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Planning for better coastal balance

Federal effort seeks to minimize conflicts competition for limited coastal resources

February 9, 2011
Guest commentary by KEN & KATE GOODERHAM, Executive Directors of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association

We all know different people enjoy the beach in different ways. Some of us like to plop on a beach chair and read a book; others like to build sand castles, fish, boat, swim, play Frisbee and so on. On very busy beaches, communities have planned areas for various activities, so we all can enjoy ourselves without running each other over.

The same kind of planning that accommodates these numerous users of this small sandy resource is now being used under the water and along the coastline.

It's busy under there and getting busier, with all the traditional users — the recreational and tourism pursuits, commercial fishing, shipping, dredging and more — being joined by new interests such as offshore energy in wind, waves and oil, as well as saving a place for the environment in this mix.

It's not just having enough room, it's worrying about how they interact within the nearshore coastal area. Whether it is wind, natural gas or oil, that energy has to come ashore somewhere. For example, not only can't these various pipes and cables get in each other's way, we also need to think about what they are crossing — sand deposits critical for beach nourishment, sea grass beds, coral and other kinds of reefs, just to name a few that need consideration.

This is the focus of a new effort dubbed "coastal and marine spatial planning" (CMSP), an effort to balance and consciously manage those resources (hopefully) for the eventual benefit of all. To help get this going, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is using its mapping and analysis tools, its data management and dissemination capabilities and its traditional science-based focus, and it has established nine regional planning bodies to tackle the country's distinct coastal geographic areas. How?

• Include all coastal users in the discussion to allow minimize conflicts and incompatibility.

• Look at the bigger picture, to remember all these forces have an effect on the coast.

• Bring folks from all levels of government together to make a more integrated coastal policy.

• Put science-based facts at the center of making coastal decisions.

• Allow more public participation.

What might this mean in your community?

• More thorough mapping and documenting of offshore areas before major changes occur, so the needs of all users are considered in the larger decision-making process.

• If more decisions are based in science, that will drive data gathering and research of our coastline to a level that's rare (if not missing altogether) these days.

• Smaller efforts will be viewed in the context of the larger resource, so the impact of something happening over there would be understood -- and hopefully avoided -- before it takes a toll over here.

• Conflicts between coastal users might be resolved more easily, or at least identified earlier in the process. If the various users have a seat at the table from the start, it might promote negotiations rather than confrontations.

• Coastal users will be more engaged and projects will be better coordinated, which will enhance coastal planning and protection into the future.

It's early in the process, since the report driving this effort was issued less than a year ago (although CSMP has been gaining traction in other countries for years). However, this focus on integration and preservation could be a welcome planning tool for coastal advocates around the country, and could help us protect sand resources for the future.

To find out more about the CMSP approach online, go to To find out more about America's coast, visit



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