Your tax dollars at work:

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has approved a “Boating Infrastructure Grant” of nearly $1.5 million to help expand the Charleston City Marina.

As reported on our front page Wednesday, the stated goal of the federal program under which the grant was obtained “is to promote water access and opportunities for recreational anglers and boaters, including through construction projects.”

More “water access” sounds great.

Yet how many aspiring “recreational anglers and boaters” around here have access to enough money for not just the cost of a boat but the cost of renting a space at the City Marina? And while we’re on the “water access” subject:

Acting on a reader’s hot tip, I ventured forth into the muggy Friday afternoon to behold this galling sign at the entrance to the City Marina’s docks:

“Slipholders and their guests only beyond this point.”

Translation: Access denied.

Many native Charlestonians, including me, recall a kinder and gentler City Marina where we could stroll around while checking out its wide assortment of vessels. We also remember when finding a car parking space there was a lot easier — and cheaper. And we long for a lost age when there was a river (wasn’t it called the Ashley?) where there is now a massive boat parking lot.

That growing intrusion on nature by numerous marinas, including the City one, stretches up and into the river past the James Island Connector, T. Allen Legare Jr. and World War I Memorial bridges.

And evidently even more boats are going to park in our river. The City Marina Company, which is a subsidiary of The Beach Company and leases the property from the city of Charleston, intends to move forward on the $5 million project within the next year or so. From our story: “The current plan is to take the docks out 140 feet farther into the Ashley, creating about 630 feet of new dock space.”

Oh well, maybe the continuing creep into the channel can at least necessitate the removal of abandoned boats marring what’s left of the river vista.

Practical downsizing

Again, though, before imagining that you’ll enjoy enhanced “water access” from this deal, ponder our story’s revelation that the new slips “would be able to hold larger boats, sailboats and cruisers, in the 40- to 80-foot range, since the setup would be into deeper water.”

Bought a 40-footer lately?

Hey, if the goal is to increase water access, why not use that nearly $1.5 million to buy boats for 300 local folks who want them but don’t have them?

Heck, why not make it $15 million for 3,000 of the forlornly boat-less? Five grand (do the math) should reel in a nice little new jon boat, trailer and motor. After all, we’d rate a high-volume discount.

Another benefit of that scaled-down concept: It limits gas consumption and damage from boat wakes.

How to decide who gets the boats? How about a contest of 700-word essays about the enduring charms of our Lowcountry tidal creeks?

And instead of casting our hopes on the vagaries of federal grants, why not press for an Affordable Boating Act?

OK, so America’s fiscal credibility is rapidly leaking as our record national debt of nearly $17 trillion keeps rising.

However, in the past week our president has re-asserted all Americans’ rights to health insurance and a college education. He, and many other big and little shots, also seem convinced that we have rights to cell phones and Internet access.

So why shouldn’t we have a right to “water access,” too?

At the current rate of printing money we don’t have to pay for a proliferating array of newfound “rights,” what’s another $15 million for “water access” in these parts?

Against the current

Of course, as boaters know, the purchase price of a presumably floating vessel is just the start of its expense.

That means our Affordable Boating Act must provide not just federal funding of boat buys but of fuel, maintenance and life-jacket costs that flow along with “water access.”

This inclusive idea might take a while to reach the high tide of public demand needed to crank up Congress.

Meanwhile, though, if you want to see a bunch of boats, just take the long view from those aforementioned bridges.

Because until our Affordable Boating Act becomes law, that’s as much access to those City Marina slips as most of us will get.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.