By ecoRI News staff
Connecticut has caught up with its neighbors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and recently enacted a program of marine spatial planning for Long Island Sound.
After years of background work by a coalition of environmental groups, academics and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) staff, “An Act Concerning a Long Island Sound Blue Plan and Resource and Use Inventory” (HB 6839) was signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy June 19 and went into effect July 1.
This “Blue Plan” establishes a process by which Connecticut will develop an inventory of Long Island Sound’s natural resources and uses and, ultimately, a spatial plan to guide future use of its waters and submerged lands. Currently, Connecticut’s Coastal Management Program (CMP) protects coastal resources and guides shoreline development. The development of a Blue Plan for Long Island Sound will supplement the CMP’s existing authority in the deeper offshore reaches of the Sound.
The Blue Plan is intended to prioritize the protection of natural resources and uses, such as fishing, aquaculture and navigation, from future conflicting or incompatible activities and it won't create new regulatory restrictions for them.
Under the plan, an inventory of Long Island Sound’s natural resources and uses must be completed by a Long Island Sound Inventory and Science subcommittee that will be convened by the University of Connecticut.
The inventory will be based on the best available information and data on the sound’s plants, animals, habitats and ecologically significant areas in nearshore and offshore waters and their substrates — surfaces where marine organisms grow. This inventory must also include the human uses of the sound’s waters and substrates, such as boating and fishing, waterfowl hunting, shellfishing, aquaculture, shipping corridors, and energy facilities and interests including electric power lines, gas pipelines and telecommunication crossings.
Once the resource and use inventory is complete, that information will be used to develop the Blue Plan, a spatial plan that will help avoid user conflicts by identifying and protecting special, sensitive and unique estuarine and marine life and habitats. The plan will foster sustainable uses of Long Island Sound that will make the most of economic opportunity without significantly harming the sound’s ecology or natural beauty, according to the DEEP.
The Blue Plan will also remain “fluid,” adapting as necessary to ever-evolving knowledge and understanding of the marine environment, recognizing current issues such as climate-change impacts and sea level-rise adaptation while anticipating and addressing future issues.
Another significant benefit of the Blue Plan, according to state officials, will be the identification of appropriate locations and performance standards for activities, uses and facilities that are regulated by permit programs, developing measures that will guide the siting of those uses in ways that are consistent.
Development and implementation of the Blue Plan must also be coordinated with the state of New York, and with local, regional and federal planning entities and agencies including the Connecticut-New York Bi-State Marine Spatial Planning Working Group, the Long Island Sound Study and the National Ocean Policy’s Northeast Regional Planning Body.
The plan will not “zone” the waters of Long Island Sound. There is no need to specify uses or “use zones” over every part of the water surface, according to state officials. However, the plan could establish priority use areas such as utility corridors or shellfish beds. The Plan could also identify critical areas that may need greater protection and management of uses.
A version of this story originally ran in the July 2015 edition Sound Outlook, the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection’s e-newsletter.