By Jack Coleman
If only we could do for the waters off Nantucket what we have done for Cape Cod. Land use practices on the Cape have shielded thousands of acres from development, said Peter Borrelli, executive director of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies at a public forum last night.
But comparable protections are not in place for the "Nantucket Shelf Region," a broad swath of the continental shelf extending more than 200 miles eastward from Nantucket Sound to Georges Bank, Borrelli said.
The offshore wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound is only one potential large-scale use of the shelf region, Borrelli said. The decades-long moratorium on offshore mining and exploration for oil and natural gas "could be undone by lunch tomorrow," he said. "Any day now we could be fighting over that issue."
The forum drew about 50 people to the Barnstable senior center to mark the release of a report from the Center titled, "Toward an Ocean Vision for the Nantucket Shelf Region."
The report calls for "bottom-up" collaborative management of the region and protection from development by reinforcing its status as a Marine Protected Area, an executive order signed by then-President Clinton and extended by President Bush.
Along with Borrelli, panelists at the forum included State Senator Robert O'Leary and State Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, both Barnstable Democrats; Greg Watson, vice president of sustainable development and renewable energy for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative; and Jo Ann Muramoto, Ph.D., a senior scientist with the Horsley Witten Group consulting firm.
Moderating the discussion was former Cape Cod Commission executive director Armando Carbonell, now a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. A copy of the report is available at the center's web site by clicking here.
Sandwich group prepared report
The center hired Horsley Witten Group of Sandwich to prepare the report and Muramoto was its principal author. While much research has been done on Stellwagen Bank, a national marine sanctuary just north of Provincetown, and the fertile fishing grounds of Georges Bank, Muramoto said, comparatively little has been done on the Nantucket Shelf Region. "That's an important data gap," she said.
The shelf region is marked by shallow depths and "dynamic water flow and circulation," Muramoto said. Many areas, known as tidal mixing fronts, are characterized by abundant movement along the entire water column. This brings a steady flow of nutrients to the surface and fosters the health of many aquatic species, Muramoto said.
Borrelli said the impetus for the report had less to do with the Cape Wind project than the release of three major studies last year.
The region is situated at the demarcation between colder waters in the Gulf of Maine to the north and warmer waters from the south," Muramoto said. "We're actually looking at a number of ecosystems here."
Borrelli said the impetus for the report had less to do with the Cape Wind project than the release of three major studies last year by the Pew Ocean Commission, the US Commission on Ocean Policy and the Massachusetts Task Force on Ocean Management.
"All three of these reports came to very similar overall conclusions," Borrelli said. "In order to properly manage, govern and use our ocean resources, we have to adopt the principal of eco-based management and we need to work collaboratively in that planning process."
"We took the findings of those three reports and said, what does that mean for us here?" Borrelli said.
Muramoto said eco-based management "protects the entire resource and the processes within it, not just individual species."
Another committee needed
The report recommends creation of a Nantucket Shelf Regional Coordinating Committee, a "bottom-up" planning ground comprised of officials from local, regional, state and federal government and "stakeholders" with an interest in using coastal waters.
The Cape Wind proposal led to much soul-searching for him, O'Leary said. But the benefits of the project, "which can't be denied, don't match up with the costs."
Atsalis said he agreed with Borrelli on the disparity in planning practices from land to water uses. "We haven't zoned our bodies of water," Atsalis said. Even though much of Cape Cod Bay is situated beyond the state's three-mile limit, all of the bay is considered within the limit, he said.
"The question Rob (Senator O'Leary) and I have been asked, why isn't Nantucket Sound also within the three-mile limit?"
Atsalis said he has filed legislation that would give the state's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs more jurisdiction in coastal waters beyond the three-mile limit.
O'Leary, former chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said he had filed legislation to give the state greater power to oversee and limit proposed uses for offshore waters such as the Cape Wind project. O'Leary said Gov. Mitt Romney was preparing to file similar legislation.
Our state senator wants a plan
"We need to start doing this," O'Leary said. "There are a lot of competing interests out there. Before we begin permitting things out there, we need a plan."
"We have become so dependent upon natural gas that we come close to having blackouts in the middle of winter," Watson said
The Cape Wind proposal led to much soul-searching for him, O'Leary said. But the benefits of the project, "which can't be denied, don't match up with the costs," O'Leary said. "Fundamentally, this is a high-impact project, a test project."
But Watson, who works for a quasi-public agency supports development of renewable energy, pointed out that the Northeast consumes a disproportionately high rate of the nation's energy while producing little of its own.
"We have become so dependent upon natural gas that we come close to having blackouts in the middle of winter," Watson said.
Increasing demand for electricity has also led to a resurgence nuclear industry, which touts its plants as emission-free and deserving of inclusion in state-mandated renewable portfolio standards, Watson said. The mandates requires a certain portion of electricity consumed in the state to come from renewable sources. "We need to keep in mind that we can make decisions by default," he said.
"We know that wind is the fastest growing source of electricity in the world," Watson said. "Not just the fastest growing source of renewable electricity, it's the fastest growing source of electricity in the world."
Not to be overlooked, Watson added, is that the Cape Wind project "is complying with the law as it exists today. Should there be changes? Perhaps. Should that inform what we do in the future? Absolutely. But are they complying with the law as it exists today."
Borrelli said he was skeptical of claims that the Cape Wind project will set a major precedent, regardless of whether it is built. "We should not give up in our pursuit of renewable energy," Borrelli said. "But we've got to do it right."
The center will also release the results of a four-year study tomorrow (Thursday) on the effects of Boston's sewage outfall tunnel on Cape Cod Bay, Stellwagen Bay and Massachusetts Bay.