This weekend, millions of Americans will head to the beach to celebrate Independence Day—and get stuck in traffic trying to get there. But we aren’t the only ones getting tied up as we try to use the ocean: Businesses are too. New business projects in any setting require jumping through some regulatory hoops, but projects in the ocean are notoriously more difficult to navigate. Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by multiple agencies (over 20 on the federal level, not counting states). Projects on the sea must often go through a time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating authorization process by multiple levels of government. For many businesses, this can mean months to years of time spent waiting instead of generating new jobs and revenue.
In a new case study released last month, Seaplan (an independent ocean science and policy group) looked at whether smart ocean planning can help. They reviewed an undersea cable project in Massachusetts – where an ocean plan is already in place for state waters – and asked whether the ocean plan helped speed project approval. After interviewing both the project administrators and government regulators, the answer was a resounding yes. Click here to read the full study.
Massachusetts was one of the first states in the nation to recognize the importance of smart ocean planning to help manage its coastal resources and promote balance between new and existing ocean uses. In 2009, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan was adopted. The first project under the plan was a collaboration between Comcast and NSTAR Electric Company: the Martha’s Vineyard Hybrid Cable project. When this new cable—a hybrid bundling electricity with fiber optic cables—is finished, it will link Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan allowed the Martha’s Vineyard project to be looked at comprehensively, so that regulators could streamline the permitting process.
So how exactly did smart ocean planning smooth out the process? Seaplan narrowed it down to three reasons:
- Anticipation: When authorities developed the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, they used data and maps to make decisions ahead of time on which types of activities are best suited for certain locations. Because these decisions were already laid out, the cable project administrators were able to consider those decisions in project design. This clear direction gave Comcast and NSTAR the incentive to bundle their cables, therefore maximizing use of the space that the Plan dedicated for submarine cables.
- Streamlining: To make smart decisions, the Plan utilized an online, interactive mapping tool called the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS). Government staff were able to use this tool to easily identify potential impacts on the project’s suggested geographic area. Then, using siting standards laid out in the Plan, they found an ideal route for the cable. This, in addition to the Plan’s requirement for higher interagency communication, drastically cut down the time spent by agencies on reviewing the proposed project site.
- Protection: The Plan helps decision-makers understand where sensitive marine resources like eel grass exist so that they can avoid those areas when siting projects. And by combining the Comcast and NSTAR projects into one, the cable has a smaller footprint on the ocean floor.
The Martha’s Vineyard Hybrid Cable Project is just the first of many projects to come. It’s expected that as the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan matures, the benefits of smart ocean planning for both businesses and government regulators will increase.