Mid-Atlantic Regional ocean Planning Workshop Report Written by Attendee NOPC

Earlier this month (April), NOPC attended the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Planning Workshop in Arlington, VA.  The two-day invitation-only event was convened by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean and federal agencies involved with ocean planning in the Mid-Atlantic.  While the event organizers will be posting a report and video clips from the workshop sometime over the coming weeks, a summary of some of the statements and topics of interest is provided below.  

During the meeting, it was announced that the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body (RPB) has been formally designated.  Under the National Ocean Policy Executive Order, the Mid-Atlantic RPB is tasked with developing a Coastal and Marine Spatial Plan for Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.


A membership roster is being finalized and will soon be made public.  In the meantime, it was disclosed that the RPB will be comprised of 9 federal agencies, 12 state representatives, 1 tribe, and 1 Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council government voting member.  More information is also said to be on the way regarding a series of RPB meetings. 


RPB federal co-lead Maureen Bornholdt (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Office of Renewable Energy Programs) noted that the process allows for a lot of flexibility, while RPB state co-lead Sarah Cooksey (Administrator of Delaware Coastal Program) and RPB tribal co-lead Gerrod Smith (Chief Financial Officer of the Shinnecock Indian Nation) said that regional ocean planning is worth the effort.  Cooksey added that the effort will require leadership, attention to detail, political risks, time, disagreement, and patience, and asked for help in generating the right stakeholder lists.

National Ocean Council Co-Chair and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley welcomed attendees and talked about how the National Ocean Policy is meant to help develop science and information that will speed permitting decisions and lead to better resource management and coordination. 

She stressed that the policy is not a federal policy, but is rather based on regional efforts with on-the-ground leadership to address issues important to the regions, adding that the scope, scale, and content of planning is “up to you.”  Sutley referred to the federal role as being a resource that is available to share data and coordinate.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech noted the Commonwealth’s dramatically diverse economy, and said that he hopes any actions undertaken are done with a respect for all ocean activities and the sovereignty of states.  He added that decisions must be made with a full appreciation of the impacts on activities in state waters and land-based interests such as ports that are dependent on ocean and coastal activities.  Domenech said he hopes to see the possibility for oil and gas production in federal waters with next 5-Year Plan.

A new data portal recently launched by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean also received a lot of attention.  This was described as “a tool that can really be used to plan,” and the audience was asked to help provide feedback as to whether they have captured all the right themes (use/resource data layers) in the portal thus far.  In response to a question, it was noted that there will likely be data conflicts related to the portal, as there will not be a “data judge” or filter.  Another involved with the portal said that in trying to encourage the submission of data, they have not been screening uploads for compliance i.e. Data Quality Act.

Breakout sessions on Day 1 were charged with identifying questions and concerns about regional ocean planning.  In one session, questions and concerns were raised as to ensuring that stakeholders have more than an advisory role, how to engage more of the business community, how the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body will determine whether and to what extent to engage in regional ocean planning, the need to account for future potential uses in any planning activities, incentives and accountability regarding a Mid-Atlantic ocean plan, the role, purpose, authority, and mission of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body, and how interim work products will be used to affect ongoing Bureau of Ocean Energy Management process development.

Breakout sessions on Day 2 were tasked with identifying recommendations for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body.  Points raised included the need to obtain the support of user groups in decisions about whether and to what extent to engage in regional ocean planning, concerns about the ability to develop the political will to see the planning organization as a sustainable entity, the need for funding to make the organization sustainable (including calls for NGO’s to support the body as a public-private partnership), the need to bring stakeholders into the process, ensuring that the process does not restrict human uses and that data collection activities account for future potential uses, the need to ensure that the process does not create another layer of bureaucracy, providing a clear mechanism for industry to contribute, including by adding industry representation to the Regional Planning Body, the need to seriously consider how to include watersheds, how the Regional Planning Body will address what happens when actions are inconsistent with a plan, and the need to discuss land-use activities in a more robust manner.

During one session, among other things, it was noted that (1) if the process is done properly, it could affect the placement of some activities; (2) there has to be some new funding to sustain the effort; (3) demonstrated success will provide political cover; (4) fishermen shouldn’t be the only ones who are asked to change the way they do business; (5) the Regional Planning Body should be understood to be a resource for data and information; and (6) the oceans belong to everyone and are a public trust resource.

Asked what the end product of the Regional Planning Body will be, state co-lead Sarah Cooksey said that it could be a plan or a process, but that she does not have the answer.  The Director of New York’s Ocean and Great Lakes Program and Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean Management Board Member Greg Capobianco said that he does not see the end product being a plan because that is not practical.  He stated that a better approach is to use the process as an opportunity to bring in new information that can then be made available to make decisions of the day in a better way more quickly.

When asked how the Regional Planning Body would establish credibility given that there are existing agencies with pre-existing mandates, National Marine Fisheries Service official and RPB member Thomas Bigford said that taking incremental steps beginning with small-scale pilot projects will present opportunities to show progress and create energy to move to something bigger.

After an audience member suggested a missed opportunity by not including stakeholders on Regional Planning Bodies, several agreed, with John Weber of the Surfrider Foundation noting that ‘if we get this [regional ocean planning] wrong, we could make a lot of people mad.’

Sarah Cooksey, state co-lead for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body, invited individuals to contact the RPB members through the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean or the Regional Planning Body itself to let them know about stakeholders or organizations that should be engaged, and encouraged stakeholders to attend meetings.