More Mass. management?

ProjoLead Editorial, Providence Journal, August 1, 2006

Plenty of bad politics and skullduggery have come with the attempt to kill the Cape Wind wind-power proposal for Nantucket Sound. But a good thing has been that Bay Staters are now paying more attention to the problems and possibilities of their coasts. They're more aware of how much wealth lies in the waters -- their immense but blessedly unquantifiable beauty, as well as their quantifiable riches, from fishing and shellfishing to renewable energy. They of course want the wealth to be properly "managed," but that word is subject to various interpretations -- rather like "affordable."

In 2003, Governor Romney, a Cape Wind foe, established a task force purportedly to find ways to more coherently and efficiently oversee development in the three miles out to sea controlled by the state (beyond which, to 200 miles out, the Feds have control). These waters encompass such present and potential items as wind-power turbines, fish farms, underwater cables, and liquefied-natural-gas facilities.

The upshot of Mr. Romney's initiative is that a new ocean-management bill is before the Massachusetts legislature. (The proposed Cape Wind project is in federal waters, and would anyway be grandfathered under the ocean-management bill, but the big three-part windmill project proposed by Jay Cashman for Buzzards Bay would come under the legislation.)

The legislation sounds nice, but would it streamline intelligent coastal development, or simply add red tape and paralysis? Its aim is said to be to keep coastal development away from inappropriate sites, steering it to more suitable ones. But would the inappropriate places prove to be anywhere near a yacht club, and the more suitable places, those with few campaign contributors? We suspect that politics would still intervene, big time.

And there would definitely be bureaucracy. Under the bill, the governor's environment secretary would manage the plan, presumably with occasional political pressure from the governor, aided by an advisory board of 19 (oh no!).

The problem is not that Massachusetts coastal projects get too little review. After all, the Cape Wind proposal has been tortured by 17 agencies! It is that getting a decision on anything is virtually impossible -- with consequent damage to both the environment and the economy. The coastal-management bill does not look likely to improve the situation.

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