Section 1: Site Selection

It is important to consider water and land quality when building or expanding a marina. When done without the use of best practices or the expertise of a coastal resource engineer, the location and installation of lakeside and in-water structures may lead to several environmental issues; for example, accelerated coastal erosion and sedimentation.

This section provides an overview of issues and best management practices for you to consider as you design, build, update, or expand your marina.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Understand why you should adopt best management practices into your plans for siting, designing, building, and updating your marina.
  • Identify factors you should take into consideration when either siting a new marina or expanding an existing marina.
  • Have familiarity with legal and regulatory issues related to building or expanding a marina (or where to find more information on legal and regulatory issues).
  • Prepare to minimize disturbances to surrounding habitats and animal populations.

Best Management Practices

Redevelop Existing Sites

  • Plan new facilities to be located on previously disturbed sites, if applicable. Rather than disturbing pristine undeveloped areas (greenfields), use previously developed waterfront sites or brownfields. Permit reviewers often favor expansion of existing marinas over development of new facilities. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Proper shoreline planning encourages placement of boating facilities in developed areas.
  • Brownfield redevelopment restores property to productive uses; increases property value; reduces pressure to develop greenfields; increases local tax base; uses existing infrastructure; mitigates public health and safety concerns; and improves community image.
    • Note, depending on the prior use of the site, redevelopment may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Any contamination would need to be cleaned up prior to redevelopment to minimize exposure of the pollutant to the environment.
    • Due to the potential for increased cost of cleaning up a site prior to development, there are federal, state, and local financial assistance programs to encourage productive redevelopment of brownfields. For example, see: Michigan Brownfield Redevelopment (Michigan Economic Development Corporation), technical assistance offered by Wisconsin Remediation and Redevelopment Program plus Financial Resources (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).

Characterize Project Site

  • Identify habitat types and seasonal use of the site by fish, waterfowl, and other organisms.
  • Identify nearshore coastal processes to ensure any new development will not change these natural processes.
  • Ensure that any previous environmental contamination (e.g., underground tanks or contaminated sediments) has been cleaned up.
  • If necessary, hire a private consulting firm to perform a site assessment.

Identify Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species

  • Comply with all state and federal laws for rare and endangered species. Federally listed threatened and endangered species and species proposed for listing are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act as amended in 1973 (ESA). For information on federally listed and proposed species that occur in the Midwest, see: Midwest Technical Assistance Website (USFWS). For information on such species in other locations, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) Ecological Services Field Office in the state the project is located in. Regional Best Management Practice
  • For information on and regulations pertaining to state-listed threatened and endangered species, consult your state resource agency.
  • The majority of marina development and expansion projects, including dredging, will require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Pursuant to section 7 of the Federal ESA, federal agencies including the USACE must consult with the USFWS on permit actions that may affect federally listed threatened and endangered species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat for such species. The USACE must also confer with the USFWS on any action which is likely to jeopardized the continued existence of any species proposed for listing or that would result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat proposed to be designated for such species.
  • If federally listed or proposed species or designated or proposed critical habitat may be present on your project site, you may be required (via USACE permit requirements) to implement measures that would avoid and/or minimize any adverse effects to such species or designated or proposed critical habitat (e.g., adjust the timing or location of the project and/or implement a mitigation plan).
  • Work with the USACE and USFWS on a mitigation plan that would avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate impacts to the species or critical habitat, as needed.

Minimize Disturbance to Habitat, Fish, and Wildlife

  • Preserve nesting trees and other natural habitats where possible.
  • Avoid or mitigate any disturbances to submerged (rooted) aquatic vegetation.
  • Minimize disturbance to wetlands and indigenous (native) vegetation in coastal or shoreline areas.
    • Preserve, and when possible, increase wetland acreage and function.
    • Check state and federal laws regarding wetlands and take steps to avoid, minimize, or mitigate their disturbance. Any construction that extends into wetland areas requires authorization or permits from the state natural resources agency and the USACE. Regional Best Management Practice
      Typical restrictions state that a person should not:

      • Deposit or permit the placing of fill in a wetland
      • Dredge, remove, or permit the removal of soil or minerals from a wetland
      • Construct, operate, or maintain any use or development in a wetland
      • Drain surface water from a wetland
    • Mitigation is required in cases where loss of wetlands is unavoidable. Wetlands can be naturally created adjacent to marinas on the down current side of marinas.
    • To minimize impacts, new or expanding marinas should locate in water that is equal to or more than 4.5 feet deep at mean low water or in areas where their presence would not adversely affect: aquatic plants, productive macro-invertebrate communities, fish spawning or nursery areas, rare, threatened, or endangered species, or species in need of conservation, and/or historic waterfowl staging areas.
  • Schedule construction to avoid critical migration, nesting, and spawning periods of important species of fish and wildlife. Consult with your state natural resources agency for site-specific determinations of the potential effects of activities on wildlife populations. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Avoid waterfowl nesting and staging areas.
    • State regulations and siting criteria require new or expanding marinas to avoid areas that will adversely affect historic waterfowl staging areas.
    • Regional waterfowl populations converge in certain areas to breed and feed during specific times of year. The preservation of traditional nesting and staging areas is vital to the continued existence of many water bird species. Marinas must be located so that the increased boating activities associated with new or expanded marinas do not deter waterfowl from using these traditional areas.
    • For more information about coastal birds, see: Birds of Coastal Michigan (Michigan Sea Grant), Lake Erie Birding Trail (Ohio Department of Natural Resources), or Migratory Birds of the Great Lakes (Wisconsin Sea Grant).
    • Preserve, and when possible, increase wetland acreage and function.

Capitalize on Natural Channels and Bottom Configurations

Marina basin flushing is essential for maintaining water quality within your marina. Any new or expanding marinas should be constructed to enhance or maintain proper water movement. This will also minimize the need for dredging.

  • Engineer the marina to enhance or maintain proper water movement, including consideration of the impact on adjacent properties. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Locate on well-flushed waterways.
  • Avoid geographic impediments. For example, branches, coves, and other features that may inhibit complete mixing.
  • Consider bottom configurations that:
    • Offer a continuous, gradual downward slope from the berthing area into deeper water (considered ideal).
    • Avoid pits and sumps that are deeper than adjacent channels from where water may not circulate.
    • Avoid square corners in marina basins and narrow dead end channels to the greatest extent possible.
    • Utilize basin proportions that have length to width (and vice versa) aspect ratios no greater than 2:1.
  • Follow natural channels that:
    • Align entrance channels with natural channels to increase flushing.
    • Narrow the channel as much as possible within safe navigation allowances to accelerate flow between the jetties
    • Orient basin entrances to approach going upstream, i.e. channel alignments with the river channel that are greater than perpendicular  to minimize potential shoaling of navigation channel (reduction in navigable depth) and subsequent need for dredging.
    • Avoid long, winding channels connecting marinas to open water.
    • Where possible, utilize an offset entrance location to maximize flushing potential. For wide but slender breadth basins, establish two openings at opposite ends of the marina to promote flow-through currents.

Evaluate Upland Impacts

  • Investigate runoff drainage through the proposed site, and avoid siting buildings in drainage areas.
  • Avoid steep slopes where serious erosion can occur.
  • Identify and avoid areas with high groundwater during wet periods. Such areas are more prone to flooding.

Next: Designing Marina Facilities and Structures