Planning Makes Perfect Sense
By Rip Cunningham
Development on land has been controlled by planning regulations for longer than I can remember. While regulations vary in complexity, they are part of standard operating procedure. This has not been the case for development of our oceans. For those of us who spend time out on the water, it is obvious that there are now a lot more efforts to build at-sea projects or use ocean resources for non-traditional purposes. There are LNG at-sea terminals. Pipelines have been put in place to ship gas from Canada. There are some efforts at mineral extraction and some talk about offshore drilling. There are several wind farm proposals from Maine through the Mid-Atlantic. It is happening, whether we like it or not.
Historically, this ocean development has been handled by a diverse group of state and federal agencies that essentially acted on their own behalves with minimal co-ordination. This made it hard for concerned citizens to know where and when to give their input. The National Ocean Policy, established by Executive Order in 2010, started the process of ocean planning, or Coastal & Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP). The NE Regional Planning Body (NERPB) established by the National Ocean Policy began its efforts to write a draft Ocean Plan about 4 years ago and that draft will be released in late May. The NERPB will hold a webinar on May 25, noon to 2pm to introduce the draft Plan for all interested parties.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body will roll out its draft Ocean Plan in early June and other regions will follow. All of the information about the RPB’s and the draft Ocean Plans can be found here.
As part of the RPB’s efforts, you will also find comprehensive ocean uses data portals. This displays in a layered GIS format all the varied ocean activities. The RPB’s have been collecting this user data for the last four years. The Northeast data portal is here, and the Mid-Atlantic data portal is here.
For details about offshore wind ocean lease areas, go to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) at this link.
A lot of folks in the recreational and commercial fishing industries have believed that this planning effort was simply a disguised plan by the environmental community to set up no-fishing zones. The reality is that the effort was and is about doing the best job possible of coordinating all the previously independent ocean development regulations. It will also give concerned citizens a process to make sure that they are recognized in the development process. Direct fishing-related regulations, such as closed areas, will remain with the Regional Fisheries Management Councils, which sit on the RPBs to represent fishing interests.
I have not been an advocate for building bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake. I do, however, believe that when public trust resources are at risk, there has to be government oversight in the management process. The draft Ocean Plans may not be perfect yet, but if each of us takes the time to read and comment on them, we will continue to move them toward that goal.