Campus & Community

Zoning the Atlantic

2 min read

Massachusetts environmental secretary outlines pending legislation

Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs Ellen Roy Herzfelder outlined Monday (March 21) what state officials hope will become the nation’s first ocean management plan to provide guidance for development projects and help resolve conflicts over the use of the state’s seas.
Herzfelder spoke at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Taubman building during an event co-sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston and by the Harvard University Center for the Environment. Rappaport Institute Executive Director David Luberoff moderated the event.

Center for the Environment Faculty Director Daniel Schrag, professor of earth and planetary sciences, commented on Herzfelder’s presentation and said it was important for any plan to both recognize the degraded state of today’s oceans and to have their improvement as a goal.

“Let’s not be satisfied with maintaining the current state [of the ocean],” Schrag said. “The current state is very, very broken.”

The seas off the Massachusetts coast have historically been important to the state, Herzfelder said. The legislation was prompted by the onslaught of conflicting development proposals and uses, from shipping lanes to power generation to sand mining for beach replenishment.

Massachusetts state waters extend three miles from shore and Herzfelder likened the current development process to the “wild west” where developers plant their flag in a particular spot, propose a use and then go through an approval process. That approval process, Herzfelder said, is all too often conducted in ignorance of the environmental characteristics of an area because data about the ocean real estate are sparse.

“We’re kind of flying blindly into the future,” Herzfelder said. “We have ocean sprawl; we don’t have ocean zoning.”