EOEEA Releases Draft Ocean Management Plan Update: Now with Fees

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) recently released for public review and comment a draft update to the Ocean Management Plan for the Commonwealth. The Oceans Act, signed by Governor Patrick in 2008, required the Secretary of EOEEA to develop a comprehensive ocean management plan to be reviewed every five years. The first plan was released in 2009, and the recently released update is a result of this five year review. The plan addresses the areas of habitat, fisheries, sediment resources, recreational and cultural services, transportation and navigation, and energy and infrastructure.

Ocean Management PlanAs I wrote about last spring, the state’s Office of Coastal Zone Management drafted regulations designed to implement the 2009 Ocean Management Plan. The final regulations, promulgated in August of 2013, required that projects within the act’s jurisdiction pay an Ocean Development Mitigation Fee, but left a placeholder for the development of the fee structure. The 2014 plan update includes implementation guidance and a proposed structure of fees ranging from $10,000 – $5,000,000.

Other highlights of the plan include an update to the baseline assessment, a comprehensive cataloguing of the current knowledge of Massachusetts ocean waters, and changes to the boundaries of designated areas including management areas and protected use and resource areas.

To date only three projects have been proposed that have been subject to review under the plan. Of these, only the Comcast/NSTAR fiber-optic communications and electrical cable bundle connecting Falmouth to Tisbury has completed review and permitting and been found consistent with the ocean plan.

One of the state’s goals when updating the plan was to use the information and data at its disposal be proactive about the planning and siting of new projects.  To that end, the plan includes advance planning and siting guidance for offshore renewable energy transmission projects.  With the recent opening of federal waters off of Massachusetts for offshore wind projects, we can expect to see more projects subject to the plan in the form of transmission corridors in state waters connecting the offshore renewables to landside grid connection locations.

Five public plan review meetings will be held in October in Ipswich, Hyannis, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Boston. The comment period closes November 25, 2014.

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