HYANNIS – Like Cape Cod’s shifting shoreline, a lot has changed since the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan was first released in 2009.
Now state officials are looking for the public’s input on an update to the document that includes new information on potential routes for transmission lines from offshore wind energy projects, provisional areas for pilot sand mining projects and a proposed set of fees for companies seeking to develop projects in the planning zone.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Director Bruce Carlisle outlined changes in the draft updated plan and fielded questions about its contents during a public meeting at Heritage House in Hyannis as part of a review required every five years by the 2008 Ocean Management Act.
The plan was intended to develop siting priorities, locations and standards for allowed uses, facilities and activities in state waters, Carlisle said. It was also meant to identify special, sensitive and unique estuarine and marine life and habitats, as well as to support infrastructure that is important to the state’s economy and quality of life, he said. The plan does so using the best available science and data, he said.
The most recent review of the plan and that data began in January 2013, he said.
In some cases the changes are dramatic.
Using a multicolored map that looks like an incomplete puzzle, Carlisle showed the crowd of about 15 people in attendance how North Atlantic right whale core habitat, for example, had expanded to include the western part of Cape Cod Bay. Another set of maps showed how state officials have developed 500-meter-wide corridors for transmission lines intended to run in the most efficient path from wind energy areas being auctioned off in federal waters beyond the 3-mile limit of the state’s jurisdiction. (The state has jurisdiction over all of Cape Cod Bay.)
Among the seven most likely locations in the region where the transmission lines could be connected to the electric grid are substations at the Cape Cod Canal and on Oak Street in Barnstable.
The idea is not to be caught sitting back while developers decide which path to take to those substations, Carlisle said.
“The flip side is that if we do a good job with that it’s going to help the industry,” he said.
David Dow of the Sierra Club asked whether an offshore grid is being considered.
“There are options for that,” Carlisle said, adding that Google is working on that type of project but the specifics require more input from utilities and project developers.
Still other maps showed nine areas where sand resources are located offshore that could potentially be used for beaches or dunes, large areas in Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound and around the islands.
“We know we have a lot of need for beach nourishment and dune restoration,” he said.
Although the use of material from dredging may not work for every community, it has been proven to work in some places, Carlisle said.
“This has been done routinely on the Cape through the Barnstable County dredge,” he said, adding that the dredge, which is used across the Cape to move material from clogged channels to shrinking beaches, is a model for how sand mining further offshore might work.
The goal is to advance a few sand mining project pilots over the next five years, he said, adding that they would be community based and benefit public beaches.
“This issue of sand mining and gravel mining is a really hot issue, especially down here on the Cape,” said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.
Pappalardo, who is a member of the Ocean Advisory Commission that helped develop the Ocean Management Plan, said there is a lot of pressure from selectmen, private property owners and other interests to use mined sand to shore up the coast, but there’s still division over whether it’s a good idea.
“I just wonder how much control we’ll have putting the brakes on this thing once it gets going,” he said.
The goal is to respond to different needs with a balanced approach, Carlisle said.
“This is a challenge,” he said. “This is a major, major challenge.”
In a place like Cape Cod where the beaches are vital to the economy, striking that balance becomes even more important, he said.
If the reaction is that the state needs to slow down, however, then it will, Carlisle said, pointing to the example of New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, when mining sand from offshore was given the “green light everywhere.”
“It wasn’t pretty,” he said.
In addition, the state’s Coastal Erosion Commission, which is studying erosion and ways to minimize its effects, will provide guidance on what the pilot projects might look like, Carlisle said.
Public comment on the updated plan will be accepted until Nov. 25 and the goal is to release a final version by the end of the year, Carlisle said.