NOAA Completes Evaluation of Oregon Coastal Management Program

Housing and Haystack Rock.  Photo by Sonja Peterson.
Housing and Haystack Rock. Photo by Sonja Peterson.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just released the findings that emerged from its review of Oregon’s Coastal Management Program.  For the most part, the findings are very positive—and the biggest black mark against Oregon’s coastal program isn’t something that coastal planners and managers can help.

NOAA is required to conduct a periodic Performance Review of every state’s federally recognized coastal program, under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA).  This is far more than a bureaucratic exercise.  A state’s program, once approved by NOAA, is binding on the federal government (a principle known as “consistency”).  Oregon’s Coastal Management Program (OCMP), a branch of the Department of Land Conservation and Development, can thus serve as an important tool in resisting policies of national agencies that conflict with Oregon’s goals for its coastal zone.

In June of 2016, Oregon Shores submitted detailed comments to NOAA as part of this review process. Oregon Shores recognized the good work done by the OCMP in many areas, but also suggested some areas where the OCMP should do more, particularly with regard to assisting coastal communities in planning for climate change impacts.  NOAA received these recommendations and comments from many others as well. 

NOAA has just released its Final Evaluation Findings on the OCMP, covering its activities for the period November, 2006 to September, 2016 (and paraphrasing Oregon Shores’ comments extensively).  The Evaluation focused on program administration and initiatives related to Estuary Management Plans, Coastal Hazards, and State and Local Partnerships. 

The findings recognize the many accomplishments of the OCMP in meeting the state’s responsibilities under the CZMA, and noted that the Oregon Coastal Program “is a national leader in planning for marine hydrokinetic energy (i.e., wave energy),” and “is a leader in helping the state prepare for coastal hazards, including developing hazard planning guidance for communities.” 

But the document also lists recommendations to strengthen the program. Chief among the NOAA recommendations is strengthening the state’s coastal non-point pollution control program to better protect coastal water quality. Central to this recommendation is the fact that both NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have found that Oregon’s current water quality regulations do not adequately protect coastal streams from logging and other land use practices.  As a result, the state has been penalized; 30 percent of Oregon’s federal coastal management grant, which helps to support the OCMP, has been withheld.

The state’s poor rating with regard to non-point-source pollution is due to the lax regulation of forestry practices by the Oregon Department of Forestry and the state’s weak Forest Practices Act.  Yet this department suffers no consequences for its poor management, while the penalty falls on the coastal management program, which is powerless to change forestry regulations.  Loss of nearly a third of the Coastal Zone Management Grant that would otherwise come to Oregon does nothing to address the Department of Forestry’s dereliction, while coastal communities are deprived of badly needed planning assistance. Oregon Shores certainly believes that the current Forest Practices Act (FPA) needs stronger regulations to protect small streams from the effects of logging.  But Oregon Shores also believes that penalizing the Oregon Coastal Management Program for this failing of the Department of Forestry is counterproductive.  The program's services in helping coastal jurisdictions address natural hazards and build resilience in the face of climate change will be hampered for no good reason.  The problem lies with Oregon's inadequate Forest Practices Act, which can only be amended by the Oregon Legislature and enforced by the Department of Forestry, a point Oregon Shores made strongly in our comments.

On balance, though, the findings indicate that Oregon’s coastal plan compares favorably with comparable programs in other states.  The report provides a useful overview of the OCMP, and points toward further steps the state can take to strengthen its planning policies for the coast.