Ocean protection central to Mass. law

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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently signed the Oceans Act of 2008, a law that requires the commonwealth to create a comprehensive plan to manage development in state waters and balance natural resource preservation with alternative uses such as renewable energy.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently signed the Oceans Act of 2008, a law that requires the commonwealth to create a comprehensive plan to manage development in state waters and balance natural resource preservation with alternative uses such as renewable energy. Officials hope the legislation, the first of its kind in the nation, will serve as a tool to control what projects will or won’t go on the water, and to protect boaters, businesses and the environment.

“It took us a couple of years to get it in place,” says Angela Sanfilippo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fisherman’s Partnership. “Everyone wants a piece of the ocean to do something, such as windmills and LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals. The ocean is the last frontier, and we need something that will regulate its development.”

Sanfilippo says it was very important to her that the legislation protect commercial fishermen and their vessels, and didn’t allow for a structure to be built that will hinder navigation.

“We wanted to make sure that it would be done right, that we would be involved,” says Sanfilippo. “Massachusetts, as usual, has a first.”

Leona Roach, executive director of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association, says she advocated there be nothing in the act that would be construed to prohibit commercial fishing vessels and recreational vessels from operating in state waters.

“The shore boundary for any facility is out to 3 nautical miles,” says Roach. “The Ocean Management Plan will provide more reliability in building business and resolve conflicts, leaving an open and transparent policy.”

Roach says while the proposed LNG terminal by Weaver’s Cove Energy located in Fall River, Mass., was one of the factors in starting the policy, it wasn’t the sole reason.

“No one particular project spawned the appeal for this legislation,” says Roach. “It’s like the wild west out there with proposals for development — all kinds of projects — but no consistency. This establishes the effort to sit down and look at the space and decide what would be appropriate to put where.”

The Fall River LNG facility was given the green light by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2005 with the proviso that it obtains Coast Guard approval as a suitable location for transit before construction began. The Coast Guard rejected the project Oct. 24, 2007, announcing that the waterways of the bay were too narrow to accommodate the LNG tanker transits (Soundings, March 2008). The revised proposal for the project is currently under review by the Coast Guard.

The Ocean Management Plan must be completed in full by Dec. 31, 2009, and will be developed by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs along with a 17-member ocean advisory commission staffed by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and an ocean science advisory council.

“Massachusetts has been, and remains, the vanguard marine stewards,” says Roach. “The world is watching us right now; it will be an ambitious 18 months. California is very close to a plan, but other states will be watching Massachusetts to see our planning method. I’m pretty confident that we will be OK.”

To read the full text of the act and to see a map of the Ocean Management Planning Area and the Ocean Sanctuaries, visit

www.mass.gov/czm/oceanmanagement/oceansact/index.htm .