Patrick Administration Releases Final Blueprint for Managing Development in State Waters
Ocean plan establishes new protections for environmental resources, sets parameters for offshore wind energy development
BOSTON - Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles today released the nation's first comprehensive plan to protect critical marine resources and foster sustainable uses in the state's ocean waters. The ocean management plan - finalized six months after release of the draft plan, in accordance with the Oceans Act of 2008 - provides new protections for critical environmental resources in nearly two-thirds of the Commonwealth's coastal waters and sets standards for the development of community-scale and commercial-scale offshore wind energy as well as other infrastructure.
"Just as we do with our development on land, we can and must plan for the long term when it comes to the development of the Commonwealth's waters. With this ocean plan, Massachusetts is setting a national precedent as we protect our ocean environment while harnessing its renewable energy potential," said Governor Deval Patrick.
Compared with the draft plan, released July 1, the final ocean plan raises standards for the protection of the most sensitive marine species and habitats, allows for more community-scale wind energy development, creates a formal role for regional planning authorities in wind energy planning, and outlines a five-year, $2.5 million dollar research plan to be pursued in partnership with, and funded by, the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, a private nonprofit group.
"For generations, the sea has sustained the Bay State - going forward, the Commonwealth will be a much better steward of these precious resources," said Secretary Bowles. "The final ocean plan is the culmination of more than a year of assembling the best available science and engaging stakeholders to develop a far-ranging and precedent-setting blueprint for managing our ocean waters."
On May 28, 2008, Governor Patrick signed the Oceans Act of 2008, passed with the strong support of Senate President Therese Murray and other legislative leaders, which required the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to develop a comprehensive ocean management plan, with a draft plan due by June 30, 2009 and a final plan promulgated by December 31, 2009. Governor Patrick also appointed a 17-member Ocean Advisory Commission (OAC) to assist Secretary Bowles in this task. In addition, Secretary Bowles appointed an Ocean Science Advisory Council (SAC) to assist him in the planning process. EEA published a draft of the plan on July 1 for an extensive public review and comment period, which closed on November 23. The plan was revised and finalized based on the over 300 written comments and testimony presented at five public hearings and 20 information meetings.
The final ocean management plan provides a comprehensive framework for managing, reviewing and permitting proposed uses of state waters. Previously, development in state waters has been handled on an ad hoc basis. The plan provides a roadmap for both environmental protection and sustainable use of ocean resources going forward.
Like the draft plan, the final ocean plan creates three management categories for the planning area defined by the Oceans Act: coastal waters at least 0.3 nautical miles seaward of mean high water (excluding the most developed harbor and port areas), and then extending to the three-mile limit of state control.
The Prohibited Area - located in the region of state waters east of Lower Cape Cod coincident with the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary and abutting the Cape Cod National Seashore - is an area designated by law where most uses, activities and facilities are expressly prohibited. In the Multi-Use Area, which constitutes nearly two-thirds of the planning area, strong new protections are established for critical species like rare marine mammals and avifauna and for critical habitat such as eelgrass beds and submerged rocky areas.
Finally, in two areas comprising just 2 percent of the planning area, the plan identifies zones suitable for commercial-scale wind energy development. Adjacent to these areas, EEA has identified potentially suitable locations in federal waters for commercial-scale wind energy development. At the Commonwealth's request, the US Minerals Management Service has convened a federal-state task force to assist in the planning and regulatory review associated with leasing areas of federal waters for large-scale wind energy development.
The entire planning process included an extensive public participation program, which encompassed 18 public listening sessions held across the state to gather initial information, five public workshops to introduce the planning approach and solicit feedback before the release of the draft framework, regular meetings of the Ocean Advisory Commission and the Ocean Science Advisory Council, five formal public hearings following the release of the draft plan, and hundreds of meetings with stakeholders such as pilots, fishermen, non-governmental organizations, renewable energy experts and academia during the development of the draft and final plans.
As informed by comments submitted in writing and delivered orally at public meetings, the Secretary made modifications to the management and administrative frameworks in the draft plan. One of the most significant changes was made to the standards protecting the most sensitive or unique environmental resources; those standards were tightened to ensure that proposed projects will not have significant impacts. Included in these siting and performance criteria are measures that presume that a project sited outside of the specifically protected resource areas represents on its face a less environmentally damaging practicable alternative than a location within the resource areas; these criteria also establish a balancing test whereby public benefits must outweigh detriments to the resources in order for the project to be allowed in an area with a specifically protected resource. The standards also require that in environmental permitting all practicable steps be taken to avoid impacts on these resources.
With regard to the two designated wind energy areas - off the Elizabeth Islands and south of Nomans Land, off Martha's Vineyard - the final Ocean Management Plan also grants those regional planning authorities with statutorily derived regulatory authority the ability to define the appropriate scale of renewable energy projects in state waters of their member communities. Under the Ocean Act and the ocean management plan, the concept of "appropriate scale" includes such factors as protecting interests associated with fishing, fowling and navigation; ensuring public safety; and minimizing incompatibility with existing uses and visual impacts.
For community-scale renewable energy projects, based in part on the comments of the regional planning authorities, the plan allocates a set number of turbines to each of the state's seven regional planning authorities on a sliding scale based on the region's length of shoreline and area of coastal waters and also requires that the host community endorse the project and that economic benefits from the project - in terms of energy, royalties, and/or other municipal improvements - are directed back to the host community.
To ensure successful execution and the continued, informed evolution of ocean management in the Commonwealth, the plan establishes policies and procedures for updates and amendments, application of mitigation and compensation fees, disbursements from an Ocean Resources and Waterways Trust funded by those fees, and mechanisms for continued stakeholder input, expert advice, and partnerships.
In addition to the management and administrative frameworks of the final plan, an accompanying volume provides a comprehensive baseline assessment cataloguing the current state of knowledge regarding human uses, natural resources, and other ecosystem factors in Massachusetts and surrounding ocean areas. The plan also defines priorities for ocean management-related science and research needs over the next five years. These include further data to define and/or characterize sensitive habitats and certain water-dependent uses, enhanced monitoring to better understand the effects of climate change across Massachusetts coastal waters, and a data network for sharing information on ocean resources and uses.
"The plan released today is a first significant step in marine spatial planning in the United States, setting Massachusetts on a path toward comprehensive ecosystem-based ocean management," said Deerin Babb-Brott, EEA Assistant Secretary for Oceans. "The intent of the ocean plan is to serve as a vital, adaptive, living document that will guide stakeholders and user groups, resource managers and the public in the protection and balanced use of our marine waters."
Beginning this month, state agencies will implement the plan by undertaking public rule-making to bring existing environmental regulations into compliance with the increased protection required by the final plan. In addition, EEA will continue to work with the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership and the Science Advisory Council to implement the five-year research plan. This research agenda will ensure that the Commonwealth continues to address the most pressing management and science issues identified in this final plan, including the need to fully characterize marine habitats, identify and respond to the cumulative impacts of human uses and climate change, and carefully monitor the ocean system to track the effectiveness of management measures. As part of this effort, EEA will continue to engage stakeholders and the public in the development and review of new information and any modifications to the plan. Also, on an annual and on-going basis, EEA will monitor the success of the plan by measuring actual performance against formally defined indicators developed as part of the science framework.