Federal and state officials Thursday honored the first private docks in Key West to earn the "Clean Marina" designation for environmental protection and education.
Craig Hunt, the owner of Conch Harbor Marina, 951 Caroline St., and two top employees, dockmaster Diane Ogden and Gina Kennedy, general manager, received a deep blue "Clean Marina" flag that bears a pelican logo that means the marina has met the state's criteria.
"Today is only the beginning, not an end," said Hunt, who praised Ogden and Kennedy as the two who did the work needed for the marina to attain the state environmental status.
In Key West, marinas that belong to the city and the Navy have the "Clean Marina" status, which is a voluntary program for public and private sector docks.
"This is a very important decision the marina made," said Capt. Aylwyn Young of the U.S. Coast Guard, at a ceremony held Thursday morning outside at the downtown marina. "It's a voluntary state of Florida program where marinas take a proactive approach to environmental stewardship."
More than two years in the making, the latest "Clean Marina" in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's program became the 277th one in the state.
The 43-slip Conch Harbor also took advantage of a state grant program that will allow it to recoup up to 75 percent of the cost of installing a new sewage pump system, which is not required in order to reach the "Clean Marina" status.
"This facility took us up on that option as well as others in the area," said Ed Russell Jr., a DEP environmental consultant who works out of Marathon.
Russell said later that for Conch Harbor, the grant amounted to about $52,000 while another Florida marina had qualified to receive some $350,000 from the same program.
"Clean Marina" status has led to insurance discounts for some Florida marinas in the past, Russell said, but the program remains voluntary.
Florida on Thursday had 278 marinas flying the "Clean Marina" label, as one more had been added since Conch Harbor, said Russell.
Monroe County is home to 23 marinas, one boatyard and two marine retailers that hold the "Clean" program designation, which is based on criteria such as compliance with environmental regulations, clean facilities, a dedicated resource staff member on hand to educate boaters and publishing environmental policies.
"We're looking for these facilities to go above and beyond what is required and set an example for the others," Russell said.
Russell ticked off some ecofriendly highlights at Conch Harbor, including slip-side sewage pumpout services, laundry and restrooms, recyling, education for boaters using the facility, absorbent pads for boaters to use during fueling to prevent spills, and free bikes for customers.
Every little bit helps when it comes to preserving the Florida Keys' living coral reef and the quality of its federally protected waters, experts said at the event Thursday.
"You can have all the regulations in place you want," said Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "That's not going to happen without education and research. This is a fantastic program to give some tools to people."
Phil Goodman, of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, called the "Clean Marina" designation a milestone for the private marina.
"You're raising the bar in Key West for what a marina is supposed to be," Goodman said. "To me this flag means a lot of things. It also means, 'We care about being in Key West, and we care about being a good citizen to the community.'"
After a marina receives the designation, it is supposed to self-police itself with yearly reviews. Every five years, the state sends a representative to check the marina.
"I love this flag," said Ogden, as she held the brand new addition to Conch Harbor.
She pointed to the flagpole out by the docks from the second-story plaza where the program was held, saying she would climb up and hang the flag herself.
That wasn't happening Thursday, she said.
"I'm going to wait for a nonwindy day," Ogden said, laughing.