CASE STUDY: Addressing Working Waterfront Issues through the Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance, a Regional Ocean Partnership

Case Study
Addressing Working Waterfront Issues through the Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance, a Regional Ocean Partnership

South Atlantic Region – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida

2009 – present

In 2009 North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida along with various partners entered into a formal agreement, establishing a regional ocean partnership known as the Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance (GSAA). Working waterfronts is one of four Priority Issue Areas identified by the Governors to be of mutual importance to the sustainability of the region’s economic, cultural, and natural resources. As outlined in the GSAA Action Plan, the Working Waterfronts Issue Area Technical Team is charged with working toward balancing the needs of multiple waterfront stakeholders, and thus ensuring the viability of South Atlantic waterfronts. The working waterfronts portion of the GSAA Implementation Plan incorporates three objectives: enhanced capability of ports and waterfronts through expansion of infrastructure; preservation of traditional uses of working waterfronts by balancing public, commercial, port, residential, and military use; and determination of the viability of energy development of natural and human communities. By sustaining and enhancing robust cultural traditions, commerce, and use of public trust, the Working Waterfronts Team is addressing the goals set forth in the GSAA Action Plan.

The GSAA Working Waterfronts Action and Implementation Plan could serve as a model for other coastal regions interested in addressing issues associated with working waterfronts, not only at the state level, but on a regional scale.

Best Practices
The Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance is a multi-state effort working at a regional scale to address four priority issue areas identified by the states. More specifically, the Working Waterfronts Priority Issue Area has fostered a strong regional partnership among the South Atlantic states that provides: – A structure and forum for collaborating, coordinating, and sharing information on a regional scale to address working waterfront issues; and – An opportunity for engaging in regional collaboration when fiscal and geographical limitations exist.

Full Case Study Description

The South Atlantic states have a tradition of water-based activities  that have influenced, and have been influenced by, the region’s economy,  natural environment, and culture. The complexity of these interdependent  issues experiencing rapid change creates new challenges and an urgent  need for response. A growing understanding of the relationship of humans  with the marine environment has led us to explore ecosystem-based  approaches that engage multiple states. The situation calls for  developing coordinated regional actions by the states, in cooperation  with supporting partners, while leveraging multiple resources to help  address critical issues and sustain the region’s shared marine systems.
The South Atlantic states saw successful approaches to regional  partnerships in the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, Northeast, and West  Coast, and agreed that there would be value in establishing a similar  partnership in the South Atlantic. In response, North Carolina, South  Carolina, Georgia, and Florida along with various federal, academic,  non-profit, and industry partners (see partner list below) formed a  regional ocean partnership (ROP) known as the Governors’ South Atlantic  Alliance (GSAA). The GSAA is working to increase collaboration to  sustain and enhance the coastal and marine environment in light of  economic, social, and national defense missions. By providing a forum  for collaboration and coordination, the GSAA fosters cooperative actions  and informs decisions that support effective planning and resource  management.
The Southeastern states contain one-third of the nation’s 100 fastest- growing counties, with a majority of the growth concentrated in coastal  counties. The Southeast coastal region contains 10 of the nation’s top  150 ports for tonnage and more than a dozen major coastal military  installations including Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Charleston Air  Force Base, and U.S. Coast Guard District 7 in Miami. Challenges facing  South Atlantic waterfront users include declining water quality, loss of  public access and traditional uses, competing demands, and threats from  coastal hazards. “Working Waterfronts” was identified by the GSAA as one  of its four priority issues to provide regional solutions to these  challenges. The GSAA is the only ROP to identify working waterfronts as  a priority issue not only at the state level, but significant enough to  warrant regional attention. The strong military presence in the South  Atlantic region, as evidenced by the number of coastal military  installations located here, and the importance of ports for commerce,  were both important factors behind the designation of the Working  Waterfronts Priority Issue Area. Additionally, the unique cultural  population of the Gullah Geechee residing in this region, and the  dependency of a large percentage of the economies of the South Atlantic  states upon coastal tourism, factored into this decision.
The GSAA was formed on October 19, 2009 when the Governors of the four  South Atlantic states signed the Governors’ South Atlantic  Alliance Partnership Agreement. This landmark agreement established a  regional ocean partnership with three federal co-lead agencies (NOAA,  EPA, and DOI) along with numerous other partners that focus on  addressing ocean and coastal resource issues. By establishing this  voluntary partnership, GSAA promotes environmental sustainability,  disaster preparedness, and strong economies in four priority areas:  Healthy Ecosystems, Clean Coastal and Ocean Waters, Disaster- Resilient  Communities, and Working Waterfronts, all of which were identified by  the states to be of mutual importance to the sustainability of the  region’s resources.
The GSAA leadership created Issue Area Technical Teams tasked with  developing the GSAA Action Plan. Completed in December 2010, the Plan  addressed the key environmental, economic, and cultural topics facing  the South Atlantic coastal and ocean region. This was followed by the  release of the Implementation Plan in July 2011, which included  practical implementation steps for each action that required regional  approaches and partnerships to be successful. These steps provide  specific guidance for the region in accomplishing the goals set forth in  the Action Plan, but with the flexibility to respond to new  opportunities and address critical current issues.
The Alliance has been successful in meeting some objectives; however,  some challenges have threatened to derail progress including: 1)  organization stability due to leadership changes at the state level  (e.g., gubernatorial elections, fiscal administration); 2) continued  funding support for programmatic implementation; and 3) consensus on the  scope of regional efforts in a changing strategic and policy landscape  (e.g., National Ocean Policy, Regional Planning Boards, shifting  priorities in the states). Despite these challenges, communication has  been essential to GSAA success, both internally to build good  relationships among partners, and externally to keep stakeholders aware  and supportive of the efforts underway.
Actions Taken & Approaches Used
The Working Waterfronts Issue Area Technical Team (WWIATT) focuses on  economic and social resilience. A key component of their work is  identifying how changing waterfront uses affect the resilience of  coastal communities. The team seeks to sustain and enhance waterfront  cultural traditions, commerce, and uses of the region’s waterways by  supporting resilient coastal communities and economies. Composed of  members from all four states, federal support partners, ports, marine  trade associations and other partners, the Team tries to balance the  needs of multiple waterfront stakeholders in the South Atlantic region.  The WWIATT’s overarching objectives are to:
  • Improve the capability and vitality of ports and working  waterfronts through expansion of infrastructure and modes of access  while addressing cargo and ship-borne invasive species, dredging  impacts, and protection of natural resources.
  • Ensure sustainable economic viability of working waterfronts while  preserving traditional uses, including national defense, by balancing  suitable public, commercial, port, residential, and environmental uses  with best management practices.
  • Address the viability and effects of energy development on natural  and human communities and uses through planning and public  education.
To accomplish these overarching objectives set forth in the GSAA Action  Plan, the team developed an Implementation Plan that outlines specific  priorities and related tasks to be addressed in current and future work  plans.
Current Efforts & Next Steps
Port Capability and Vitality
Integrating regional long-range planning for both commercial and federal  ports is an important focus for the Working Waterfronts Team. Through  increased communication among member states, the team emphasizes multi- modal, multi-use capacity and promotes the use of existing  infrastructure and navigational channels. For example, the team  coordinated with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA)  to identify areas experiencing chronic navigational problems due to  sedimentation, and prioritize those that could be alleviated by  dredging. Information regarding the state of the Atlantic Intracoastal  Waterway was collected, evaluated, and compiled into a report. The final  task underway is to explore costs and other needs to achieve Waterway  maintenance. The completion of this project will help make the GSAA more  aware of challenges to the resiliency of local, regional, and state  economies through impacts to working waterfronts.
Future plans include research and studies that forecast long-range needs  of coastal ports and support community-based mapping of important  working waterfront sites.
Working Waterfront Viability and Preservation
In order to limit the loss of recreational, commercial, and military  waterfronts in the South Atlantic Region, the Team has worked with  partners at the Department of Defense to identify sites that support  military operations and training capacity, and made this information  available to coastal managers and the public through the GSAA Regional  Information and Management Systems portal ( The  Team has been identifying and compiling data sets for public boat ramps,  marinas, and ports for linking to the data portal, which is part of a  larger effort to create an integrated database of all traditional  working waterfronts and associated public access facilities in the  region.
Efforts are also underway to develop a “Clean and Resilient Marinas”  Initiative for the South Atlantic states adapted from an initiative  developed in the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and implemented in Florida.
The Team plans to promote public/private partnerships, support the use  of waterway and land-use planning and policy options, and promote the  development of heritage and nature-based tourism opportunities to  preserve working waterfronts in the South Atlantic Region.
Energy Development Planning and Education
The third working waterfront objective will be addressed based on the  availability of funding and ability to dedicate resources. The WWIATT  will plan for emerging industries by encouraging placement of the local  workforce in new jobs through partnership with local education systems  and ensuring proper training needs are provided to meet job requirements  for emerging energy industries. The Team will also encourage adaptation  of model land-use and water body management policies that address energy  development issues by supporting development standards that are in  concert with marine spatial planning, consistent with energy development  needs, and balance environmental, social, and economic concerns. In  addition, the Team will work to support “no net loss” of working  waterfront access during development of offshore energy, particularly to  sustain military training and operational capabilities, and by working  with local governments to identify mitigation measures when loss is  unavoidable.

Key Partners
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration U.S. Geological Survey U.S. Environmental Protection Agency U.S. Department of Defense – U.S. Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard/Army Corps of Engineers/Army FL Department of Environmental Protection FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission GA Department of Natural Resources NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources NC Wildlife Resources Commission SC Department of Health & Environmental Control SC Department of Natural Resources SC Sea Grant Consortium University of North Carolina System South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association South Atlantic Regional Research Program SE Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability The Nature Conservancy

Kristine Cherry Coordinator, Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance Robert Swett Coordinator, Boating and Waterway Management Program, Florida Sea Grant April Turner Coastal Communities Extension Specialist, SC Sea Grant Consortium

GSAA website:; GSAA Action Plan (2010) (; GSAA Implementation Plan (2011) (

Last updated 05-Dec-14

Governors' South Atlantic Alliance


  • Southeast

Geographic ScopeGovernance Structure


  • Loss of commercial and/or recreational access and associated user conflicts
  • Economic development
  • Environmental impacts: resource protection, habitat loss, water quality degradation
  • Hazards of sea level rise, erosion, flooding
  • Loss or preservation of heritage (cultural, maritime, etc.)
  • Impacts on tourism industry


Waterfront Uses

  • Public access (docks/wharfs/beach/park)
  • Waterborne passenger transportation (ferries, water taxis, cruise ship facilities, etc.)
  • Marine (shipping and storage) terminals
  • Water-dependent industrial, including powerplants
  • Maritime support (tugs, barges facilities)
  • Marina/drystack
  • Pier/dock/wharf/lift
  • Boat ramp/lift
  • Boat building
  • Boat repair
  • Offshore energy development and production (oil, gas, wind)
  • Coastal military bases/other governmental facilities
  • Commerical fishing
  • Fish processing
  • Recreational fishing
  • Recreational boating, kayaking, other recreational watercraft
  • Coastal tourism

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