Coastal Issues | Special Area Plans | Case Studies

Special Area Management Plans: Case Studies

The following are examples of Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) projects states have supported with their coastal zone management funding:

Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), supported by Rhode Island Sea Grant and the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center, has led efforts to develop a comprehensive Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for its ocean waters.  The plan, primarily driven by the Governor’s interest in offshore wind to meet a state goal of satisfying 15 percent of the state’s energy needs with renewable sources, integrates the best available science with open public input and stakeholder involvement to develop policies and regulations that will guide the siting of offshore energy facilities and promote and enhance existing uses within the Ocean SAMP boundary. The plan seeks to foster a healthy ecosystem that is both ecologically sound and economically beneficial and build a framework for coordinated decision-making between state and federal agencies. Many Federal, state, tribal and local partners are involved in developing the SAMP. For example, OCRM participated in the Federal review team for the SAMP and provided guidance throughout the process on how the plan could be incorporated into Rhode Island’s federally approved coastal management program. Additional information on Rhode Island’s Ocean SAMP can be found on NOAA’s Coastal and Ocean Marine Spatial Planning site.

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, the state’s coastal management agency, is leading this project. This agency has long employed spatial planning techniques to regulate appropriate uses through its statewide zoned waters (industrial ports to conservation areas) and through a series of place-based special area management plans. The University of Rhode Island and the Coastal Resources Center are participants, as are federal agencies such as the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which have authority in federal waters, and other state agencies, industry, nonprofit groups, and stakeholders.

From 2008 to 2010, through a public policy process that includes scientific research and stakeholder involvement, the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan will make this state the first in the nation to zone its offshore waters for diverse activities including renewable energy development. The stakeholder involvement process includes monthly stakeholder meetings, public information events on key topics, and opportunities to comment on draft chapters released along the way. The scientific research process includes projects funded by a private company and university, which will inform the draft chapters of the plan.
Specific actions within this process include the following:

Spatial Data and Tools
The University of Rhode Island is leading the data development for this plan, including seafloor mapping, bird observations, marine mammal observations, and fisheries data, as well as several other detailed proposals investigating acoustic impacts, wind and wave analysis, and cultural resource distribution. The website contains a full list of proposed research and data collection efforts.

Expected Outcomes
This coastal and marine spatial planning effort, accomplished through a special area management plan, will result in a zoning map for the state’s offshore area, including renewable energy zones. It is expected that current uses and habitats will be protected through zones designated for commercial fishing; critical habitats for fish, marine animals, and birds; marine transport; and more.


Salt Pond Region SAMP, Southern Rhode Island


The Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council has adopted SAMPs for a number of important coastal areas to enable federal, state, local and community organizations to work together to restore, protect, and balance uses within the SAMP management area as an entire ecosystem.

Rhode Island’s salt ponds are shallow, productive coastal lagoons separated from the ocean by barrier spits. In response to growing concern about the apparent degradation of water quality in the salt ponds, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), with support from the University of Rhode Island Sea Grant, developed a special area management plan for the region. The initial SAMP was developed to address many issues, including: the decline of formerly abundant fish and shellfish stocks; the loss of safe access to the ocean as a result of rapid sedimentation within the salt ponds; the increase in polluted runoff, or nonpoint source pollution; the loss of farmlands and woodlands; increased risk to life and property from coastal storms; and the increase in use conflicts among competing coastal uses such as aquaculture, commercial and recreational fisheries, recreational boating, and other commercial interests.

In May 2007, OCRM and the NOS Special Projects Office cosponsored a Rhode Islands Metro Bay Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) workshop in Providence, RI.  NOAA partnered with Sea Grant to plan and facilitate this workshop which brought together key stakeholders to examine challenges, opportunities, and policy solutions to guide development along the Metro Bay waterfront.  Stakeholders discussed a range of issues including preservation of existing water dependent uses, enhancement of local tax base through mixed use development, and consideration of future marine commerce needs.  The workshop resulted in waterfront policy recommendations to be incorporated into the Metro Bay SAMP to meet the needs of the diverse urban communities surrounding Narragansett Bay.

Supported by a major four-year, inter-disciplinary research project led and funded primarily by RI Sea Grant, CRMC develop a ground-watershed based SAMP focused, in large part, on managing the density of development to improve water quality in the salt ponds. A build-out analysis showed existing zoning actually allowed more intense development than the watershed could support. Therefore, the SAMP recommended the towns re-zone the area to two acre minimum lot sizes. To further address the impact of poorly sited and designed development, the SAMP also called for: developing local soil erosion and sediment control ordinances; implementing Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) construction setbacks and standards; establishing CRMC setbacks, prohibitions, and permit stipulations regarding structure placement; restricting development in wetlands; and initiating harbor management planning to help municipalities organize mooring fields and minimize other in-water use conflicts.

The CRMC approved the SAMP in 1984. Since then, the SAMP has been revised several times to expand the boundary, add requirements for denitrifying septic systems to reduce nitrogen loading, require riparian buffer zones, and specify storm water management standards.

One of the key aspects of the SAMP is that it separated all land within the salt ponds region to specific land use classifications based on existing density of development, proximity to critical ground or surface waters, and existing nutrient inputs. All required management actions were tied to the assigned land classification.

The CRMC implements the SAMP in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM) and the four local governments within the salt pond special management area. Local governments have revised their zoning policies and ordinances to make them consistent with the SAMP’s density requirements aimed at protecting habitat and reducing nitrogen loadings from onsite sewage disposal systems. The SAMP requirements were also incorporated into the CRMC regulations and apply to all development adjacent to the shoreline, all subdivisions six units or more, and other large development projects containing over two acres of impervious surface. The RI DEM has also changed is onsite sewage disposal system regulations to implement the SAMP provisions related to septic tanks.

A University of Rhode Island doctorate candidate has written a case study on the Salt Ponds SAMP entitled: Using a Special Area Management Plan to Improve Watershed Governance.


Pleasant Bay Area of Critical Environmental Concern Management Plan, Massachusetts

State and local government staff developed a special area management plan for Pleasant Bay Massachusetts addresses several resource management issues within the Bay, including the proliferation of small, residential docks and piers. To improve dock management, the Pleasant Bay Resource Alliance divided the Bay into 26 geographic subsections and surveyed each area for biological, environmental, and human use factors. They then developed a sensitivity scale for each sub-area. The sensitivity scale was used to determine what areas would be suitable for dock growth and where docks should be limited. Guidelines and performance standards for docks and piers within ACECs were also developed as part of the plan.

The Plan was adopted by local governments surrounding Pleasant Bay and approved by the state pursuant to the area of critical environmental concern (ACEC) provisions of the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Program. The local governments surrounding Pleasant Bay subsequently revised their ordinances and bylaws regarding dock location and design to be consistent with the plan.


New York Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs (LWRP)

State Waterfront Revitalization Act includes provisions authorizing the development of Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs and plans (LWRPs). The Program, a type of special area management plan, can be comprehensive and address all issues that affect a community's waterfront or it can be targeted and address only the most critical issues facing a portion of its waterfront. Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans frequently address the following issues: waterfront redevelopment and land use; historic and/or scenic resources; flooding and erosion; water quality; fish and wildlife habitats; public access and recreation; water dependent uses; and harbor management.

Municipalities develop their Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan in partnership with the New York Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources. The LWRP reflects the community’s vision for the future of its waterfront and refines State waterfront policies to address local conditions and circumstances. Once a LWRP is adopted by the municipality and approved by the New York Secretary of State and NOAA (for federal consistency purposes) all state permitting, funding, and direct actions must be consistent with the approved LWRP. Within federally defined coastal areas, federal agencies’ activities are also required to be consistent with an approved LWRP.

The Local Program, through local laws, projects, and on-going partnerships, implements the planning document. The Local Program also coordinates State and federal actions needed to assist the community achieve its vision. Funding to develop and implement LWRPs is available from a number of state funding sources.

To date, sixty city, town or village LWRPs have been adopted and formally incorporated into the New York Coastal Program. For a list of LWPRs, click here.


Ashley River SAMP, South Carolina

The South Carolina Coastal Zone Management office worked with local governments to develop the Ashley River Special Area Management Plan to protect the historic, cultural and aesthetic resources of the Ashley River. Specifically, the plan contains provisions to prohibit or limit dock construction in view corridors of historic plantations. Completed in February of 1992, the goals of the SAMP were to develop public policy for the conservation of the natural and historic character of the Ashley River Corridor, thus increasing the predictability of governmental decisions and ensuring the long-term protection of the unique character of the area while taking into consideration the rights of individual citizens.  Policies developed during the SAMP process addressed docks, marinas, boat traffic, riparian buffers, and archaeological sites. The SAMP was developed in partnership with many other groups including Dorchester County, Charleston County, the Town of Summerville, the City of Charleston, the City of North Charleston, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Soil Conservation Service, South Carolina Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism, South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, landowners, interested citizens, and nonprofit organizations.