Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Plan For Offshore Development

Source: Click

Florida should quickly follow Massachusetts by designing and adopting a plan to guide and manage development off the state's coastlines.

Not subdivision or strip-mall development, but pipelines and - perhaps eventually - energy-generating windmills.

An ocean-planning law - the first in the nation - was signed late last month by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

"A 17-member advisory commission will help state officials craft a management plan by the end of 2009, and all development within 3 miles of the state's coastline will have to abide by its rules," the Boston Globe reported.

Florida need not follow the exact model provided by Massachusetts, but a comprehensive ocean-management law is needed for two main reasons:

The Florida Coastal Management Program is based on a network of agencies implementing not one comprehensive law, but 23 different statutes.

The goal of the program is worthwhile - to coordinate local, state and federal agency activities using existing laws - but it's time that Florida re-examine whether the status quo statutes can adapt adequately to rapidly changing conditions.


Federal and state regulators review offshore development proposals on many levels and coordinate a lot of their efforts; for example, the Florida State Clearinghouse is the "single point of contact for the receipt of federal activities that require inter-agency review, which includes activities subject to consistency review under the Florida Coastal Management Program."

But the state laws are still myriad and the process doesn't bring local governments into the loop early enough and fails to clearly guide offshore development where it will do the least harm.

For example:

A $1 billion gas pipeline has been proposed off Anna Maria Island in Manatee County. A company wants to build a port about 30 miles offshore to unload liquefied natural gas from tanker ships arriving from foreign ports, according to a recent report in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The natural gas would be turned back into gaseous form and sent through more than 40 miles of submerged pipes and into Port Manatee. Two proposed pipeline routes would travel through sand deposits in the Gulf of Mexico, off Anna Maria Island.

Such pipelines typically require buffers of up to 3,000 feet, making much of that high-quality sand off-limits to dredging operations. That sand is used to re-nourish and rebuild local beaches. Sarasota County officials are concerned that the proposed routes would make it more expensive to get good sand for beach re-nourishment projects. The county commissioners have already sent a protest letter to federal regulators.FLORIDA HAS 1,197 MILES OF COASTLINEA suitable solution might eventually be found. But, if Florida had a comprehensive ocean-planning law in place, this type of protest might be avoided.

Plus, a proactive planning law could help federal, state and local governments - and private companies - direct facilities where they would do the most good and least harm.

Controversy is bound to arise whenever anyone wants to make use of the oceans off Florida, which has 1,197 statue miles of coastline. Even under existing laws, shipping companies, energy developers, commercial fishermen, tourism officials, coastal residents and environmentalists might increasingly find themselves butting heads over the use of offshore waters.

The potential for offshore wind power will be discussed June 25-28 when Gov. Charlie Crist holds a 2008 Climate Change Summit in Miami.

Big, offshore windmills have generated opposition when proposed elsewhere. If an ocean-management plan is pulled together soon by Florida, the offshore aspects of the state's development of sorely needed alternative energy supplies could proceed with a thoughtful, organized approach rather than incrementally.

Massachusetts is far from completing a comprehensive ocean-management plan, but it's ahead of other states with the new law and a timetable for crafting a plan.

The need for such a strategy in Massachusetts was first identified 15 years ago, the Globe reported.

In that case, Florida, time is wasting.