ECO May 2014 : Page 46

CASE STUDY Massachusetts Ocean Plan Improves Review and Permitting for Hybrid Submarine Cable Project By: Stephanie Moura and Patrick Siebenlist, SeaPlan Introduction Even under the best conditions, marine infrastructure pro-jects face confused regulatory seas. For proponents and regulators alike, multiple authorizations required from multiple levels of government, the absence of incentives to coordinate information-gathering and decision-making processes, and the lack of contextual baseline information and policy guidance frequently conspire to create an inconsistent and inefficient environmental review and permitting regime. At the national, regional, and state levels, marine spatial planning is increasingly seen as a management tool that has the potential to address these kinds of inefficiencies. Practitioners and advocates of ocean planning commonly assert that it can provide benefits, including improved regulatory efficiency, greater certainty for marine indus-try, increased transparency and input into government decision-making by affected stakeholders, enhanced data availability, and outcomes that minimize environmental impacts and conflicts among users of ocean space and resources. To examine these claims, we turn to a recent example from Massachusetts. Martha's Vineyard Hybrid Submarine Cable Project A 2008 Massachusetts state legislative mandate required development of an ocean plan that, among other things, protects sensitive, public trust marine life and habitats and fosters sustainable ocean uses, including infrastruc-ture necessary to maintain the economy and quality of life. Accordingly, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), on behalf of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, led an intensive data integration and stakeholder consultation process, after which the state issued a marine spatial plan for its state waters in late 2009 — the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (Plan). The first project to go forward under the Plan is the installation of a hybrid sub-marine fiber optic and electric power cable between Cape Cod and the island of Martha's Vineyard, a collaboration between Comcast and NSTAR Electric Company; the project is currently under construction. This project offers the first opportunity to review the impact of the state ocean plan on the permitting process and compare anticipated benefits and regulatory efficiencies experi-enced by project proponents and regulatory agency staff. The Plan is implemented through existing authorities, including the state-equivalent NEPA program — the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) — and other relevant state regulatory programs. The Plan guides project planning and permitting not by spatial des-ignation but by siting and performance standards that direct development away from mapped areas of high value natural resources and concentrations of existing water-dependent uses. A straightforward compatibility analysis of natural resources and human uses confirms the intuitive: different kinds of development impacts resources and other uses differently. Accordingly, the Plan’s performance standards are tailored to reflect the sensitivity of a given resource to specific uses. For cable projects whose impact profile involves ocean bottom dis-turbance, applicable performance standards require that installation avoid damage or cause no alteration to the following sensitive marine habitats: 1) areas of hard/com-plex seafloor; 2) eelgrass; and 3) inter-tidal flats. See Figure 1, which presents resource map layers. The cable project was initiated when Comcast, represent-ed by Power Engineers, LLC and Epsilon Associates, Inc.(Epsilon), presented a proposal to run a marine fiber 46 eco MAY 2014

Case Study

Stephanie Moura

Massachusetts Ocean Plan Improves Review and Permitting for Hybrid Submarine Cable Project

Introduction

Even under the best conditions, marine infrastructure projects face confused regulatory seas. For proponents and regulators alike, multiple authorizations required from multiple levels of government, the absence of incentives to coordinate information-gathering and decision-making processes, and the lack of contextual baseline information and policy guidance frequently conspire to create an inconsistent and inefficient environmental review and permitting regime.

At the national, regional, and state levels, marine spatial planning is increasingly seen as a management tool that has the potential to address these kinds of inefficiencies. Practitioners and advocates of ocean planning commonly assert that it can provide benefits, including improved regulatory efficiency, greater certainty for marine industry, increased transparency and input into government decision-making by affected stakeholders, enhanced data availability, and outcomes that minimize environmental impacts and conflicts among users of ocean space and resources. To examine these claims, we turn to a recent example from Massachusetts.

Martha's Vineyard Hybrid Submarine Cable Project

A 2008 Massachusetts state legislative mandate required development of an ocean plan that, among other things, protects sensitive, public trust marine life and habitats and fosters sustainable ocean uses, including infrastructure necessary to maintain the economy and quality of life. Accordingly, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), on behalf of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, led an intensive data integration and stakeholder consultation process, after which the state issued a marine spatial plan For its state waters in late 2009 — the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (Plan). The first project to go forward under the Plan is the installation of a hybrid submarine fiber optic and electric power cable between Cape Cod and the island of Martha's Vineyard, a collaboration between Comcast and NSTAR Electric Company; the project is currently under construction. This project offers the first opportunity to review the impact of the state ocean plan on the permitting process and compare anticipated benefits and regulatory efficiencies experienced by project proponents and regulatory agency staff. The Plan is implemented through existing authorities, including the state-equivalent NEPA program — the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) — and other relevant state regulatory programs. The Plan guides project planning and permitting not by spatial designation but by siting and performance standards that direct development away from mapped areas of high value natural resources and concentrations of existing water-dependent uses. A straightforward compatibility analysis of natural resources and human uses confirms the intuitive: different kinds of development impacts resources and other uses differently. Accordingly, the Plan’s performance standards are tailored to reflect the sensitivity of a given resource to specific uses. For cable projects whose impact profile involves ocean bottom disturbance, applicable performance standards require that installation avoid damage or cause no alteration to the following sensitive marine habitats: 1) areas of hard/complex seafloor; 2) eelgrass; and 3) inter-tidal flats. See Figure 1, which presents resource map layers.

The cable project was initiated when Comcast, represented by Power Engineers, LLC and Epsilon Associates, Inc.(Epsilon), presented a proposal to run a marine fiber Optic cable from the Massachusetts mainland to the island of Martha's Vineyard. Using the Plan for baseline data and siting guidance, pre-application meetings with CZM and other state agencies identified a preferred alternative route and a scope for confirmatory field work. Comcast contracted with CR Environmental and Epsilon to conduct reconnaissance-level marine surveys, and resulting data were included in the project's first MEPA environmental review filing, which included a request that only a single environmental impact report, rather than the typical draft and final reports, be required. That request was granted, and detailed marine surveys were performed to refine the route; results were included in the EIR. Throughout route refinement and environmental review, the project team worked closely with agency representatives at CZM to ensure compliance with the Plan. This work was recognized in 2013 when the Environmental Business Council of New England awarded the proponents, their consultants, and CZM the Nicholas Humber Environmental-Energy Award for Outstanding Collaboration.

Prior to preparation of that EIR, NSTAR, which was separately investigating a project to replace a failed electric cable and improve electric transmission capacity to Martha's Vineyard, became a co-proponent when Epsilon initiated a joint Comcast-NSTAR discussion about the possibility of co-locating the utilities in a single hybrid cable. Co-location of utilities is encouraged in the Plan. The resulting hybrid cable has a diameter of 5.5 in. And runs 4.6 mi across Vineyard Sound. Approximately 80% of the cable will be buried 4 to 6 ft. Below the seafloor, and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) will enable near shore placement beneath sensitive resources. Construction on the project began in November 2013 and is expected to be fully installed and in service by May of 2014. See Figure 2, which shows zoom of project location; Special, Sensitive, or Unique resources; and alternative routes

Observations

To understand whether and what benefits the project proponents and regulatory agencies experienced, SeaPlan conducted interviews with the proponents' environmental consultant, Epsilon, who supported the technical design and permitting process throughout the project and staff from five agencies involved in project review, consultation, or permitting: CZM, Division of Marine Fisheries and Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Typical of this kind of proposal, the Comcast/NSTAR project required a number of environmental reviews and approvals, including State MEPA review and certificate (in this case the submission of an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) and a single Environmental Impact Report (EIR)), MassDEP Chapter 91 Waterways License, MassDEP Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certificate and US Army Corps of Engineers Section 404/10 permit, Wetlands Protection Act Order of Conditions from the towns of Falmouth and Tisbury, review by the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources, review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission and Cape Cod Commission, and, finally, review for consistency with the enforceable polices of the State's Coastal Zone Management Plan.

The interview results demonstrate that the Plan benefitted both commercial and regulatory interests by providing previously unavailable baseline data and management guidance that supported 1) process predictability; 2) regulatory efficiencies; and 3) an improved environmental outcome.

Predictability: Generally, any industry sector proposing marine infrastructure development and operation has the dual objectives of meeting regulatory requirements while Also keeping the project on schedule and within budget. For their part, agency review and permitting authorities aim to effectively execute their respective regulatory responsibilities within inherent institutional resource limits. For both parties, reducing uncertainty in project development and review is desirable.

In this case, both the proponents and the agencies reported improved predictability, as compared with pre- Plan circumstances, stemming largely from the availability of baseline data and maps that represented a coordinated agency determination about the location and relative significance of jurisdictional resources. In short, through the process of developing the Plan, authorities had already agreed on their interpretation of the data and how it would be used in the context of their individual regulatory programs. Thus, the Plan benefited all parties by providing a roadmap that constructively focused pre-application and final review on a limited set of practicable alternatives. Epsilon, the project’s environmental consultants, summarized the new permitting process with the Ocean Management Plan “as being very helpful because it defined the environmental constraints up front so we were able to take them into account early in the project design which made the design and permitting more efficient."

In addition, Plan guidance that linear infrastructure be "bundled" within common corridors to the maximum extent feasible provided clear direction to Comcast and NSTAR, thereby facilitating co-location. Bundling the two cables yielded considerable benefits for both companies: the larger cable diameter resulted in an operational benefit to Comcast, while the project consultant estimated that NSTAR saved 18 months in avoided review and permitting time.

Regulatory efficiencies: The Plan's data and management guidance also supported significant regulatory efficiencies. Agency and proponent interviewees indicated that they benefited from the availability of and access to relevant spatial information through the Plan's interactive data portal, Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS). Agencies were able to request the proponents gather and provide confirmatory data from within a better defined, project-specific survey corridor rather than the typical requirement for field studies over a larger geographic area required to characterize site conditions, potential impacts, and possible alternatives. Following this process of impact avoidance also resulted in a lower mitigation fee assessed to the proponent.

MORIS also gave the proponents an improved tool for accessing existing information and understanding data gaps, enabling them to more efficiently and cost effectively design their data collection plan. Management guidance and siting performance standards clarified up Front in the Plan reduced the time spent between reviewing agencies and the project proponent identifying primary and alternative cable routes. Because resource and use characterization and compatibility analyses were conducted during Plan development and those data were made accessible through MORIS, the State MEPA unit was able to scope the project for a single, rather than two part, environmental impact review. As a result, fewer consultations were required between the project proponent and regulatory authorities during MEPA review and the permitting process, although close consultations between the proponents and CZM were helpful throughout the process.

Also noteworthy in this case was a post-permitting efficiency during the construction phase. The proponent encountered an unforeseen need for additional technology to support the HDD conduit installation and was able to quickly and effectively agree on the preferred method through consultation with the previously established agency review team. This resulted in use of the technology with fewer environmental impacts.

Overall, participants reported that the Plan advanced their respective regulatory and development interests, but comments also illustrated that new practice under the Plan required more effort by certain agencies. For example, one agency would not have typically participated in coordinated interagency discussion, a process now required under the Plan. It was noted that while this required a greater investment of agency time, it provided an overall benefit to the outcome by resolving issues internally rather than leaving the project proponent to reconcile inconsistent or conflicting agency directives. A regional agency felt that more time than usual was required in pre-application meetings with the project proponents but that the formal review and approval process was streamlined as a result. The lead federal agency reported no change in practice or efficiency, which is not surprising because the Plan does not guide federal action. State agencies who typically participate in coordinated project review estimated that their review time was reduced by half.

Environmental outcomes: While construction is not yet completed, the project promises better environmental outcomes than under the previous management system. Agencies and the proponents expect direct improved outcomes to result from a cabling route and installation technologies that avoid previously identified sensitive marine resources and a final design that combines two submarine cable projects in a single construction plan and footprint. Indirectly, the project's efficient approval process for the replacement power cable decreased the duration of the use for interim alternative power sources from fossil fuel burning generators on Martha's Vineyard.

Conclusion

In summary, the experiences reported by agency staff and the project proponents' consultant involved in the Martha's Vineyard Hybrid Submarine Cable Project demonstrate that the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan provided many of the benefits attributed to marine spatial planning. Because this was the agencies' first practical experience using the Plan, regulatory efficiencies were distributed unevenly, but participants believe that as more data are incorporated in the Plan and as agencies gain experience with the new management framework, the benefits to agencies and project proponents will increase. The findings of this case study may be useful to government agencies and project proponents elsewhere seeking to assess the rhetoric associated with marine spatial planning or who are simply interested in options for improving ocean management decision making.

About SeaPlan

Established in 2006, SeaPlan serves governments, nongovernment organizations, and private sector clients committed to the objective use of best available science, the informed participation of affected stakeholders, and creation of pragmatic solutions that reflect consideration of the natural and human systems in which they occur.

Read the full article at http://digital.eco-tsc.com/article/Case+Study/1686250/205327/article.html.

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