PACIFIC COUNTY — Could Pacific Ocean wind farms and fish-rearing net pens in Willapa Bay become future industries in Pacific County? Those are some possibilities being studied among an array of new potential ocean uses mentioned by the Washington Department of Ecology during a public meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8, in Long Beach.
Marine Spatial Planning for Washington’s offshore waters was discussed by members of an inter-agency team led by Washington Department of Ecology Senior Ocean Planner Jennifer Hennessey. About 24 community members — including county officials, commercial fishermen and local oyster farmers — attended to listen or provide formal testimony regarding their concerns about new potential ocean uses and possible impacts on existing industries.
Offshore wind farms
After showing color-coded graphs meant to highlight potential “hot spots” for harnessing wind energy offshore, Hennessey spent much of an informal session answering questions and concerns from county officials and local fishermen. The designated areas were met with concerns from some attendees, who warned that potential new uses could negatively impact established fishing and aquaculture industries vital to the county’s economy.
Pacific County Commissioner Frank Wolfe was among the first to weigh in. He used a hunting analogy to question whether the graphs adequately addressed the traffic between the “hot spots,” which he said could be important corridors for migrating wildlife during different times.
“You might find the deer up in the woods when you look one time,” Wolfe said. “Another time of year, you might see them down by the river. You may think the area in between isn’t important, but without it the deer would die. I just want to be sure that if we’re going to base this on science, as I hope we do, that it’s real science and you spend some money on it.”
Hennessey conceded that there were some “data gaps,” but said agencies such like Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to address these and provide a complete picture of local habitats.
“I would hate to see a fishery come to an end because we put a windmill in an important corridor where they would normally migrate and not be seen (because of snapshot-level data),” Wolfe said.
“We’re acknowledging protection for sensitive areas,” Hennessey said.
Expanding on Wolfe’s initial environmental-impact concerns was Dale Beasley, a retired commercial crab fishermen and current president of the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries and the Columbia River Crab Fishermen’s Association. Beasley said that traditional industries such as commercial fishing could be displaced by offshore wind farms despite of the perception that space is nearly limitless on the open ocean.
Local oyster farmer Dick Sheldon explicitly expressed concern about the possibility of net pens in local estuaries, citing the fallout from escapement from similar projects in Puget Sound in August. Hennessey downplayed the possibility of net pens, but didn’t rule out our the possibility entirely.
“We did have a project looking at net pens and trying to update the science about them, but that project is on hold for now given the escape that happened,” Hennessey said. “We’re trying to find a framework for introducing new uses including ones that may be proposed in estuaries, that’s really the intent.”
Sheldon said potential net pen planning is being performed without proper consultation, particularly from those who already rely on the bay.
“I don’t think the Department of Ecology should be doing things this way,” Sheldon said. “It just seems like your agency is trying to shove it down our throat.”
The public meeting was the third of four held this month at different locations along the coast. A public comment period on the draft Marine Spatial Plan will continue until Dec. 12. A comment form is available at ws.ecology.commentinput.com/?id=pRHjQ for those who would like to weigh in on the issue.