Defining the Plan—A Report from Washington State

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By Jennifer Hennessey, Ocean Policy Lead, Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington’s Pacific Coast has superb coastal and marine resources that support a wide range of important uses. Having a marine spatial plan will enable Washington to safeguard its current marine assets and the uses that rely on them, while making it possible for future opportunities and ocean uses.

In 2010, Washington passed a state law containing guidance on the overall purpose and need, principles and specific requirements for a marine spatial plan. However, it is fairly broad and the planning team felt it was necessary to summarize the overarching purpose and goals of our plan as well as better define the scope and planning area.

Writing a Vision, Goals, and Objectives—Together

In Washington, the visioning process was tied directly to setting goals and objectives. So, they were done one right after the other. To do that, we invited state agencies, tribal representatives, federal and local governments and members of our stakeholder advisory council to participate in a series of three workshops to form draft goals and objectives. First, the group discussed their vision, needs and desires. From this, the group developed five topic areas and worked on refining these into draft goal and objective statements. Washington Sea Grant organized and facilitated the workshops (see summary report).

At the same time, county-based Marine Resource Committees hosted additional forums in communities to gather more input on priorities and interests from local citizens that could feed into the broader workshops (see Coastal Voices report).

The Washington Department of Ecology put the draft goals and objectives developed in the workshops out for public comment as part of a formal scoping period. During the scoping process, agencies found it helpful to further clarify the purpose of the plan with the following language:

“It is the aim of the MSP [Marine Spatial Plan] to ensure that future developments related to marine activities and uses are appropriately sited such that existing activities and new development can successfully coexist, while maintaining a productive, healthy marine ecosystem. Therefore, the plan will seek to evaluate and identify areas that these potential new uses should avoid, areas that are potentially suitable for new uses, and preferred areas for these potential new uses.”

The interagency planning team considered the comments received, made some adjustments based on the comments, and finalized the goals and objectives. A scoping summary report contains the goals and objectives for the plan as well as summary of comments. The process for developing plan goals and objectives took about 9 months.

Any process where the public can submit their views is hugely valuable, but it is also challenging to try to hear from as many people as possible and to incorporate their ideas and concerns. There’s a natural tension across the spectrum of views, needs and concerns that planning brings out. But, we have a number of great opportunities to help us complete our plan: an engaged stakeholder community, a supportive legislature, funding to support a wide range of projects and the planning process, and solid relationships with partner agencies and governments.

In the end, we created five goals and objectives. We also developed a list of more specific actions underneath each goal and objective to further describe the activities we envision the plan accomplishing. The MSP Actions List was finalized in July 2014.

Our Progress

Going forward, we will continue to actively engage and seek input from communities, stakeholders, and scientific experts in the planning process; coordinate with tribal, federal and local governments; complete several analyses that are in-progress; and finish plan development. After we have a draft plan out for public comment and review, we will then adjust and adopt a final plan. Washington is aiming to complete the initial plan by December 2016. As conditions change and information improves, our vision and plan can improve and adapt.

To date we have:

  • Collected a wide range of new spatial data on human uses and natural resources.
  • Created a website and online mapping application with access to view over 100 spatial datasets.
  • Supported a variety of research and modeling to better understand economic, social, and environmental parameters and relationships on the coast.
  • Provided opportunities for scientific review and input on projects and data.
  • Sponsored numerous community outreach and stakeholder engagement opportunities.

Existing ocean uses, such as fishing, aquaculture and recreation, are a central foundation of the culture, economy, and way of life on Washington’s Pacific Coast. Washington’s goals and objectives represent the area well because they recognize the importance of protecting existing uses and the environment while finding ways to address new ocean uses. We hope to continue working with government partners and stakeholders in that process.

Thoughts for the future

Washington’s planning process is making good progress. We’ve successfully leveraged resources and expertise across a range of topics to gather new and better data and information. We have highly engaged stakeholders, solid partnerships across agencies and governments, good scientific input, and a strong planning team. Through continued resources and coordination, communication and collaboration, we’ll be able to finish the development of the plan and transition toward implementation.

Marine planning can be a helpful tool to manage marine resources in a more coordinated fashion. Its use is growing -- as evidenced by the plans completed in others states and spreading interest in other areas of the country. As more areas embark on marine planning efforts, we can constantly learn more from each other about how to use this tool more effectively.


The CMSP-AT course features watercolor artwork in its online course handbook and in-person training handbook.