At two public meetings Friday, North Coast fishing interests and environmental representatives voiced concerns that placing renewable energy devices, such as wind turbines or wave buoys within a 31⁄2-mile expanse of state-owned ocean, could disrupt fishing routes and wildlife habitat.
Those concerns aren’t new, but they are growing, as interest in the Oregon Policy Advisory Council’s Territorial Sea Plan continues to elicit anxiety within a fishing community that feels the state is beginning to place tighter restrictions on its activities.
The plan would essentially rezone the state’s territorial sea, setting recommendations and restrictions on the placement of renewable energy devices off of Oregon’s shoreline.
More than 100 people showed up at Friday’s two meetings of the Ocean Policy Advisory Council working group at Camp Rilea and Cannon Beach, representing a surge of interest in the state’s public planning process.
Interest will likely only grow with the state’s release Tuesday of five wish-list sites for the location of renewable energy devices, said Clatsop County Board of Commissioners Chairman Peter Huhtala.
“There will be a lot of interest in this,” he said.
The sites included in a submittal to the state from Ocean Power Technologies, a wave energy company, are Garibaldi/Tillamook, Newport/Toledo, Florence/Wendson, Gardner/Tahkenitch and Coos Bay/Hauser.
The development of wave energy in the Oregon territorial sea represents “sustainable and responsible management of the state’s natural resources,” the company wrote in its memo to the state.
Citing a 2009 study by Portland-based ECONorthwest, the company said construction of a wave-energy cluster of infrastructure could create $889 million in economic output, with $307 million of that money captured by the coastal economies. The construction activities could create more than 6,000 jobs, 2,700 of which would be on the coast. And the estimated tax revenue for the state would be $42 million, with $14 million of that going to coastal counties.
In Clatsop County, talks with renewable energy representatives concerning the potential placement of their devices have centered on offshore areas near Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Huhtala said.
At a private Thursday meeting, representatives from Oregon Wave Energy Trust met with fishing interests and officials from the Oregon Department of Military to discuss Camp Rilea’s plans.
The Oregon Military Department has adopted a net-zero initiative for its military installations, meaning they strive to only use only as much energy as they produce.
Wind or wave energy would go a long way in accomplishing that, at least at Camp Rilea. So far, the new sustainability push is being met primarily by the installation of solar power cells at other facilities.
Camp Rilea already has a test wind turbine, and there are plans for another. Those plans have been held up by a Federal Aviation Administration review of whether the height of the proposed windmill – rising more than 400 feet into the air – would disrupt flight patterns.
Officials say Camp Rilea is seriously considering wave energy, at least as a study area.
“In the context of a research project, it’s an appropriate use of military funds,” said Joanne Manson, a master planner for the military department.
From the county’s end, officials are adopting policies that will provide input and comment for when development is proposed in the territorial sea, said Hiller West, Clatsop County’s planning director.
He said that process – separate from the state’s outreach – will dictate what’s permissible in the county, though the county won’t have regulatory authority.
The current work, which includes online maps featuring more than 100 data sets, is the second phase of a plan put in place in 2008 by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, following an executive order to amend Oregon’s Territorial Sea Plan to provide for development of wave energy.
In the early 1990s, Oregon adopted a territorial sea plan that was constructed around protecting three aspects of the state’s territorial sea – fisheries, areas of beneficial use and areas of ecological importance.
Through the state’s latest planning process, renewable energy development would become the fourth aspect of the plan, and perhaps the most controversial.
“We’re trying to fit this new use into the existing scheme we have,” said Paul Klarin, co-chairman of OPAC’s Territorial Sea Plan Working Group.
But there are still too many questions to satisfy critics, despite public outreach efforts and the state’s release of online interactive maps featuring more than 100 data sets.
“When we start putting stuff into the ocean, we don’t know how it’s going to affect the crab or the fish,” said Dennis Sturgell, a Hammond fisherman.
He said he’s worried that placing heavy industrial objects into the ocean could harm fish species – and his bottom line.
Some fishermen called for the state to reimburse for lost revenue if wave-energy devices impede their fishing lanes.
Tim Gannaway, another Clatsop County fisherman, said he was not impressed by the public outreach so far and doesn’t believe it will have significant bearing on the state’s final plan.
“All the regulations will put me out of business,” he said.
Fishermen aren’t the only ones who are worried.
Also in their corner is Nehalem resident Tom Bender, an architect with a pedigree in sustainable projects. In the early 1970s, he helped lead the development of one of the first regionally self-reliant demonstration houses.
He said the state’s still-nascent plan for placing renewable energy in the territorial sea amounts to a “giveaway of public resources for corporate profiteering.”
“None of this is driven by efficiency or viability,” Bender said. “It’s fed … by the way developers can get in, make a bunch of money and then vanish and let the dust settle as it may.”
The projects, he said, will do little to curb the real problem: energy consumption.
Representatives from the OPAC’s working group, however, say the state’s planning process has been comprehensive and exhaustive.
Caren Braby, a member of the working group, said the state has not found any part of the territorial sea that doesn’t have some ecological value.
What this means: “We won’t find anywhere in the ocean where nothing exists,” she said.
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