Between one to two hundred concerned residents and stakeholders packed the Salmon Conference room of the Mill Casino last night in the small coastal town of North Bend expressing opposition to over one million acres of wind farms slated for the offshore areas of Coos Bay and Brookings.
Concerns raised came mainly from commercial fishers that live and/or fish in the area and worry about impacts to the industry. Several residents that are not involved in the industry also expressed concerns about impacts to the environment and wildlife.
While many noted that they were not opposed to wind farming overall, they expressed feeling jaded over the lack of involvement in the process of deciding the call areas for wind mining along the Oregon Coast.
“I’m a multigenerational commercial fisher and one of five generations that live in Lincoln County. I have participated in many coastal fisheries since 1998,” said Justin Johnson at the meeting. He now captains a Whiting or Pacific Hake boat and says this type of fish provides food to families globally.
“Whiting or Hake does not track as well in dollar generation charts but if you broke down the whiting fishery into meal portion sizes of even eight ounces, it (the industry) would produce over 50 million meals worldwide. Whiting supports countries and families that can’t access beef, chicken or higher cost protein sources,” he said pointing out that the call areas announced are some of the most productive for this type of fishing.
“Food security is equally important as energy production I would say even more important in our growing world population,” he said. I have children and recognize the need to create more renewable energy sources. With the right planning and research maybe there are locations offshore but we must slow the process and protect stakeholders on the coast.”
The project is part of the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Program authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It received a push from the Biden-Harris administration’s clean energy plan with the goal of reaching 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. The Oregon project is projected to produce 3 gigawatts.
DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) responsible for implementing the program has set up at least 14 different task forces in states that have expressed interest in offshore wind energy projects, Oregon is one of those.
Last week the agency announced the Brookings and Coos Bay call areas where it plans to open leases for 1,158,400 acres of wind turbines that would be put in at least 12 nautical miles offshore. Publican of the call locations opens an official public comment period that goes till June 28 at 11:59 pm EST. Instructions for commenting on the project can be found on BOEM’s website.
The Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) will begin hosting its formal meetings to share findings on the project starting May 11 in Coos Bay and virtually via Zoom. Last night’s meeting was an informal gathering put together by the county and hosted by the Coquille tribe as a way to get community members together and begin conversations about the controversial project.
There are going to be lots of opportunities for more conversation and I think it (reason for the preliminary meeting) was just the fact that our community hasn’t really come together and really shared with each other and shared some of our concerns whether it’s the tribes or the fishing industry,” said Brenda Meade, the tribe’s Chairperson during an interview after the meeting. “It just felt like we needed to hit a pause button and just take a little time, sit in our house and have a little conversation about it.”
She said the Tribe has not taken an official stance for or against the project at this point but noted that ODOE and BOEM have not yet initiated a meaningful consultation with the tribe though their staff was part of the initial task force. She said the tribe has requested consultation and meetings have been scheduled for next week.
“There have been meetings, some folks feel that those haven’t been very productive meetings, whether that is true or not…we just need more,” she said. When asked whether she felt the process of consultation with tribes should have started before decisions on call areas were made, Meade said it remains unclear whether the call locations are a final decision or a preliminary one.
“Meaningful consultation is when decision-makers meet with decision-makers and have conversations before a decision is made, the question we have right now is ‘has the decision been made,'” she said. “We are just trying to understand their processes right now.”
Representatives for the Confederated Tribes of Coos Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians were also present at the meeting and echoes similar sentiments.
“There is no prior consultation or meaningful dialogue going on with (BOEM), they have worked with our staff and we have worked with our staff in natural resources,” said Julie Siestream, the confederated tribes’ vice chair in a comment during the meeting. “We have put in comments, we have put in written comments, we have put in verbal comments but nothing is coming back (in response).”
She expressed concern about impacts to whales and salmon migration both locally and along the pacific.
“The tribes along the coast all the way up to Alaska rely on the salmon for survival,” she said. “Something else that we are very concerned about is that our ancestors were in this territory for time immemorial and when you are talking about putting the cable down to the ocean floor and (from there) to the land there are all kind of disturbances going on when those electrical cables would disturb the fish down there.”
The federal agency’s website includes a statement about BOEM’s commitment to meaningful consultation.
“BOEM implements tribal consultation policies through both formal government-to-government consultation and informal dialogue, collaboration, and engagement,” the statement reads. “BOEM is committed to maintaining open and transparent communications with Tribal governments, Alaska Native Organizations, Native Hawaiian Organizations and other indigenous communities. BOEM’s approach aims to emphasize trust, respect, and shared responsibility as part of a deliberative process for effective collaboration and informed decision-making.”
Other residents also questioned BOEM’s transparency on similar projects that have already been installed along the East Coast noting that the agency has not made public data about mortality events of wildlife caused by those turbines.
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