Massachusetts unveils 1st-in-nation ocean management map
BOSTON— Large-scale offshore wind farms would be limited to two small areas close to Martha’s Vineyard under the draft version of a landmark ocean management plan designed to create a vast regulatory map for the state’s coastal waters.
The map, the first of its kind in the country, will regulate state-controlled waters out to 3 miles from the coast.It virtually prohibits development and commercial activity off the Cape Cod National Seashore from Provincetown to Chatham but opens most other areas of state-controlled waters to a variety of uses, from recreation and fishing to smaller-scale, community-based wind farms.
Environmental advocates and state officials said the Massachusetts initiative could set a roadmap for other coastal states and the nation. President Barack Obama recently launched a similar effort to draft a regulatory framework for federal waters.
Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said: "This is the first time the commonwealth will have a comprehensive science-based plan."
While activities from laying transmission lines to extracting sand and gravel to replenish beaches would still be allowed, they would have to clear tougher environmental hurdles.
Before winning approvals under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, for instance, a company would have to show it has tried to avoid "special, sensitive and unique" areas — from whale migratory paths to the habitats of endangered roseate terns.
Kelly Ricaurte, spokeswoman for the Ocean Conservancy environmental group, said the Massachusetts law not only sets an example for other states but also will aid Obama’s efforts to better regulate federal waters.
"It provides a roadmap for the country for ideas on how we can balance ocean industry uses and conservation in federal waters," Ricaurte said.
Obama has established an Ocean Policy Task Force charged with developing a "framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning."
That framework should include a "comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based approach that addresses conservation, economic activity, user conflict and sustainable use of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources," according to the June 12 presidential memo.
The ocean map would have no effect on the proposal by Weaver’s Cove Energy to build an offshore liquefied natural gas berth in Mount Hope Bay but could nix plans by Patriots [team stats] Renewables, a company associated with Quincy-based Jay Cashman Inc., to build wind farms in Buzzards Bay.
Bowles, the environmental affairs secretary, said because Buzzards Bay is already crowded with other uses and is environmentally sensitive, it couldn’t support wind turbines.
The map would do nothing to block the development of the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, the nation’s first proposed offshore wind farm, to be located in federal waters off Nantucket Sound. But it would limit other commercial wind farms in state waters to an area west and south of Cuttyhunk Island near the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands and southwest of Nomans Land — enough space for 166 turbines, which could power up to 200,000 homes.
The plan also allows the construction of as many as six community-based ocean wind farms of up to 10 turbines each scattered outside the commercial area. Hull has already proposed four turbines.
The map is the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ Oceans Act signed last year by Gov. Deval Patrick, designed to create one document to cover a myriad of ocean activities while drawing lines around areas considered too environmentally sensitive for development.
Cashman, however, said it welcomes the new map in part because it opens up most state waters to smaller community-based wind projects or larger commercial projects. It said establishing where those projects can be sited will take some of the guesswork out of drafting future proposals.
Bowles said the state will hold five public hearings in the fall before releasing a final draft of the map in January. It does not require legislative approval before taking effect.