Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) Program Summary

The purpose of the federal BIG Program is to provide grants to construct, renovate, and maintain boating infrastructure facilities for transient recreational vessels at least 26 feet long. The BIG Program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and provides two levels of grant funding:

  • "BIG Tier 1 – State” (formerly “Tier I”) grants ($200,000 in federal funds per year per state), and
  • “BIG Tier 2 - National” (formerly “Tier II”) grants (maximum $1.5 million in federal funds per project). BIG Tier 2 - National grants are nationally competitive.

Complete requirements of the BIG Program were originally published in the Federal Register as a Final Rule (50 CFR 86) in 2001. After years of success, an extensive review of the BIG Program was undertaken and new requirements are contained in the Final Rule (dated May 6, 2015). BIG program requirements begin on Page 26161.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to review all applicable federal and state requirements before submitting a BIG application. Five issues/concerns that commonly come up are:

  1. BIG is a reimbursement program…DNR will not “up front” any money. Additionally, applicants cannot start a project until entering into a formal agreement with DNR. Any costs incurred prior to the agreement being approved by DNR are the sole responsibility of the applicant and will not be reimbursed by DNR.

  2. The maximum reimbursement under BIG is 75% of the total project costs, however, BIG Tier 2 - National projects are highly competitive so it may be helpful to provide significantly more match and to have multiple partners. Although state funds may possibly be used as match for publicly owned facilities, state funds cannot be used as match at privately owned marinas, even if the marinas are open to the general public. Privately owned marinas must either provide their own match or find non-state/federal partners.

  3. The marina/boating facility should typically have at least 6’ of mean low water (mlw). Although BIG funding may be used for dredging, significant limitations/restrictions apply (Subpart B §86.15, Page 26164).

    As noted in the Final Rule, you must certify in the grant application that you have enough resources to maintain the dredged area at the approved width and depth for the useful life of the BIG-funded facility. Although publicly owned facilities may apply for state maintenance dredging funds, there is no guarantee that state funds will be available. Privately owned marinas are not eligible for state maintenance dredging funds even if the marinas are open to the general public and have received a BIG grant.

    The responsibility of maintaining 6 feet of depth MLW is entirely up to the owner(s) of the facility, and this would have to be surveyed at the expense of the owner if such depth is in doubt. The consequence of a BIG-funded facility not being able to maintain this depth is that the owner of the facility would have to return100% of the federal and state funding used for the entire project (not just the dredging). DNR reserves the right to conduct bathymetric survey to verify the water depth.

  4. A “Land Control Agreement” (LCA) will be required on any facility except those owned by DNR (which are already bound to the terms of the agreement). A LCA is a legally binding contract that specifies the responsibilities of the recipient for the expected “useful life” of the improvements, which is generally 20-30 years. If a facility is unable or unwilling to comply with all federal/state requirements in the LCA for the project’s useful life, the owner of the facility would have to return all of the grant funding used for the project (with no proration).

  5. Should the facility be privately owned, the owner would be required to record the receipt of the federal funds and the existence of the LCA in their property’s deed. In the event of a transfer of ownership of the property, these responsibilities and commitments would be passed on to the next owner. This is not a property lien, just shows there is a federal interest and the property must remain to serve its intended purpose through the useful life.

  6. How to Apply:

    The reimbursement form for waterway improvement project is required for all BIG projects because the BIG program is under Waterway Improvement Fund (WIF) Grant Program and sometimes WIF provides the required non-federal match depending on the project eligibility.

    Who to Contact:

    Carla Fleming, Director, Boating Implementation Program, 410-260-8447,

    Don O’Neill, Grant Specialist, 410-260-8435, don.o’