Bay State Making Plans for Ocean Development

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — In the third of five public hearings on the 2014 draft Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, Coastal Zone Management (CZM) director Bruce Carlisle opened the Oct. 22 meeting by quoting the original 2004 Ocean Management Task Force" “The ocean can no longer be a place where use is determined on a first-come, first-served basis for competing multiple uses.”

The state’s Oceans Act of 2008, which went into effect, required a comprehensive plan for state waters of the Atlantic Ocean to avoid such scenarios. The mandated five-year update reflects changes in national policy and regional ocean planning outlined in the National Policy for Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts and Great Lakes of 2010, an aggressive federal offshore wind energy program, and the need for coastal shoreline restoration.

“We like to think that we’re being proactive rather than reacting to issues,” Carlisle said. “Where we see energy needs, let’s be consistent with the goals of the plan. The same applies to sand extraction. Let’s do this on a comprehensive basis.”

The biggest change since 2009 identified in the 2014 draft plan was the accelerated approach to offshore-wind-energy-area (WEA) development by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal agency formerly known as the Mineral Management Services prior to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In five short years, BOEM leased the R.I.-Mass. WEA to Deepwater Wind, and is poised to auction the Mass. WEA by the end of the year. Both WEAs will require offshore wind energy transmission lines to shore. The R.I.-Mass. WEA has a single leaseholder, but may require more than one landline. The nearby Mass. WEA may have up to four different leaseholders, but as of yet they aren’t required to coordinate efforts to bring the energy to shore.

Carlisle said the transmission lines’ target burial depth is 6-9 feet below the seafloor, in soft sediments wherever possible. New data collected for all special, sensitive and unique areas (SSUs), including hard-bottom and complex seafloor strata, were mapped to provide guidance on siting transmission lines.

However, the 2014 plan’s new SSU data on core habitat for three whale species present in the area indicates the proposed Mass. WEA is within the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale core habitat.

Although BOEM didn’t reduce the Mass. WEA for the seasonal migratory area of the right whale, the 2014 plan calls for the right whale core habitat to be taken into account in placement of the transmission lines.

On the landward side, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has identified seven substations capable of handling high-voltage transmission lines when they come ashore. The short list prioritizes the Brayton Point Substation in Somerset, on Mount Hope Bay; the Canal Substation in Sandwich; and the Kent County Substation in West Warwick, R.I.

Other less-likely possible connections are the Carver Substation in Carver; Oak Street Substation in Barnstable; State Forest Transition Station at Myles Standish State Forest in Wareham; Millstone Substation on Waterford, Conn.; Montville Substation in Montville, Conn.; and Shoreham Substation in Brookhaven, N.Y.

Carlisle said geotechnical work now needs to be performed to identify the sub-seafloor geology. When approaching shore, the transmission cables will be placed through horizontal directional drilling, rather than open excavation, to avoid resources such as eelgrass beds, wetlands, beaches and shellfish beds.

Beach nourishment

The Oceans Act of 2008 created an Ocean Resources and Waterways Trust that manages mitigation funds paid from ocean development projects. So far, $1,062,450 has been paid into the trust to date; most from HubLine, a high-pressure natural-gas pipeline that transits around Boston from Beverly to Weymouth and connects to two deepwater LNG ports.

About half of that money has been been spent, including $4,402 on acquiring right, fin and humpback whale densities for core habitat mapping, and $548,000 for higher resolution mapping of seafloor sediments. These resources, in combination with new data on SSUs such as whale core habitat and commercial and recreational fishing areas, helped update offshore sand resource maps.

In collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), CZM now has time-series mapped transects along the entire Massachusetts shoreline showing beach retreat and expansion since 1890. The highest 30-year rates of erosion occur on the Cape and Islands, and on communities north of Boston.

Carlisle cautioned that at most only a few pilot beach nourishment projects of less than 300,000 cubic yards of material for public beaches are being considered in the next five years. The first choice for beach nourishment is reusing dredge sand as is done in Barnstable, he said. Inland sand sources may also be used.

Creation of a Coastal Erosion Commission this year will assist in determining the best coastal shoreline protections. In addition to beach and dune nourishment with sand extracted from the seafloor, the state is considering coir-fiber protections, new estuarine wetland creation and storm-surge reduction by use of natural materials. The work plan is expected out by of this year.

Low public turnout

Fewer than a dozen people attended the Oct. 22 public hearing, and several of those were students from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth or part of the advisory groups that helped draft the plan.

Jim Kendall of Seafood Consulting, a retired commercial fisherman and member of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, lamented the lack of attendance by commercial fishermen. “I’m disappointed in the turn out by the industry. We’ve got the largest fishing industry in the state,” he said.

Barbara Burr of the Marine Trade Association, a 1,200-member recreational boater organization, said recreational boaters had participated in two years of surveys to determine recreational fishing and transiting.

“We support the plan,” she said. “We don’t want to see these areas reduced. Recreational fishing is important; it’s a right held in trust by the commonwealth to navigate the waters of the state and as such should be protected.”

A final hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27 in Boston. The final plan is anticipated to be adopted by the end of the year, Carlisle said.