Oregon Moves to Zone Ocean

As Oregon moves to zone the ocean off its coast, it must balance competing interests and conflicting uses. It is not the first government body to attempt to plan for the future of its territorial waters. The United Kingdom, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have been working on marine spatial planning, in order to balance competing interests in an increasingly busy ocean. Their struggles and successes provide models for planners in Oregon.

 A model plan must protect the interests of current stakeholders like commercial fisheries, near-shore aquaculturists such as oyster farmers, shippers, and those who live along the water. At the same time, it must provide for a possible future in which offshore power generation is a reality and aquaculture spreads into wider waters. Most importantly, at least for many Oregonians, it must protect the wild beauty of the coast for generations to come.

Planners make tough choices, sometimes with inadequate information, so mechanisms must exist for fixing mistakes, because mistakes will be made. Zoning is complex in even small towns. Zoning an entire coast will require scientists, politicians, businesspeople, and bureaucrats to work together.

Fishing, for example, might be incompatible with commercial shipping lanes or with aquaculture. Seabird colonies and wildlife reserves are likely to be incompatible with the production of wave or wind power. Recreational uses are important too, and not merely for their effect on tourism revenue. Like zoning on land, moves to zone the ocean will probably meet with opposition and obstruction from competing interests on all sides.

For example, wave-energy leases off the central coast of Oregon mean tax revenue and well-paying jobs. That economic potential must be balanced against possible ecological and social costs. The entrepreneurs who want to exploit wave energy to produce relatively clean power have specific requirements, and must be assured suitable places on the marine map if they are to succeed.

All Oregonians must have a voice in what happens to their coast and their ocean. However, it is better for Oregon if people educate themselves. Those who want to live in harmony with nature can learn from the scientists involved in the plan. Their rigorous methods produce maps that can help preserve the ocean for everyone, just as zoning laws let business, industry, recreational and residential uses coexist in well-run cities.

Everyone is involved. Therefore, everyone has a duty to understand the implications of certain uses, and the foreseeable consequences if certain courses are set. Oregon is deciding the future of all its citizens when it decides what to do with its coastal waters.

The territorial waters of Oregon encompass 1,250 square miles. Oregon, like most coastal states, has jurisdiction over the ocean and its floor for three miles out to sea. The choices it makes are difficult and complex, but choices must be made.