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Published On: 2/14/13

Ocean Zoning Funds Removed From Sandy Relief Bill

By: Shawn J. Soper via Maryland Coast Dispatch

OCEAN CITY -- A potential plan to effectively zone vast areas of ocean along the nation’s coastlines will not get $150 million in federal funding after the House last week voted to remove the appropriation hidden in a much-larger Hurricane Sandy relief bill.

Last week, the House took up a massive federal funding bill intended to help victims of Hurricane Sandy and discovered some unintended pork had been added to the appropriation including $150 million in federal funding to start implementing the Obama Administration’s plan to zone vast areas of ocean off the nation’s coasts for different uses. However, the House Natural Resources Committee sniffed out the rather obscure addition to the Sandy relief bill and was able to garner the votes to kill the expenditure with an amendment.

In 2010, based on recommendations of the Interagency Task Force on Ocean Policy, President Obama issued an executive order calling for a National Ocean Policy, a proposal that included a somewhat controversial “marine spatial zoning” of the seas off the nation’s coastlines including here in Ocean City and the mid-Atlantic. The president called for the creation of a National Ocean Council, an organization of stakeholders to coordinate the federal regulation of activities along the nation’s coasts including among other things recreational and commercial fishing.

A pillar of the recommendations is the creation of a plan to implement the same type of planning and zoning practices applied on land to open areas of ocean off the coast. In essence, if the plan comes to fruition, some areas of the ocean could be zoned to allow for industrial uses such as offshore drilling, shipping and alternative energy, while others could be set aside for recreational uses such as fishing and boating.

More simply put, while industrial and commercial interests currently share the ocean with recreational uses such as fishing and boating in a kind of peaceful coexistence, the president’s plan for a national ocean policy including marine spatial zoning could create a grid of sorts off the coast designating where some activities are allowed and others are not. From the outset, the plan received mixed reviews from the public and private sectors, but the ocean zoning proposal has been more conceptual than practical.

However, in a multi-billion dollar appropriations bill intended to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, the Obama administration attempted to slip in a $150 million appropriation for the implementation of the ocean zoning plan hidden among the other additions remotely linked to the disaster relief bill.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings said this week removing the funding for the ocean zoning implementation plan was necessary because the proposal had not passed oversight by his committee and other stakeholder agencies.

“The National Ocean Policy creates a new layer of federal bureaucracy that has the potential to make major changes to the way inland, ocean and coastal activities are managed,” he said. “Without knowing the potential jobs and economic ramifications of the policy, nor the amount of time, money and resources it will cost to implement, it is imperative that we halt funding so that these questions can be answered and proper Congressional oversight can be conducted.”

U.S. Representative Tom Flores, who authored the amendment removing the ocean zoning funding from the Sandy relief bill, said the $150 million expenditure was premature because due diligence on the ocean zoning plan had not been conducted. Flores said an ill-conceived ocean zoning plan could have a great impact on several economic engines including commercial and recreational fishing and tourism.

“It is imperative that we first understand the effects this policy will have on jobs as well as the vast coastal and inland economies, which collectively impact almost 80 percent of our entire country,” he said. “I was pleased to see the passage of my amendment preventing the funding for the National Ocean Policy, which had the potential to take funds away from existing congressionally authorizes activities critical to the ocean and coastal economies.”

The Recreational Fishing Alliance, which has made no secret about its dissatisfaction with the National Ocean Policy, said the proposal to zone vast areas of the ocean threaten recreational and commercial fishing. The RFA said this week the National Ocean Policy threatens to ban certain fishing activities along the nation’s coastlines.

“The RFA has made it very clear the National Ocean Council threatens to override all of our current federal fisheries management processes, threatens the integrity of our recreational fishing councils and creates an overarching bureaucracy, which could summarily dismiss all input from stakeholders,” said Donofrio. “It has the very real possibility of arbitrarily banning sportfishing activities throughout U.S. coastal waters and we are absolutely opposed to this presidential decree.”

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