The Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuaries Act was designed to prevent development in Massachusetts state waters in order to avert destruction of environmental habitat and to protect natural resources. It also helps make Massachusetts one of the most attractive destinations for tourists from all over the country. From Newburyport to Cape Cod, Duxbury to Buzzards Bay, people are attracted to the beautiful coastline to boat, swim and spend quality time with their families.
Last week, however, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a version of the Ocean Management Act which I believe was a Trojan horse to slip through a massive change in the Ocean Sanctuaries Act without public input and without a public hearing. This change was opposed by the Conservation Law Foundation, the Audubon Society and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, due to the devastation it may bring to the coastline. The change would allow large scale renewable energy facilities to be constructed in ocean sanctuaries in Massachusetts state waters.
The change in the Ocean Sanctuaries Act appears to be an attempt to assist one project proposed by Patriot Renewables to construct 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. Back in 2006, the Secretary of Environmental Affairs ruled that the large scale wind farm proposed by Patriot Renewables is not permitted under the Ocean Sanctuaries Act.
Instead of attempting to fine-tune the proposal to adapt to the state law, the proponents boldly attempted on two occasions to slip changes to the Ocean Sanctuaries Act through the Massachusetts Legislature. The first occasion was last November during a debate on the Green Communities Act when at the end of proceedings an 11 1/2-page single-spaced amendment was filed by the Ways and Means Committee. A few sentences were buried in the text of this amendment that changed the Ocean Sanctuaries Act. However, this amendment was not pre-filed and did not allow for public input or debate. It was the most substantive change to existing law in the bill but the language was kept from public view until the last possible moment.
The second attempt to change the law, in order to assist Patriot Renewables, was last week during the debate on the Ocean Management Act. This same language again came out of the Ways and Means Committee without public input as was allowed in every other section of the bill. Unfortunately, the change was adopted by the House and is now in the House-Senate Conference Committee awaiting action. Since no sponsor was attached to this language the actual proponent of this section is a mystery to most.
The Ocean Sanctuaries Act was passed after much thought and debate. At the very least there should be a Legislative hearing to allow the impacted entities to be heard prior to rolling back all the protections for coastal waters in Massachusetts. Fishermen, oil barge operators, host communities and recreational boaters will all be dramatically impacted by the Patriot Renewables Project, and the State Legislature is not even going to have a public hearing on it? I hope that the House-Senate Conference Committee will not include this repeal of the Ocean Sanctuaries Act in its final version of the Ocean Management Act. It would be a victory for the environment, public input and the legislative process as a whole.
Massachusetts State Representative John F. Quinn represents coastal communities on Buzzards Bay.
23 February 2008
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