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Interviewee: Shey Conover

Role: Chief Operating Officer at the Island Institute

Date of Interview: January 23, 2015

Collection: Preserving the Working Waterfront

Click on the link below to view the interview.

Shey Conover Interview

Abstract: Shey Conover of the Island Institute in Maine, describes the Maine Working Waterfront Mapping Inventory effort that her organization (and partners) conducted in the mid 2000s. Conover describes how the Maine Working Waterfront Coalition strove to provide communities with tools to protect waterfront access. Conover discusses the need for a comprehensive inventory of access points, the importance of community engagement in this process and how the inventory revealed alarming data about the amount of prime working waterfront access in the state. She explains how this and other initiatives of the Maine Working Waterfront Coalition have informed both community efforts and the National Working Waterfront Network.

Transcript: My name is Shey Conover. I'm the Chief Operating Officer at the Island Institute. The Island Institute is a 30 year–old community development nonprofit. We work to sustain Maine's island and remote coastal communities and exchange ideas and experiences to further the sustainability of communities here and elsewhere.

Working waterfronts collectively define the soul and character of Maine's island and coast––are a major part of Maine's economy both from the ocean economy, fisheries standpoint. The lobstering industry is hugely important for Maine's coastal economy but also attracts a number of visitors who come here to experience the unique character of having an owner/operated fishery that you can sit on the dock and watch go out and talk with folks. So it's a very important part of Maine's heritage, of our current economy, and of the history of our place.

The Island Institute started the mapping working waterfront access inventory project back in 2005. The idea was born out of a collaboration with many organizations that were part of the Working Waterfront Coalition and was an effort to develop a tool collaboratively that could provide useful information that could be helpful at the local level for nonprofits and conservation organizations that were interested in supporting communities to protect working waterfront access and to state agencies that were looking to develop strategies to protect this important resource for the State.

In developing the methodology we worked really closely with a number of community partners to sit down over a series of maps to say okay what kind of information is helpful to you in a community? What are the characteristics of a working waterfront that are incredibly important to capture. There were a number of inventories that looked at aspects of waterfront access in Maine but there was not a complete inventory of exactly how much was remaining, what the characteristics of it were, how many were publicly versus privately held and so what are the highest priority characteristics to protect.

While the data set is helpful, what was just as helpful was the community conversations that happened during the data collection process. Often times you would be sitting around a table with five people from a community who all may be concerned about protecting working waterfront access but they had never sat down together to have a conversation about what it meant for their community.

One of the other things that I'm proud has been continued to be used is that the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program which is the bond program funded by the State has used our access as part of their review process so that towns that have wanted to apply to that program to receive bond funding to help purchase and protect working waterfront access have used our maps to identify the unique characteristics for the property that they want to protect, to identify how it fits with the other kind of assets in their community and why it's important to protect the property that they're looking to.

Some of the information wasn't surprising that the majority of access identified was privately owned and more vulnerable to conversion. A couple of more shocking things for me was the idea of prime working waterfront access. What do folks consider the most important characteristics of a high–quality working waterfront and three that came out pretty strongly for communities was that it should have all tide access, that it should have adequate parking and would have access to fuel. And so what was most surprising to me was actually the––how few properties currently have all three of those qualities and of those how even fewer actually currently support commercial fishing access.

The working waterfront inventory project was a great project. We're pleased that it was a collaborative effort among a number of partner organizations and communities. Just as important as the inventory is the ongoing relationships both at the State level with Maine's Working Waterfront Coalition and then also the relationships that has developed around supporting the creation of the National Working Waterfront Network. Ultimately it's about relationships and being able to share a variety of different tools that folks are developing to support and protect working waterfront access as a really important resource for the State of Maine but for coastal communities around the country.

This collection is part of an effort to document oral histories that focus on the application of specific tools for sustaining working waterfronts across the country. To learn more about the Preserving the Working Waterfront Oral History project, click here.