In early July, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body, a collection of State, Federal, and Tribal, and Mid-Atlantic Fisheries representatives, released a draft Mid-Atlantic “Ocean Action Plan”. The Plan is the culmination of a process initiated in 2010 by President Obama’s executive order and seeks to balance ocean ecosystem health with the demands for increased development ocean use. There are some benefits to these efforts:
1) The Ocean Action Plan represents an important conversation between federal and state agencies, the creation of collaborative relationships and open lines of communication between these government entities for projects that will impact the coastal resources of the Mid-Atlantic region.
2) The Plan also commits to improved data gathering, research, and identification of areas for further study.
3) The Plan has invested in and supports the development of useful data synthesis products such as the MARCO portal, habitat suitability models, and other spatial use mapping visuals.
However, COA has been concerned from the start with the rigid and “top down” public input model which has limited meaningful public involvement. In addition, the plan relies solely on existing legal authority, making it unclear how agencies will use the plan in their decision-making process. Many federal and state agencies appear reluctant to formally incorporate the plan and its data products into agency guidance and regulations. Furthermore, the identification of areas of the ocean deemed “Ecologically Rich Areas” could potentially create “winners and losers” in an interconnected and fluid ocean environment. Finally, the Ocean Action Plan does not consider land-based and near coastal activities, oil and gas exploration and development, as well as the recent identification and leasing of nearly half a million acres off of New York and New Jersey to wind energy development.
COA encourages participation in the 60-day public comment period through September 6, 2016 - Public comments may be submitted by September 6, 2016, by sending an email to: MidAtlanticRPB@boem.gov or by writing to:
Robert P. LaBelle, MidA RPB Federal Co-Lead
45600 Woodland Road
Mailstop: VAM-BOEM DIR
Sterling, VA 20166