This is a guest post written by: Dr. Anna M. Zivian and Anne Merwin of Ocean Conservancy. Dr. Zivian is a former county commissioner for San Miguel County, Colorado and an expert on marine spatial planning; Anne Merwin is an attorney and Director of the Coastal & Marine Spatial Planning program.
Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) formed by state, federal and tribal governments in both the Northeast (Connecticut through Maine) and the Mid-Atlantic (Virginia through New York) have spent the last several years laying the groundwork that will facilitate the development of ocean plans for federal waters in those regions. This work has flown under the radar of many county officials, but as plan development shifts into high gear this fall, county officials and staff are presented with an ideal opportunity to get up to speed. Ocean planning presents a key opportunity for coastal county leaders to ensure their communities' interests are reflected and protected in these plans.
First, a brief primer what is ocean planning? We are all facing increased competition for valuable ocean and coastal resources. Millions of American jobs depend on access to marine resources. A healthy coastal environment provides the public with recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat and, in many local communities, cultural identity. Dozens of federal, state and local agencies assert jurisdiction over ocean uses, often without coordinating with each other. Ocean ecology and resource-use data that should help inform decision-making is often inadequate, hard to find or inconsistent. Ocean planning can address these issues by providing a procedure to develop and utilize data, coordinate decision-making amongst agencies and to ensure input and participation of the huge array of ocean stakeholder in the process. By taking a step back, using sound science and data, listening to stakeholders and looking at the big picture, decision makers will be better able to make smart, balanced choices about how to preserve a healthy ocean and a thriving economy. To learn more about the general process of ocean planning, click here.
Much of the early planning focuses on data development, to ensure ocean management decisions can be fully informed and based on sound science. The early round of data development for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic is now complete, and the regional entities responsible for developing ocean plans in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic (the RPBs) are beginning to write the actual ocean plans themselves. RPBs were formed under a 2010 Executive Order called the National Ocean Policy, and are made up of an array of federal, state, and tribal agencies. The RPBs have no independent regulatory authority; instead, federal agencies are tasked with implementing ocean planning through existing federal law. Ultimately, their task is to improve federal decision-making through the use of better data and baseline information, interagency coordination, and enhanced public and stakeholder participation. This could change the way federal agencies do business in a variety of ways, depending on how the plan is written. The Northeast recently released a document laying out some of these options, available here.
As of this fall, the RPBs will begin discussing the specifics of what the ocean plans should look like what issues they will focus on, how a plan will address those issues and how the plan should be used by the multitude of local, state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over the ocean. The first major opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions on these questions are starting this month. A series of Northeast state-based meetings have been announced for October, leading up to a November 13-14th RPB meeting where plan elements will be discussed. Click here for a full meeting list. Similar meetings have also been announced for the Mid-Atlantic in November. Click here for specific dates and locations.
These early meetings represent a critical opportunity for coastal counties to engage and influence the outcome of the ocean planning process. In order to ensure counties' needs are reflected in the ocean plans, county leaders will need to get involved in plan development. For example, the Northeast will be considering the issue of sand mining a major tool for beach replenishment (and associated coastal economic recovery) in the wake of storms, but also a potential source of conflict with multiple other uses. We expect this issue will be of particular interest to many coastal counties across the region. More generally, we know that counties are uniquely positioned to provide a voice for citizens and ocean users. Counties are well-versed in planning issues as a former commissioner, a huge part of Dr. Zivian's day-to-day work was addressing comprehensive land use planning issues. In addition, county officials see the effects of uncoordinated ocean use on their communities directly and understand the importance of addressing these issues. County officials know how to work with other local governments and agencies, stakeholders and individual citizens to plan for the future. Such perspectives and skill sets would be appreciated in ocean planning.
Ocean plans for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are scheduled for completion by the end of 2016, which means that now is the time to get engaged. If you want to learn more, please don't hesitate to reach out to Anne Merwin (email@example.com).