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As Oregon’s planning agencies continue their process for eventually designating portions of the state’s territorial sea for offshore wave-energy facilities, Clatsop County warns that zoning the ocean outright could potentially restrict the use of the territorial sea.
The state’s territorial sea is the three-mile expanse of the Pacific Ocean that runs like an unraveled ribbon up the Oregon Coast. With wave energy emerging as a potentially viable source of sustainable power, the state has begun the preliminary stages of determining where in the territorial sea the state could place wave-energy facilities without disrupting ocean wildlife and ecology, or recreational and existing business interests.
And while the state moves forward on its process, the county continues to look at its own options.
Clatsop County Commissioner Peter Huhtala presented the Territorial Sea Plan Working Group with the county’s position at the group’s heavily attended meeting Thursday at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Astoria.
The county supports using conditional uses for offshore development rather than zoning the territorial sea. Reading from the statement, Huhtala said maps and data that could be used to essentially zone the territorial sea should support but not dictate the state’s decisions. The county has supported the state’s plans to guide development of marine renewable energy but has also pushed to have its own public input and hearing process.
“Clatsop County intends to continue current efforts to update its comprehensive plan … and with policies adopted under the planning goals to ensure onshore impacts of renewable energy facilities in the territorial sea are addressed,” Huhtala said from the written statement.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Land Conservation and Development presented preliminary draft maps at Thursday’s meeting. The maps break down the the territorial sea into three tiered levels, with the top level representing exclusionary zones, because of wildlife or ecological concerns. The maps are likely to change, as the state continues its process, expected to take another eight months.
“There’s no telling how this will change,” said David Allen, chairman of the state’s working group. “This isn’t the end. This is the beginning of the vetting process.”
The coast’s fishing and crabbing community remains highly critical of the state’s work, despite promises of more public input. Fishermen worry that the wave energy buoys would disrupt existing fishing routes or could damage crabbing pots.
“Wave energy and fishing are not compatible,” said Dale Beasley, president of the Columbia River Crab Fishermen Association. One big storm during crabbing season could send pots slamming into the buoy, where they could get caught and tangled.
“Can you imagine if 20,000 crab pots got entangled in these things? The industry would be ruined,” he said.
He said wave energy companies were “only interested in their investors’ gold” at the expense of an existing industry. The fishing community would likely oppose any plan that doesn’t place wave energy buoys off the ocean shelf, Beasley said.
While the fishing industry stays adamant in its opposition to the state’s plans, tentative as they are, conservation organizations say they’re cautiously optimistic that the state is taking steps in the right direction to protect fish and other wildlife.
International conservation organization Oceana released its own study of Oregon’s territorial sea in which it reached the same conclusions as the state. Ben Enticknap, the organization’s Pacific Project Manager, said state agencies have been careful to not rush ahead with mapping the territorial sea.
Saying that there wasn’t one area of Oregon’s territorial sea that wouldn’t be somehow disrupted by the development of offshore wave energy, Enticknap added that the state has taken important steps to mitigate those environmental risks. Wave energy will develop independent of the state’s planning, he said, so Oregon needs to be prepared to entice developers.
“We need to have this discussion now rather than in the future, after we’ve spent millions of dollars,” Enticknap said.
Oregon’s Ocean Planning Advisory Council is also holding its meeting at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites today until 4 p.m. to discuss the same topics.