By Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper at Save the Sound and member of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan Advisory Council
It happened at 12:21a.m. May 14, 2021. After twenty years of discussing the need for a plan that provides data and pathways to protect Long Island Sound from haphazard development while supporting recreation, aquaculture, shipping, and other uses, the Long Island Sound Blue Plan unanimously passed both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly.
But before that could happen, there were regional fights like the proposed Iroquois Pipeline, Cross-Sound Cable, Islander East, and Shell Oil’s Broadwater that showed just how necessary such a plan is. Those battles brought together New York and Connecticut scientists, advocates, policy makers, business representatives, municipal leaders, seafood harvesters, marine trades representatives, and other stakeholders in a bi-state initiative to stop the cycle of poorly planned, destructive proposals. That effort led to Connecticut’s 2015 statutory Blue Plan Advisory Council, guided by the vision of a “Long Island Sound where new and existing traditional uses are mutually compatible with the habitats and natural features needed for marine life to thrive, assuring the wellbeing and prosperity of current and future generations.”
In partnership with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the council cataloged the Sound’s marine resources and uses like oystering and shipping, then developed a plan to safeguard them by establishing siting priorities, standards, and management practices.
Three core pillars steered the process: 1) Science-based planning and practices that consider both the environment and human uses will help us understand and protect Long Island Sound ecosystems and the services they provide; 2) An inclusive, transparent, stakeholder-endorsed and science-based Blue Plan decision-making process that is consistent with other plans and legal requirements will lead to decisions supporting the long-term vision for compatibility of human uses and thriving marine life; and 3) Science-based planning and practices that consider both human uses and the environment will sustain traditional and facilitate compatible new water-dependent uses to enhance quality of life and compatible economic development including maintaining the ecosystem services they depend upon.
The Blue Plan will now become part of the Connecticut Coastal Management Program and will officially guide DEEP and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquaculture as they review applications for uses of the Sound.
Some highlights from the plan include the following:
• Identified important ecological areas; this is beneficial for tracking recovery or decline of habitat and species, and allows both regulators and potential developers a clear picture of impacts that might arise from a given project, such as damage to eelgrass beds or complex bottom types with healthy biodiversity that are usually good places to go fishing.
• Mapped out traditional human uses that allows project developers to see how their actions may affect activities such as angling, commercial fishing, sailboat racing, shellfish lease areas, and shipping lanes.
• Regularly updated material with the best available science and expertise to ensure regulatory decisions are well grounded.
• A cooperative tool for the region’s residents, agencies, coastal planners, and industry to use for transparency, early conflict resolution, and streamlining permit discussions for new uses, which adds consistency and predictability.
The Blue Plan is a commonsense approach to building a better future for the public trust that is Long Island Sound—for ourselves and for future generations. The plan, along with factsheets, resource and use inventory, and all information can be found on DEEP’s website at ct.gov/deep/lisblueplan. ■