Lawmakers agree on ocean zoning plan; Bill would allow fisheries, energy projects to coexist in state waters
Massachusetts legislative leaders have agreed on a bill that would allow wind farms and other renewable energy projects in state waters, putting the measure on track to become law in the next few weeks.
House and Senate political leaders agreed Tuesday night to create the nation’s first comprehensive ocean zoning plan, to ensure that fisheries, renewable energy production, and marine conservation can coexist in the waters extending 3 miles from shore.
The Massachusetts Ocean Act would authorize the state energy and environmental affairs secretary to write an ocean management plan by the end of next year, with assistance from a 17-member task force and a science advisory council. Various wind and tidal energy projects have been proposed for the state’s ocean territory.
The agreement does not give any special consideration to a controversial wind farm in Buzzards Bay. That proposed project became a lightning rod for controversy after House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi failed in a bid last year to weaken the ocean sanctuary act to allow the project, proposed by his friend Jay Cashman.
Under the new legislation, no renewable projects could be built in the state’s ocean sanctuaries – the entire coastline except for a stretch from Boston Harbor to Marshfield – until the management plan is completed, and only then if the project is deemed appropriate for the region where it is proposed and consistent with the plan. Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary, which includes the Cape Cod National Seashore, would be excluded.
“This is a monumental step for ocean conservation and clean renewable energy,” said Priscilla Brooks, director of the ocean conservation program for the Conservation Law Foundation.
The deal announced yesterday worked out differences between versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate. The compromise language is expected to be voted on in the next few weeks.
The legislation has no bearing on the proposed Cape Wind wind farm project off Cape Cod because it would be located in federal waters.
By Beth Daley
15 May 2008
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