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North Coast marine sanctuary expansion praised at hearing

Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 8:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 8:39 a.m.

BODEGA BAY — No contrary words were heard at a public meeting that filled Bodega Bay's Grange Hall with about 70 citizens, federal officials and fishing industry representatives Thursday night concerning a plan to protect an additional 2,770 square miles of the ocean off the rugged North Coast.

"There's celebration in the air," said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who attended the first of three hearings on the proposed expansion of two national marine sanctuaries that have been in place since the 1980s.

"It was great," said Norma Jellison of Bodega Bay, who sat at one of five tables where residents gave feedback to sanctuary officials.

Jellison said she'd like to see sanctuary officials establish an office in Sonoma County, possibly at the Bodega Marine Lab. "The sanctuary office in San Francisco is kind of far away."

All the comments at her table were supportive of the proposed expansion, which will move the sanctuaries' northern border from Bodega Bay more than 60 miles north to Alder Creek, near Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

Oil, gas and mineral development are prohibited within the sanctuaries, which are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The expansion plan, announced last month, brings to an apparent end the four-decade battle to preserve the Sonoma Coast from offshore oil drilling.

Sanctuary officials said they expect to complete the approval process by July 2014.

Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who retired this month after 20 years in Congress, got hearty applause and credit for establishing the coastal protection she had sought since 2004.

"We want to protect our fishing industry and we want to protect our environment. That's it in a nutshell," Woolsey said.

Woolsey said that late last year it seemed the action would never come because it "was impossible to get it through the House and Senate."

But the White House advised her that "we will take care it; we promise you it will happen," Woolsey said.

Dan Howard, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones marine sanctuary, said the proposed expansion would afford protection for the entire system, known as the Point Arena upwelling, that sends cold, nutrient-laden ocean water south from Point Arena, pushed by the California Current to the biologically rich Cordell Bank off the Sonoma-Marin coast.

Cordell Bank is a "phenomenally productive area" that supports seabirds, marine mammals and fish.

Sanctuaries do not regulate fishing, said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Cordell Bank sanctuary, noting that trawling would be allowed.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said in an interview that his industry already has "a good set of regulations" promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries agency.

The proposed expansion covers an important commercial fishing area for salmon, crab and rockfish, he said.

Grader said he wants to know if sustainable energy development, such as wind and wave energy generators, would be allowed in the expansion area.

"We fully support renewable energy, we just don't think it belongs in these waters," Grader said. Onshore development would be needed to support such a system, he said.

Brown said that existing sanctuary regulations prevent renewable energy development, but the government wants to know if there is local interest in it. "We need to hear from the public," she said.

Two more public hearings on the sanctuary expansion plan are scheduled, at Point Arena on Feb. 12 and Gualala on Feb. 13, and written comments will be accepted through March 1.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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