Wild Side : Waves of potential
A far-reaching state regulatory process appears to be attracting only selective attention from Vineyarders, despite the fact that the rules being developed have enormous implications for the entire Island. Signed into law about a year ago, the Oceans Act of 2008 launched a planning exercise that is chugging steadily toward the release of a draft management plan for state waters at the end of June.
The act governs uses of state waters, from 1,500 feet to three nautical miles offshore. It has no authority over federal waters beyond that distance. A complex law, the Oceans Act supersedes the Ocean Sanctuaries Act, which generally restricts development in state waters away from the immediate shoreline. A key component of the newer law is the development of a comprehensive Ocean Management Plan that will designate some areas for protection and others for a range of "appropriately scaled" uses such as sand mining for beach replenishment, aquaculture, pipelines, and, especially, renewable energy: a main purpose of the bill, everyone seems to agree, is to make wind energy happen in Massachusetts waters.
At a workshop in Woods Hole this past Saturday, about ten Vineyarders joined scientists, politicians, renewable energy advocates, fishermen, administrators, and concerned citizens from across the state's southeastern coast for the public release of maps developed by state agencies to inform the management plan. Representatives of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, Island fishing and energy advocacy groups, conservation organizations, and the Wampanoag Tribe viewed and commented on an impressive array of maps portraying everything from shipping routes to fishing grounds to bird distribution to sediment type.
In theory, overlaying all these maps will allow planners to zone state waters to protect critical uses and resources, designate areas appropriate for development of various kinds, and prevent conflicts between activities. The principle is sound, and the Act creates opportunities for activities that could have enormous benefits to Martha's Vineyard and to society as a whole. But the devil is in the details. For instance, the cutoff between critical areas requiring protection and less critical ones is essentially an arbitrary one. The relative weighting of various uses and resources is a subject on which politics could have as much influence as science. And planners are clearly struggling to find a way to adequately address the scenic values that matter so much to Islanders and the Vineyard economy.
Much of the state waters off the Vineyard appear likely to receive some measure of protection. But it is possible to imagine an outcome that designates much of our inshore waters as suitable for industrial uses (in particular, the steady winds of our region represent an irresistible resource). Moderate-scale, locally owned shellfish aquaculture, or a municipal energy project sited intelligently and sized to meet Island needs, would be one thing. But a gigantic, for-profit wind farm wrapped around half of our shoreline, sending all its energy and profits to the mainland, would be something else entirely, producing local impact without local benefits.