House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi told coastal lawmakers Wednesday that he will hold a public debate on allowing renewable energy development in ocean sanctuaries when a separate ocean management bill comes up for a vote later this session.
The proposal would remove a major roadblock from a proposal by Boston developer Jay Cashman to place up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay.
Rep. DiMasi met privately for an hour Wednesday with more than 20 coastal representatives from the North Shore to New Bedford and Cape Cod. The meeting had been requested by eight lawmakers who were upset the ocean sanctuaries amendment was slipped into an energy bill in November with little notice.
Critics say the ocean sanctuaries amendment would open Buzzards Bay and nearly all state waters to unlimited renewable energy development.
Rep. DiMasi says it clears up conflicts in the state ocean sanctuaries law. He says it will simply allow renewable energy projects if they meet local and state approvals. He also denied it was done for the benefit of Mr. Cashman, whom he acknowledges is a close friend.
The amendment was quietly tucked into a bundle of other amendments that was approved by the House in November. It was not filed by a House deadline, and some legislators were not even aware they were voting on it.
Some legislators did notice it when they reviewed the amendments shortly before the vote, but it was not debated.
“Our meeting, I believe, was successful,” said Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth. “I expressed strong dissatisfaction with how this amendment was tucked into the energy bill, and expressed our deep concerns about the process.
“This was not one of the amendments that was scrutinized prior to the debate. The speaker acknowledged that it was his fault and has agreed to have a full and fair debate on that amendment as part of a different bill.”
Others in the meeting also said Rep. DiMasi accepted fault for the way the amendment was submitted.
Rep. DiMasi said the ocean sanctuaries proposal would be debated as an amendment to a separate ocean management bill, which has already passed the Senate. It was filed by Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable.
The ocean management bill, which has the support of Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, would direct state environmental officials to determine where uses like wind power and liquefied natural gas terminals are appropriate in state waters.
DiMasi spokesman David Guarino said the speaker is forming a working group to look at aspects of the ocean management bill. The speaker pledged that the oceans bill would come up for a vote before the enactment of his energy bill, his signature piece of legislation for the session.
“The speaker did commit to taking up the oceans bill in the near future,” Mr. Guarino said. “He knows it is a priority of the Senate president, and they have been talking about it. It’s an important bill for the members who live in coastal communities.”
Other state representatives said they were pleased with the outcome of the meeting, which was requested twice in writing by the eight lawmakers.
“I was glad to see that our letter was productive in producing an opportunity for a forum with the speaker to let him know how it has impacted us as SouthCoast legislators and to come up with an appropriate resolution,” said Rep. David B. Sullivan, D-Fall River.
Rep. Stephen R. Canessa, D-New Bedford, said he was looking forward to an open debate on the ocean sanctuaries amendment.
“The process of how we got to this point is what was most bothersome to many of us in the meeting today,” Rep. Canessa said. “I’m happy that the speaker accepted the blame for the lack of process on this issue, and I am optimistic that he is going to follow through.”
By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer
17 January 2008
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