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Offshore Wind Energy Discussed

Representatives of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will be in Newport on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 to hear public comment on the call areas identified for offshore wind energy development off Oregon’s southern and central coast. Attendees are also invited to comment on the process through which BOEM will determine the future of offshore wind.

The public meeting will be held at the Best Western Agate Beach from 8am – Noon. The meeting will be facilitated by Heather Mann, executive director of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. Any individual who wishes to share a comment for the public record is encouraged to attend. BOEM is part of the U.S. Department of Interior and is the agency that manages all offshore development.

Fishermen along the central and south coast have protested that the site chosen for the offshore wind energy project will be detrimental to important fishing grounds. By unanimous vote, the Port of Newport Commission passed a resolution that sends a strong message of caution and concern to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) on the topic of floating offshore wind farms.

The resolution authorizes General Manager Paula Miranda to contact the two agencies with specific recommendations that include performing more thorough and timely analysis, taking steps to avoid displacing sustainable fisheries, and slowing the process down, either by authorizing a demonstration site approach or considering a moratorium on large scale farms.

Currently, BOEM is accepting public comment on the possibility of placing as many as 200 wind turbines on two sites offshore of Coos Bay and Brookings, which include heavily fished areas by vessels homeported at the Port of Newport and elsewhere. The announcement of these “call areas” in late April spurred an outcry among seafood harvesters, processors, suppliers, and others in the industry, as well as some members of the science and environmental community.

The Port had been urged by its Commercial Fishermen Users Group (CFUG) to consider and take a position on the issue. The Port Commission conducted a work session last week to discuss the issue, gather some outside perspectives, and consider a path forward. With that feedback, Miranda put forward a resolution for commission consideration.

“I think the work session and acting on this as quickly as we could was important,” said Port Commission President Jim Burke. During the public work session, commissioners discussed the fact that significant construction inside of shipping lanes could also impact the Port’s ongoing work to attract cargo business to the International Terminal. Port Commissioners also expressed frustration and puzzlement over the process, which schedules thorough evaluations of environmental impacts and other analysis after development leases have already been awarded.

Commissioner Gil Sylvia, a marine resource economist, was surprised by the process. “If I was looking at the question of what will be the economic impacts, loss of jobs, revenues, taxes, secondary and tertiary impacts, normally an EIS (environmental impact statement) would look at all of that up front and you would ask the questions,” he said. “The fact that it can be done at the end of the process seems bizarre and doesn’t seem consistent with NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act).”

Heather Mann, director of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, provided public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, saying her organization appreciated the commission’s action. “I think it will pave the way for other commissions to get on board. I feel more than ever that we can get a foothold in with the State of Oregon to stand up to BOEM and say we need to do this the Oregon way and slow the process down,” she said.

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