OPAC’s not pleased with the way wave energy sites were picked off the Oregon Coast. Sends protest letter to LCDC.
After what turned out to be a five year meeting and negotiating exercise with coastal communities along with fishing and scientific interests, the State Land Conservation and Development Commission chose to all but ignore its Ocean Policy Advisory Committee and adopted an offshore wave energy siting plan that OPAC didn’t agree with. OPAC was especially incensed that they had strongly advised against assigning a wave energy site off Pacific City which they claimed would badly conflict with the Dory fishing fleet and yet LCDC approved it.
OPAC, meeting in Newport today, wrote a strong letter to LCDC protesting that their plan was largely ignored and asked them to send back what they think is wrong with it for further review and re-recommendation, as laid out in state statute. The letter claims LCDC did not follow state law or their own rules in dismissing the OPAC recommendations. In fact, some members complained that a parallel recommending group, dominated largely by wave energy industry interests, seemed to get pretty much what they wanted as far as offshore sites go – all of which have impacts to the coast’s commercial fishing industry. A clear majority of OPAC members say their recommended sites also have impacts but not as severe as chosen by the industry group. One member said it’s come down to a matter of trust between LCDC and OPAC as to whether there is credibility in the relationship. But one dissenting member of OPAC rationalized it would be better to let the disagreement go for the moment and deal with it down the road, since there was so much more work to do in properly evaluating whether wave energy can be accommodated along the Oregon Coast and how to do it without damaging the coast’s tourism or commercial and recreational fishing industries.
The OPAC board also learned that State Lands is giving Ocean Power Technologies, a pioneering wave energy company, until spring or early summer to remove a huge concrete wave energy device anchor from an underwater site off Reedsport. It was placed their by OPT by mistake and has been a sore spot in the wave energy program off Oregon’s coast. The OPT wave energy device was supposed to be located someplace else and was never constructed where it should have been. OPT promises to remove it but so far has not done it. The state has received assurances from OPT that they have the money to pay for the removal, which won’t be cheap, by any means. State Division of Land’s Chris Castelli says DSL has learned a lot from dealing with the OPT issue – that financial capabilities of wave energy companies must be accurately assessed, so if something goes wrong, the taxpayers aren’t left paying for someone else’s mistakes. Also, and that communications between DSL and wave energy companies must be transparent so that DSL can ascertain whether a project has credibility based on financial resources, both for testing equipment and knowing the costs of taking it back out of the water.
And in a round robin of OPAC visioning upcoming issues, Governor Kitzhaber’s Chief Natural Resource Policy Adviser told the committee that the Governor Kitzhaber is very concerned about the increased acidification of waters off Oregon, and off the northwest coast of the U.S. in general. Kitzhaber is responding to a growing body of research that reveals ocean acidification, spurred by green house gas absorption by the world’s oceans, are causing chemical changes in seawater and on the ocean floor. The biggest concern for Oregon fisheries is how rapidly rising acid levels in seawater are inhibiting the growth of oyster shells by oyster larvae. Already oyster fishermen are having to “grow their own” oyster larvae in special tanks so they can get them well enough “shelled” to avoid predation. Research shows that acidification is also a threat to the bottom of the ocean’s food chain – the microscopic animals that the little fish feed on, that the bigger fish then feed on, and on up the food chain. If those small organisms don’t survive, researchers say, the entire ocean food chain is threatened.
Another major issue – harvesting kelp from near shore areas. DSL’s Castelli said harvesting kelp, for either food or medicinal purposes, is allowed but only for personal use – none, however, for commercial re-sale under DSL regulations. One such kelp harvester said he’s been trying literally die years to get a permit to harvest kelp to keep his family business going forward. But he’s been turned down. OPAC member Terry Thompson said during his last trip to Japan he was exposed to the wide use of kelp in Japanese society, especially as a food. “I’m not big on vegetables, but I much prefer kelp,” he said. “It tastes good and I understand that it’s really good for you. So I think we need to re-assess our approach to kelp harvesting.” Castelli agreed that maybe more education about the use of kelp is in order. “It may be that we’re missing an opportunity for some job growth along the coast,” he said. “Maybe small scale commercial might be something to try, to see how it works out.” However, OPAC member Robin Hartmann of Oregon Shores Coastal Coalition said more research should be employed to ascertain harvesting’s possible impacts in a variety of aspects including to ground fish habitat.
OPAC member and Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson suggested to his colleagues that they turn their attention to learning about really supports the economy of the Oregon Coast. He said there is very little contemporary data on the role that fishing, tourism and marine research plays in supporting the coastal economies. The most recent estimates, however, shows that fishing has risen dramatically in it’s income infusion along with the contribution of the marine research industry. Thompson said several coastal counties don’t really know what drives their local economies other than having some educated guesses. Thompson said communities need better data so OPAC can suggest policies that more accurately reflect the coast’s true condition which can then be compared to the benefits of any new industry that wants to move here and take up valuable natural resources – no matter who they are or what they’re doing.
OPAC member and Lincoln County Planning Director Onno Husing said there exists a lot of physical data that’s been generated by assembling the Territorial Sea Plan that is “just sitting there, waiting to be put to good use” in any number of ways. He said “We need to start digesting that data” and putting it to work for coastal planning.
And finally, better preparing the coast for a major earthquake rounded out the visioning discussion. OPAC members briefly discussed the availability of dramatically revised tsunami inundation zone maps for both local and far away earthquakes. The generation of a nearby tsunami took center stage for a few minutes – the bottom line observation being that boats trapped in port in Newport are likely to be left there due to the collapse of the Yaquina Bay Bridge which first opened to traffic in 1936, seventy-seven years ago. Everyone agreed that it’ll likely wind up blocking access to the jettys. Terry Thompson said, “If you’re in port, you should be thinking of one thing and one thing only – running to high ground because you’ve got just 15 minutes to get at least 100 feet above sea level.”
And on that happy note, and with no further business to take up, Chairman Scott McMullen, a North Coast fisherman, banged the gavel down, bringing the meeting to an end.