May 27, 2008

Oceans bill must be signed, plan written

Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to give quick approval to a first-in-the-nation ocean management act that would decide how and where projects like wind farms and LNG terminals could be built in state waters.

The legislation would also open up most of the state’s ocean sanctuaries to renewable energy development, including a proposal by Boston developer Jay Cashman for wind turbines in Buzzards Bay.

The renewable energy projects would have to comply with the terms of the ocean management plan, to be written by Dec. 31, 2009, and approved by the secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

The Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary, which is off the Cape Cod National Seashore, would remain off limits to any type of development.

The ocean management act – which cleared the House by a vote of 150 to 1 Thursday – is now on Gov. Patrick’s desk, awaiting his signature in a matter of days.

“We support it,” said the governor’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Deusser. “We are due to sign it.”

The bill was championed for the past two terms by Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable. It also had the backing of Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, and passed the Senate unanimously earlier this month.

The legislation was praised Friday by the Conservation Law Foundation, the Ocean Conservancy and Mass Audubon.

“Right now, it’s the wild west off the Bay State’s coast,” said Jack Clarke of Mass Audubon. “This bill is an opportunity to manage ocean sprawl based on sound science, smart economics and sensible management principles.”

Cape Wind, a proposal for 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, would be grandfathered under the state law because it is so far along in the permitting process. Cape Wind’s turbines would also be in federal waters.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes Cape Wind, said the oceans bill was an improvement over previous House legislation, but was still a “crack in the armor.”

“The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound supports ocean management and is pleased to see the state moving in this direction, but cautions that we need to remain vigilant to avoid industrialization of Nantucket Sound in both state and federal waters,” the group said in a statement.

The ocean management plan will be written by a 17-member commission made up of legislators, environmental experts and the fishing industry. A science advisory council would also work on the plan.

The commission will be directed by law to decide such issues as how far projects should be from the shoreline, as well as their size, environmental effects and community benefits.

Ian Bowles, the secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, would ultimately approve the plan after a series of public hearings.

Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth, was the only legislator in either chamber to vote against the oceans bill.

Mr. Cashman’s wind farm would be built off Dartmouth and Naushon Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands. Mr. Cashman’s company, Patriot Renewables, recently dropped a plan to put wind turbines off the Fairhaven shoreline. The company cited boat traffic and the population of endangered roseate terns.

Under current law, Mr. Cashman faced a virtual prohibition on development in ocean sanctuaries, except for a “public necessity.”

In November, House leaders tucked a last-minute amendment into an energy bill that would have allowed what critics contend was unlimited renewable energy development in the ocean sanctuaries. Some lawmakers weren’t even aware it was in the energy bill when they voted for it. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi has denied it was a favor for Mr. Cashman, his close friend.

“From the outset, my objection to this has been the process, starting in the energy bill,” Rep. Quinn said. “There was no way the Buzzards Bay wind farm could be built unless the law was changed.”

The oceans bill, which involved direct discussions between Rep. DiMasi and Sen. Murray, strikes a compromise. It allows renewable energy development in ocean sanctuaries, but only subject to the terms of the yet-to-be-written ocean management plan.

How it will impact Mr. Cashman’s plan for up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay won’t be known until the final management plan is adopted.

The Boston Globe reported Friday that Rep. DiMasi met in his office with Mr. Cashman in October. The speaker told the Globe they did not specifically discuss the Buzzards Bay wind farm.

“It’s unfortunate that the process has been turned on its head for the benefit of one project,” Rep. Quinn charged.

Rep. Quinn also objected to giving the environmental affairs secretary, and not the Legislature, the power to decide the scope of wind farm development in Buzzards Bay.

“It opens the door,” he said. “It is theoretically possible that (Mr. Cashman’s wind farm) can be built. “¦ We’re going to change the law and hold the hearings afterward, by political appointees and executive branch bureaucrats, instead of doing what we do with every law, hold hearings first.”

By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer

27 May 2008

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