From shipping goods to whale watching to lobster fishing, people use coastal waters extensively for transportation, recreation, and commerce. But unlike real estate, which is divided by clear boundaries of ownership, coastal waters are essentially in the public domain. In light of emerging uses that require an aquatic “footprint,” such as renewable energy platforms and aquaculture, the need to better coordinate offshore uses has become clear. Yet permitting requirements and procedures across municipal, state, and federal agencies are sometimes at cross-purposes, which can undermine coordination.
In 2011, CBI began working with state and federal agencies to engage various stakeholders who use New England’s coastal waters. Constituents included aquaculturists, energy companies, people who work in the ports, environmental groups, recreation groups, and others. Over five years CBI conducted open public meetings, worked with small groups, and facilitated topic-specific one- and two-day workshops. These workshops enabled participants to share their insights, questions, and concerns about timely topics before the formal decision-making group (called the Regional Planning Body, or RPB) met. Many CBI staff worked on this project, carefully tailoring meetings for particular audiences. The goal was to help people voice their hopes and concerns clearly and to capture all the input in writing to assist decision-makers.
The Northeast Regional Ocean Plan was published in late 2016. The first such regional plan in the country, it outlines best practices for coordinating the various agencies and secures commitments by those agencies to use the best available data. The plan also includes a well-populated online data portal that makes current ocean-use data available to all users. The Regional Planning Body continues to work together on implementing the plan, and CBI continues to lead meetings for any interested stakeholders or members of the public in advance of RPB meetings.