Wetlands also minimize erosion and attract tourists interested in bird watching, hunting, and fishing. Because of the ecological, economic, recreational, and aesthetic values inherent in coastal resources, it is important that shoreline development not lessen or detract from coastal features.

When selecting a site for a new marina or when expanding a marina, consider how you can minimize your impact on the following resources:

  • Submerged aquatic vegetation
  • Wetlands
  • Rare, threatened, or endangered species
  • Spawning, nursery, or propagation areas for fish
  • Shallow water habitat
  • Colonial-nesting bird areas
  • Existing forest land
  • Nesting areas for forest-dwelling bird species
  • Natural heritage areas
  • Tributary streams
  • Waterfowl staging areas
  • Adjacent shoreline and nearshore processes

Many factors influence the long-term effect a marina will have on water quality within the immediate vicinity of the marina and the adjacent waterway. Initial marina site selection is the most important factor. Selecting a site that has favorable hydrological and geographical characteristics and requires the least amount of modification can reduce both the potential impacts and the expense of addressing adverse environmental or public impacts.

Marina design is another crucial element in determining the environmental impact of your operation. For example:

  • Roads and parking areas may send stormwater directly into adjacent waterways.
  • Dredging may re-suspend toxic compounds in sediment such as heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and synthetic chemicals.
  • Hazardous chemicals may be leached into the water from piers and other similar structures.
  • Broken or degraded floats may release buoyant debris, which birds and fish mistake for food.

Finally, the location and installation of lakeside and in-water structures may lead to accelerated coastal erosion and sedimentation. Sedimentation, the settling of soil particles through the water column, that can result from construction efforts may bury bottom-dwelling organisms, block sunlight, reduce the feeding efficiency of visual feeders, clog fish gills, cause shoaling (reducing the navigation depth), and lead to additional dredging costs. By recognizing potential outcomes early on, many environmental impacts can be avoided during the design and construction process.

Best Management Practices and Legal Setting

This Unit includes one section of best management practices on site selection, an overview of the legal setting and a Unit Review. The following list provides an outline of best management practices that you will see in each section.

Section 1: Site Selection

  • Redevelop existing sites
  • Characterize project site
  • Identify rare and endangered species
  • Minimize disturbance to habitat, fish, and wildlife
  • Capitalize on natural channels and bottom configurations
  • Evaluate upland impacts

Section 2: Designing Marina Facilities and Structures

  • Obtain appropriate permits
  • Use open design fixed or floating piers to enhance water circulation
  • Use environmentally neutral materials
  • Limit shaded areas over the water
  • Minimize need for dredging
  • Minimize the impacts of dredging
  • Employ nonstructural shore erosion control measures
  • Conserve water
  • Anticipate recycling needs

Unit Review

Legal Setting

Before reviewing the best management practices, please take a few moments to review the legal setting for marina site selection. This overview of federal laws and regulations provides you with a basis of understanding. It is a starting point, however, it is not a complete reference. Please consult your state officials for complete requirements. Also, see: State Laws page for your state.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

The majority of marina development and expansion projects, including dredging, will require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 gives the USACE authority to regulate all works and structures in navigable waters of the United States.

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (aka the Clean Water Act)

As part of the permitting process, a state agency will also review potential water quality impacts for newly proposed or expanding marinas through the 401 Water Quality Certification Program. Section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (aka the Clean Water Act) regulates discharges of dredged or fill materials into navigable waters, including wetlands.

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA)

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA) requires a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) review of potential effects on fish and wildlife from proposed water resource development projects. The FWCA requires that fish and wildlife resources receive equal consideration to other project features. In addition, it also requires federal agencies (e.g., USACE) that construct, license or permit water resource development projects to first consult with the USFWS and relevant state (e.g., WDNR) and local agencies to mitigate impacts on fish and wildlife.

Endangered Species Act

The federal Endangered Species Act states that rare and endangered species may not be disturbed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and often the state Department of Natural Resources must assess all proposed development sites for endangered and threatened species and habitat protection areas.

Environmental Review

When selecting a site for a new or expanding a marina, consult federal, state and local authorities to seek approval prior to your planned activity (e.g., construction, dredging). Also consider your state’s definition of and regulations related to public trust bottomlands and tributaries. See: State Laws for your state’s regulations.

  •  Regulatory agencies typically evaluate marina projects for impacts on:
  • Water quality
  • Stream buffers
  • Wetlands
  • Wildlife corridors
  • Wild and scenic rivers
  • Navigational safety
  • Fisheries habitat, including barriers to migration

Many counties and municipalities along the Great Lakes and communities along inland lakes and streams have developed local land use programs. Local planning offices are the first point of review for most development projects.

Land use programs vary slightly from county to county. Therefore, local programs and ordinances should always be consulted. These programs often aim to:

  • Minimize adverse impacts on water quality from pollutants that are discharged from structures or conveyances, or pollutants that runoff from surrounding lands.
  • Conserve fish, wildlife and plant habitat.
  • Establish best management practices for development that accommodates growth.

Submerged Lands Lease Program or Bottomland Conveyances

A marina located on Great Lakes public trust bottomlands will require authorization from a state agency, often in the form of a lease. The lease requires an annual fee be paid to the agency and will contain conditions for the use and occupancy of the subject bottomlands. Consult your state for additional information.

Dredging Permits and Water Quality

See explanation in Unit 1 Legal Setting (401 Water Quality Certification Program, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

 Next: Section 1: Site Selection