Ocean Zoning Gets Off the Ground in Massachusetts

This week, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs announced release of the draft Ocean Management Plan, developed pursuant to the Oceans Act of 2008. The draft Plan has gotten most press for its identification of specific areas for off-shore wind energy development – as well as its prohibition of wind farms in other areas, including the area of the proposed Buzzards Bay wind farm. EOEEA Secretary Ian Bowles was quoted as saying that Buzzards Bay is too crowded and sensitive for the development of large-scale wind farms.

The Plan is about much more than wind farms, however. It really is zoning brought off-shore. There are areas where certain uses are prohibited, areas in which uses are encouraged, and other areas that will be subject to performance standards to determine whether specific uses should be allowed. Where uses are at least conceptually allowed, there will be provisions to protect sensitive areas, including a provision that requires proponents of uses in such areas to “avoid, or demonstrate that there is no less damaging practicable alternative, or demonstrate that data does not accurately characterize the resource or use.”

The Plan is important for several reasons:

The breadth of its application

The effort to integrate ocean planning with the Commonwealth’s climate change agenda

Its potential precedential effect on other states and nascent federal ocean zoning efforts

Public hearings on the Plan will be held in September, though they have not yet been scheduled. Even in advance of the hearings, comments on the Plan can be submitted here. The schedule calls for the final Plan to be issued by December 31, 2009.

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