The Nature Conservancy and Save the Sound celebrate passage of Blue Plan

The Connecticut Senate last night backed creation of a Long Island Sound Blue Plan that will help protect the natural habitats and wildlife on which people depend, while also securing an economically productive future for the region.

“This is about securing the best possible future for a publicly-owned natural resource that provides critical—and extremely valuable—services for people and a home for a myriad of animal and plant species,” said Frogard Ryan, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. “Balancing the uses of the Sound will be a challenging task, but not doing so would be disastrous.”

A 2015 Earth Economics report estimated the value of Long Island Sound and its basin at $17-$36 billion annually. Ensuring that the Sound remains economically productive for generations to come requires planning today. The Blue Plan aims to start that planning.

With the Senate and House having passed House Bill 6839, An Act Concerning a Long Island Sound Blue Plan and Resource and Use Inventory, it now goes to Gov. Dannel Malloy for his signature. Malloy had included the bill as part of his legislative package in February.

“Governor Malloy and the General Assembly have shown vision and courage with this initiative,” Ryan said. “That such a complex piece of legislation has achieved remarkable bipartisan support speaks volumes about its importance. Now, we are beginning a new stage of work, and I’m extremely optimistic about where it will lead.”

Based on an initiative introduced last year by The Nature Conservancy, this legislation creates a committee of scientists, advocates, policy makers, business representatives, municipal leaders, fishers, marine trades representatives, and other stakeholders from Connecticut. The committee will work with New York to catalog the Sound’s numerous resources, inventory how they and the Sound are currently used and enjoyed, and plan for the future.

Once the planning process is complete, the draft Blue Plan will then go back before the Legislature for approval. The Blue Plan will become part of the Connecticut Coastal Management Program and will officially guide the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquaculture in the review of applications. The plan will inform existing regulations, not create new ones. Currently, project applicants set the agenda, and the public and the DEEP can respond only through the regulatory process to individual proposals.

“Over the last decade we have faced many fights in the effort to keep Long Island Sound’s waters open to all and its habitats protected from unwise development—fights like Broadwater and Islander East,” said Leah Schmalz, program director for Save the Sound.

“The Blue Plan is a critical step for a better future for Long Island Sound,” Schmalz said. “It will protect traditional water uses and empower the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to quickly and accurately address potential use conflicts and threats to fragile ecosystems. It will also help businesses seeking to use the Sound by providing them with greater information and certainty from the start, so they can ensure their applications comply with environmental laws before ever sending them to DEEP. That should improve understanding and efficiencies for everyone, private and public sector alike.”

More than 10 years ago, the groundwork for establishing the Blue Plan began at the Long Island Sound Citizens Summit, an annual conference hosted by Save the Sound and the Long Island Sound Study. Since then, coastal marine spatial planning has ranked as a top priority in legislative taskforce recommendations and regional action plans, like the Taskforce on Long Island Sound and the SoundVision Plan. This legislation provides Connecticut with the authority it needs to comprehensively plan for multiple future uses of the Sound.

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