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Georgia Tech and Georgia DNR Launch Marine Planning Application to Support Responsible Offshore Energy Development

Georgia Tech and Georgia DNR Launch Marine Planning Application to Support Responsible Offshore Energy Development

Date: 1/25/2016

Location: GA

Georgia's coastline provides an infinite supply of natural wind and ocean resources that have the potential to substantially contribute to the state's energy supply. Development of these coastal resources has progressed slowly, in part because state and federal laws regarding the use of coastal waters for offshore energy development are still evolving and no structure is currently in place for local and state permitting. Georgia Tech's Center for Geographic Information Systems and Strategic Energy Institute partnered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Coastal Resources Division to launch a new marine spatial planning tool, the Georgia Coastal and Marine Planner (GCAMP), that aims to define a clear process for offshore energy licensing and permitting in Georgia, and close data and communication gaps between regulatory agencies that could delay the permitting process.

Sponsored through a 5-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), GCAMP creates a central repository for public data and information relating to Georgia's coastline. The application provides industry, government agencies, and research institutions engaged in the planning and management of Georgia's ocean resources with tools and interactive maps to aid in the assessment of potential locations for offshore development.

"GCAMP establishes a transparent and open process for fostering better understanding among stakeholders about what is happening in Georgia's ocean areas, what resources and human uses are located where, and the potential implications of changes in the uses of resources located in the state's coastal waters," said Jill Huntington Andrews, program manager for the Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Division.

Offshore energy development is particularly challenging because proposed projects must co-exist alongside other ocean uses that are vital to the state, such as tourism, commercial fisheries, military areas, shipping lanes, recreational areas, and sensitive ecological areas. In addition to the complexity and the public nature of the ocean environment, offshore development involves many federal and state laws and agencies. At the state level alone, as many as seven agencies could be involved in the permitting process. Although the State of Georgia has jurisdiction over activities in the offshore environment that extend 3 nautical miles from the shoreline, it must coordinate with numerous federal government agencies in planning and siting decisions, even for projects located wholly within state waters. The State of Georgia also has a role in projects in federal waters due to Federal Consistency requirements that mandate state review and approval of potential projects.

Mary Hallisey Hunt, senior research associate and director of research and business operations for the Strategic Energy Institute, said GCAMP provides an important tool for better project siting and smarter development of Georgia's coastal regions.

"Offshore projects often involve areas of significant jurisdictional overlap," said Hallisey Hunt. "GCAMP provides easily accessible and understandable baseline information by which potential stakeholders can make informed decisions about the suitability and economic viability of potential sites for offshore development."

Georgia Tech and Georgia DNR debuted the latest version of the GCAMP at a recent workshop of industry, state, and federal stakeholders that included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4; Georgia Environmental Finance Authority; State Properties Commission; Georgia Power's Renewables Division; the Georgia Public Service Commission; Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division; the Georgia Department of Economic Development; the Office of the Governor; the Bureau of Ocean Management; and NOAA. Andrews said providing access to high-quality, reliable data will enable stakeholders to participate more effectively in the processes affecting ocean energy development.

"Stakeholder engagement is essential for effective ocean planning and management because each agency brings different levels of knowledge, different views, and concerns about activities in the offshore environment that could help identify priority coastal issues, potential solutions and needs, and ensure that development is conducted in a responsible manner," said Andrews.

Using GCAMP data, the team developed a hypothetical case study of the permitting and licensing process for a potential wind farm project to suggest a possible process through which state and federal agencies could explore whether and how to facilitate energy development in Georgia's coastal waters.

GCAMP compiles data across three main areas relating to ocean use: human use, which includes such data as shipping tracks and artificial reefs; ecological and biological information, such as fisheries and wildlife data; and physical data, such as geophysical conditions and energy resources data.

The mobile-enabled platform also includes a variety of tools and applications designed to help users create custom data visualizations for their specific needs and interests. The main GCAMP map includes tools for measuring, drawing, creating charts, and for querying the available data. Users can choose from an exhaustive list of queries, such as wind farm suitability by Outer Continental Shelf Lease Blocks, or set specific parameters for their own query. The application also includes story maps that link multi-media PowerPoints to the map data, enabling users to interact with key components of the data through an engaging, guided narrative.

Tony Giarrusso, associate director of Georgia Tech's Center for Geographic Information Systems, said GCAMP was designed for user ease and flexibility.

"We included hundreds of data sets in our first iterations of GCAMP," said Giarrusso. "But we quickly realized that it needed to be much simpler for users to be able to derive any meaningful intelligence. We've put a lot of thought into the data and its potential uses and have created a comprehensive yet manageable tool that could be useful to many other recreational and commercial industries beyond energy."

Initial reception to the application has been overwhelmingly positive. NOAA's Office for Coastal Management shares a case study of the project as an educational resource on Digital Coast, an online community providing tools, training, and information for the coastal management professionals. With the help of stakeholders, the Georgia Tech and Georgia DNR team hope to continue to refine the tool. The team is working with the Nature Conservancy to include data for recreational fishing areas in GCAMP.

This information was last updated on January 25, 2016