Mass. Unveils Ocean Management Plan03:15

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The Patrick administration released a draft Wednesday of a first-in-the-nation plan to regulate what's built in the waters off of the state's coast. The plan proposes new protections for environmentally sensitive areas, but also identifies potential wind energy development sites. Officials hope to have the plan finalized by the end of the year, after a public review.

State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles spoke to us about the oceans management plan.

Bob Oakes: Secretary Bowles, good morning and thanks very much for speaking with us today.

Ian Bowles: Good morning, Bob.

Supporters of the plan say it will protect Massachusetts ocean waters while it allows development. How so?

Well for the first time, the commonwealth is establishing areas that are special, sensitive and unique for ecological value or for fishing and establishing some performance standards, saying you know if a developer wants to come in these waters and lay down a cable or a pipeline or what have you, it'll have to avoid certain areas that are important to us.

So that's a first for our state and really a first for the eastern seaboard and we think it'll help protect our environment.

While allowing development?

That's exactly right. So we've got in recent years a couple new proposals for LNG facilities off of Gloucester. And going forward the plan would say, if you're going to lay a pipeline down how you'll have to go to these maps, you'll have to avoid areas that are important fish habitat, you'd have to meet other standards.

So it essentially adds new environmental protections for the 75 percent of state waters that are under general management.

Where would the protected area be?

Well it depends on the ecosystem type. So we've got in northern Buzzard's Bay a globally important center for the rosy tern, one of the birds you see on the seashore. In the area around Provincetown and Wellfleet, it's an area of important for the northern right whale.

We've got about 12 different categories of special, sensitive, unique resources and those vary area to area and depend on where that species or resource might appear.

How would local input be handled under the plan? How would a community impacted by potential development be allowed to weigh in?

Well, you, know the town of Hull has proposed three or four wind turbines to be put out in the area right adjacent to the town. And what this plan says is, for any such small scale wind development, it would have to have the approval of the town.

And it would also have to have the approval of the regional planning agency, so something like the Cape Cod commission or other regional planning agencies.

Under the plan, communities next door to proposed ocean developments -- such as those wind turbines that you mention off Hull — would not have a say on the projects, and critics say that's not fair considering they'll be able to see them too. Respond to that.

Well there's only two areas, Bob, less than two percent of state waters, that are designated for commercial scale wind development. And these are areas south of the sland of No Man's Land, which is a remote island south of Martha's Vineyard, and an area around south of the island of Cuttyhunk.

So those are the only two areas of state waters designated for commercial scale development. For the other 75 percent of state waters, any of those small-scale wind developments could only happen with the approval of the town.

But again, I asked about towns next door, not the town the development is proposed in. The towns next door who might be able to see these wind projects and might want a say.

Oh, well that's really the role of the regional planning agencies. Entities like the Martha's Vineyard Commission or the Cape Cod Commission, which are meant to take a regional view of any type of development or a development of regional impact.

So any of those small-scale projects would require the approval of the regional planning agency. So that would be the mechanism for an abutting town to raise their hand and have a point of view.

The state's tried several times in the last several decades to zone coastal water development, and it's failed each time. What's different this year?

Well, you know, this legislation marks a consensus from the legislature and Gov. Patrick's leadership and desire to have Massachusetts out in front, figuring out these difficult issues.

So, part of the reason this legislation came along was a series of proposals for liquefied natural gas; the proposed wind development in Buzzard's Bay, which this plan would say could not go forward the way it was proposed.

So in many ways this plan is ripe because of the proposals that are out there. But it's also time for us to have a thoughtful and proactive plan. The plan also comes from more than 100 public sessions and a great deal of stakeholder input. We're confident — well, we hope it'll meet the test of time going forward.

Let me just make sure we're clear on what you just said. Are you saying that under this new plan that comes out today, those projects that you just mentioned -- including the big wind farm for Buzzard's Bay — are dead?

The big wind farm for Buzzard's Bay will not be able to go forward as it was proposed, correct.

Do you hope the Massachusetts approach sets a precedent for other coastal states to follow?

Well I think it will. You've got the, two weeks ago, the Obama administration putting forward a plan to start to do a similar exercise in federal waters. And other states like California have done work in this regard, but only on the environmental protection side of it and not really as sort of a zoning process for wind and other types of energy infrastructure.

So, our's is the first and most comprehensive. We've had a lot of involvement in the plan from federal agencies and other states who've wanted to participate, so I think they'll look closely at what we've done here.

Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles, thanks a lot for speaking with us.

You bet, Bob.

This program aired on July 1, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.