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Five tips on how to get your share of Boating Infrastructure Grant Funds

by Scott Croft 18 Mar 07:20 PDT
Before: The Port of Rochester, New York, received a $1.5 million Boating Infrastructure Grant to help turn this parking lot into a transient marina. © Scott Croft

Recreational boaters like to go places, but to welcome them and take advantage of the spending they bring, you need safe dockage for the day or night. The Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) program funnels federal taxes paid by recreational boaters on the sale of motorboat and small engine fuel back to the states to attract visiting boaters. For FY 2021, there will be approximately $20 million in funds available to local governments, port agencies, public and private marinas, and boat clubs. However, before applying for a grant, you need to know how the program works.

BoatUS has five tips that can increase the chances that your organization will get the BIG funds it needs.

  1. BIG is a commitment. First championed through Congress by Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) in 1998, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) manages the BIG program and it is administered through state boating, parks and conservation agencies. Start by learning which agency in your state administers the funds. Remember that the grant is awarded to the state-designated agency, which needs to ensure that the funds are spent properly according to federal regulations. That includes a commitment to maintain the transient access for its useful life as defined in the grant documents. During this period, these regulations require prior authorization from both the state agency and FWS before selling or transferring ownership of a BIG-funded facility, and it must continue to be maintained under the terms of the program by the new owner until the end of the infrastructure's useful life.
  2. Public access must be maintained. During that useful life period, reasonable public access at a BIG-funded facility must be maintained, along with BIG program signage indicating the funding source for the transient dockage. Facilities must be open during boating season — closing to the public for private events or not allowing tie-ups isn't permitted. Any transient dockage fees charged to boaters cannot vary significantly from the prevailing local rate.
  3. There's a "target" audience. The matching grant program, which offers both noncompetitive (Tier 1) and competitive (Tier 2) funding streams, requires a minimum of 25% of funding to come from state, local or private sources. Towns, public and private marinas, boat clubs, and conservation agencies can use BIG funds to welcome passing boaters for the day or up to 15 days in port with the key point being that facilities must target transient (traveling) recreational (noncommercial) vessels 26 feet in length and larger, or what is generally considered to be a nontrailerable boat. If you're thinking of applying to use BIG funds to only offer more seasonal boat slips, fuhgeddaboutit.
  4. Sharing is OK - just not too much. In addition to providing safe, protected harborage, BIG dollars can be used to install conveniences such as restrooms, bathing facilities, fuel docks, electricity, water and sewage utilities, laundries, and recycling and pumpout stations. There are also some limited funds for dredging. It's OK if some of these amenities are utilized or shared by nontransient boaters or full-time marina customers, but your BIG funding application will be reduced proportionately or, in the case of competitive Tier 2 grants, may not be awarded if it doesn't focus enough on the needs of visiting boaters.
  5. Start now for 2021 funds. Since inception, more than $235 million has been provided for BIG projects, funding more than 6,000 transient berths across the U.S. The program has a recurring annual application deadline, typically in the late summer to early fall, varying by state. BoatUS encourages applicants to start now if you're interested in applying for FY 2021 funds (to be disbursed in 2021). Visit www.fws.gov/wsfrprograms/Subpages/GrantPrograms/BIG/BIG.htm to learn more. In addition, the States Organization for Boating Access offers a free downloadable publication, An Applicant's Guide to the Boating Infrastructure Grant Program.

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