Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles yesterday released the nation’s first draft comprehensive ocean management plan for public review and comment. A final version of the plan is due at the end of the year.

The draft plan would allow for small wind farms of 10 or fewer turbines off the immediate Vineyard coast and larger wind farms to be developed south and west of Nomans Land and west of Cuttyhunk. It will also extend the regulatory authority of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to certain ocean projects.

Ocean Act plan, Marthas Vineyard

Ocean Act plan, Martha's Vineyard

The draft ocean management plan designates areas for ocean development, and protections. Wind energy development projects would be banned along the Cape Cod National Sea Shore, but allowed in large area of state and federal waters southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.

The ocean management plan is part of an effort to regulate and offer guidance to offshore developments, including wind turbines, cables and pipelines, and sand mining projects. About two percent of state waters would be opened to commercial wind development, capable of supporting about 600 total megawatts, enough to power up to 200,000 homes, according to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“Throughout our history, Massachusetts state waters have supported an array of uses along with vital habitat for a wide variety of species,” Gov. Deval Patrick in a press release. “The draft ocean plan combines the best available science with extensive stakeholder input to present a new standard of protection and sustainable use for our oceans.”

On May 28, 2008, Governor Patrick signed the Oceans Act of 2008, which required Secretary Bowles 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 addition, Secretary Bowles appointed an Ocean Science Advisory Council (SAC) to assist him in the planning process.

“The Commonwealth’s waters today are facing an ever expanding universe of potential uses. This draft plan allows us to address these opportunities and challenges in a proactive, not reactive, fashion,” Secretary Bowles said in a press release. “We now move into the next round of public review and input and look forward to hearing the public’s view of the stewardship this draft plan establishes for these shared natural resources.”

Once made final, the ocean management plan will provide a comprehensive framework for managing, reviewing, and permitting proposed uses in state waters. Up to now, 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, Secretary Bowles’s office said.

Under the proposal, areas within one mile of inhabited shoreline, with high concentrations of marine avifuana or whales, marine uses like fishing or shipping, or regulated airspace would be off limits to large renewable energy projects. A band wrapped around Cape Cod from the waters outside Chatham to the northwestern tip of Provincetown allows no development. Smaller projects would be permissible throughout other state waters.

The areas approved for commercial development, near the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands and southwest of Nomans Land, would likely be “presumptively approved” for developments, easing the burdens for developers, Mr. Bowles said Tuesday.

“I think the Commonwealth will want to put those areas out to bid, and they would be, relatively speaking, on the fast track for development,” Mr. Bowles told reporters on a conference call. The state plan would block a plan designed to install between 90 and 120 turbines in Buzzards Bay.

The Patriot Renewables firm’s South Coast Wind Project, planned for waters at the mouth of Buzzards Bay between Cuttyhunk Island and the mainland, and north of Naushon Island were aimed at areas that the draft proposals protect against large-scale wind developments, because they proved too environmentally valuable and too tight navigationally.

Mr. Bowles said he is uncertain whether the South Coast Wind Project’s developer Jay Cashman will decide to move his project to one of the designated spaces, which are adjacent to federal waters the agency identified as potentially acceptable locations. State jurisdiction ends three miles from shore. Officials said they were using the same criteria they used on state waters to identify border areas that could ultimately prove acceptable.

“Essentially, the judgment of the plan is that the cumulative impact on environmental resources is too high, it’s a relatively constrained area from a navigational standpoint,” said Mr. Bowles, adding, “Ultimately, the conclusion of the plan is it’s not the best place in state waters to develop commercial-scale wind.”

The Cape Wind energy project is beyond the scope of the Oceans Act, because it is located in federal waters.

Along with the commercial-scale projects, the state anticipates smaller projects in the “multi-use” area, such as sand and gravel mining for beach nourishment, aquaculture, cables and pipelines, community-scale wind projects, and wave and tidal facilities. Those must be managed according to siting and performance standards that shield critical resources, along with fishing and navigation.

Six regional planning agencies would be charged with helping to review wind projects of up to 10 turbines in each coastal zone.

Resources deemed “special, sensitive or unique” (“SSU”) enjoy a higher level of protection, while proposals in other sections of the multi-use area would receive “flexibility on a project-specific basis, based on considerations such as scale and potential impacts to existing uses and marine resources.”

Those SSU areas include core habitat areas for roseate tern seabirds, intertidal flats, important fish resource areas, whale habitat regions, and waters used heavily for fishing and recreational boating.

After five required hearings beginning after Memorial Day, the plan is subject to change and then takes effect January 1, 2010. Lawmakers may hold hearings on the package and send comments to the administration, but the rules are not subject to legislative approval.

Mr. Bowles said that the Obama administration two weeks ago indicated they intended to launch a similar process.

With national policy trends moving toward renewable energy, Mr. Bowles predicted “a boom in offshore development in deeper water,” with the United States moving to catch up with Europe, which has embraced offshore wind energy facilities.

“I think you’ll see that, but that’ll be largely over the horizon,” Mr. Bowles said.

Last October, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which has supported the state’s ocean zoning initiative, held a public “listening meeting” session.

Yesterday, Jo-Ann Taylor, MVC coastal planner and DCPC coordinator, greeted the unveiling of the draft plan with enthusiasm. “I hope that the Vineyard is as pleased with the results as I am,” she said in an email to The Times. “The plan is something that we will be able to live with, and I am very proud of my part in it, advocating for the commercial fishermen and the coastal communities. I know that there are still Vineyarders who are unhappy with the Oceans Act, but only the legislature can change that.”

Ms. Taylor said the draft process was very responsive to Island views. “I believe that we got what we wanted out of the Plan within the confines of the Ocean Act,” she said.

Plan creates three management areas

The draft ocean plan establishes three management categories and applies them to Massachusetts ocean waters:

Prohibited Area

The Prohibited Area is where most uses, activities and facilities are expressly prohibited. The Prohibited Area is coincident with the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary, the region of state waters east of Lower Cape Cod. This area also abuts the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Multi-Use Area

The Multi-use Area includes the majority of the ocean planning area. The draft plan creates a variety of new environmental protections for critical natural resources found in this area. The draft plan directs that uses, activities, and facilities be managed based on siting and performance standards (associated with specific mapped resources and uses) that direct development away from critical resources and potential conflicts with fishing and navigation.

The Multi-Use Area is open to certain uses, activities and facilities, including but not limited to the extraction of sand and gravel for beach nourishment, aquaculture, cables and pipelines, community-scale wind energy facilities, and wave and tidal energy facilities. Management in the Multi-Use Area establishes a higher level of protection for special, sensitive, or unique (SSU) resources. It does so by directing development away from the most significant resources and areas of existing human activity, but otherwise allows flexibility on a project-specific basis, based on considerations such as scale and potential impacts to existing uses and marine resources.

Renewable Energy Areas

Renewable Energy Areas are locations specifically designated for commercial wind energy facilities. The draft plan recognizes the Commonwealth’s statutory mandates to develop renewable energy, but designates locations for such development with careful regard for potential environmental impacts and use conflicts.

The draft ocean plan identifies two proposed designated Wind Energy Areas in the vicinity of the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands and southwest of Nomans Land. Adjacent to these areas, EEA has identified potentially suitable locations in federal waters for commercial-scale wind energy development. Amounting to two percent of the planning area, these locations are theoretically capable of supporting 166 wind turbines of 3.6 megawatts each-roughly 600 megawatts in total, or enough to power up to 200,000 homes.

The two-volume draft plan and background documents are available at mass.gov/eea/mop.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.

with permission, MV Times

By Nelson Sigelman
Published: July 2, 2009