The state Senate unanimously approved legislation yesterday that would open up the state’s ocean sanctuaries to renewable energy projects, as long as they complied with an ocean management plan.
The bill would allow a controversial wind farm to be built in Buzzards Bay, subject to the conditions in the management plan. The plan would be completed by Dec. 31, 2009, and require approval of the state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs after public hearings.
The bill was reported out of conference committee Wednesday and is expected to be approved by the House next week. Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to sign it.
Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, has sought passage of the oceans measure for the past two legislative sessions, finally winning the support of House leaders this year. The bill had the backing of Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, and had passed the Senate three times.
“There are enormous pressures developing offshore,” O’Leary told the Senate. “Wind power, tidal power, desalinization plants, LNG facilities, floating casinos, and over the horizon, ideas which you and I have yet to imagine.”
O’Leary said the legislation puts “the public trust, the public interest and the public agenda ahead of the private interests”¦ This new legislation will establish a clear planning process.” The ocean management plan would be developed by a 17-member commission made up of legislators, environmental experts and the fishing industry.
The current law that prohibits most development in the state’s five ocean sanctuaries would remain in place until the new plan is written.
The new regulations would take into account a number of factors, including “protection of the public trust, compatibility with existing uses, proximity to the shoreline, appropriateness of technology and scale, environmental protection, public safety and community benefit.” It also specifies that no power would be taken away from the Division of Marine Fisheries, and no new fishing regulations would be proposed.
Regional planning organizations like the Cape Cod Commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission would have authority to review the projects.
The Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary, which is off the Cape Cod National Seashore, would still be off-limits to any type of development.
And the bill would grandfather Cape Wind, which is seeking to put 130 turbines in federal waters of Nantucket Sound, because it is so far along in permitting.
Environmental Secretary Ian Bowles said the bill would make Massachusetts “the first state in the nation to undertake a comprehensive management plan for its waters.
“Through this plan, which will be in place by the end of next year, we will sustain our historic fishing communities, protect our precious natural resources and identify potential sites for the next generation of clean, renewable power.” The legislation also won praise from environmental groups.
“It’s a monumental step for ocean conservation and for the development of clean renewable energy in the commonwealth,” said Priscilla Brooks, the director of the Ocean Conservation Program at the Conservation Law Foundation.
How the new law would affect Boston developer Jay Cashman’s proposal to put up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay may not be known until the plan is developed. Cashman’s proposal faces major obstacles under the current law that severely restricts development in ocean sanctuaries.
Brooks said the oceans measure “is not a throw open the door to ocean development” law. “It has to be done in a carefully planned way and has to be consistent with an ocean management plan,” she said.
By David Kibbe
Times Boston Bureau
16 May 2008