States of the ocean
In the absence of federal leadership many coastal states have had to take it upon themselves to plan for the protection and sustainable development of the ocean waters off their coasts. This week Massachusetts became the first state to initiate a comprehensive, ecosystem-based plan for managing that portion of the world ocean that lies within three miles of its coast. There are a wide variety of potentially conflicting activities that will need to be addressed and accommodated in the plan including recreational and commercial fishing and boating, aquaculture and energy facilities siting.
The Massachusetts legislature has set December 2009 as the deadline for completing the plan. (GW)
Patrick signs bill to better manage ocean resources
May 28, 2008
Massachusetts today became the first state in the country to embark on the ambitious initiative to create a single document to cover a myriad of ocean activities, from wind farms and ocean fishing to whale watching and environmental conservation.
The Oceans Act of 2008 will even include steps to protect the cod — a fish so central to the state’s early development that a carving of the "sacred cod" still hangs in the Massachusetts House chambers.
"This law will help protect our vital natural resources and balance traditional uses with new ones, such as renewable energy," Gov. Deval Patrick said during a bill-signing ceremony outside the New England Aquarium with Boston Harbor as a backdrop.
The new law requires Massachusetts to make sure all decisions and permits related to state-controlled waters up to three miles from the coast conform to a single, science-based management plan, instead of being considered on a case by case basis.
The bill creates a 17-member Ocean Advisory Commission to help Massachusetts’ environmental secretary develop the plan over the next 18 months. They will be assisted by an ocean science advisory council, consisting of nine scientists who have expertise in marine sciences and data management.
The plan would cover everything from cruise ships and recreational sailing to commercial activities such as liquefied natural gas terminals, wind turbines and the sand and gravel industry.
The bill is also designed to help guard the fragile ocean habitat including protecting fishing stocks of cod and creating safeguards for the migration paths of endangered right whales.
Environmental activists have long pushed for the law.
"It’s a monumental step forward for ocean conservation and stewardship," said Priscilla Brooks of the Conservation Law Foundation. "This will provide a blueprint to enable the state to balance commercial use, personal recreation and the protection of underwater ocean habitats and wildlife."
Massachusetts’ miles of coastal waters — from the fishing port of New Bedford to the beaches of Cape Cod and the vacation hotspots of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard — are increasingly coming under pressure.
One of the most contentious projects is a proposal by Cape Wind Associates to build 130 windmills across 25 miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound. The cables bringing the power to land would run through state waters. There’s nothing in the new law to block the project.
A second offshore wind farm has been proposed near in Buzzards Bay and a company pushing for a liquefied natural gas terminal near Fall River is floating the idea of building an offshore berth that would allow tankers to unload the liquefied natural gas into a four-mile pipeline.
The law specifically allows for "appropriate scale" offshore renewable energy facilities in state waters except for the waters off the Cape Cod National Seashore, and is also designed to manage the development of technologies that haven’t even been proposed, like wave energy technology.
Other states, including California, have laws in place to create marine conservation areas, but Massachusetts’ law is more comprehensive.
"This is really looking at opportunities for renewable energy, opportunities to better manage coastal habitats," said Tom McCann of the Ocean Conservancy. "Its going to provide a road map for the rest of New England and the country."
McCann said Congress should follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass federal oceans protection legislation.
When finished, Massachusetts’ plan will be incorporated into the state’s existing coastal zone management plan and be enforced through the state’s regulatory and permitting processes, including the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.
"We have well-established laws for the use of our land, and now we will have the necessary framework and process in place for the management of one of the commonwealth’s greatest assets - our ocean," said Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth.