Susan Chambers, The World Link, March 21, 2008
REEDSPORT — Fishermen and port officials talked of trust Wednesday night at the Port of Umpqua commission meeting.
The meeting was an impromptu first battleground over what fishermen see as a violation of trust and wave energy company Ocean Power Technologies see as a business decision.
OPT filed a preliminary application document for a 200-buoy wave energy park off the North Spit on March 7 — 180 buoys more than promised when OPT representative Steve Kopf met with the Charleston fishing fleet in January.
The 200-buoy concept is not new. It’s what OPT proposed when it filed its permit request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2006. FERC granted the permit in early 2007.
“The bottom line is that as we started putting the PAD together, the CEO said fishermen are not worried so much about the small projects; they’re worried about the big things,” Kopf said on March 7. “So instead, (OPT) decided to face this head on.”
In February, Port of Umpqua commissioners considered sending a letter to federal lawmakers and agencies in support of OPT receiving federal energy funds to develop new technology. Commissioners postponed approval until they could talk with Kopf again to determine the status of ongoing talks with local commercial Dungeness crab fishermen.
The change in the number of buoys for North Spit wave facility — and the consternation it caused among the fleet — made discussions about the letter difficult. Kopf ultimately asked to have consideration of the letter postponed.
Kopf said Wednesday the number of buoys at the Reedsport wave park would remain the same, 10, enough for a test site to ensure the buoys work as planned and energy can be transmitted to the grid as planned. It also would give the company a chance to study the effects of the buoys on the environment and surrounding wildlife.
Still, the overriding concerns Wednesday were of trust and ongoing discussions that have not been resolved, namely the use of prime crabbing grounds for what fishermen say is unproven technology.
Unlike the 1/4- to 1/2-square-mile footprint at Reedsport, the North Spit site would encompass a roughly 300-yards-wide by 5-mile-long footprint, parallel to the beach. OPT also planned to try to place the buoys deeper, nearer 40 fathoms, than the depth in which it plans to place buoys at the Reedsport facility.
“That’s something we heard at the Reedsport meetings,” Kopf said.
The 200-buoy facility also would be broken into four sections — another result of what OPT representatives heard during Reedsport discussions — so as to benefit fishermen and OPT maintenance crews.
The North Spit park likely would not be developed for several years, Kopf said.
That didn’t sit well with fishermen.
“It shocked me that it happened so quickly,” Charleston fisherman Jeff Reeves said.
Winchester Bay crabber Stuart Schuttpelz put it even more bluntly: “This community doesn’t need to be lied to,” he said.
Kopf acknowledged their comments with aplomb.
“We definitely violated the trust with this group when we made that last-minute change,” Kopf said. “But from our perspective, we need to figure out technically, economically, if this works.”
Kopf also noted that the federal funding — part of a fiscal year 2009 budget request — would go to offset the costs of doing environmental studies. And sure, he said, funneling that money through independent Oregon universities or other businesses for the benefit of the wave energy industry overall is a viable option.
Mike Gaul, speaking on behalf of the Oregon Public Ports Association, suggested the neutral third-party option earlier in the evening, noting that he was uncomfortable with supporting federal funds going to a private company. Gaul, who’s the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay’s deputy director, also spoke Thursday night before the Coos Bay port commission. He told port commissioners he felt Kopf misled them by filing an application for a full-scale project.
“To date, OPT has not shown they are willing to work with the fishermen and Port of Coos Bay,” he said.
Kopf planned to meet with local officials today (Friday) in Coos Bay to continue to discuss the issue of moving ahead with 200 buoys — a project that could be granted a 50-year FERC license — instead of 20.
But fishermen and port officials warned more work must be done — still.
The 273-page PAD has some of the same errors in it that OPT made when it filed a preliminary application for the Reedsport site — errors Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission spokesman Hugh Link pointed out in earlier discussions with OPT.
“The Tri-state Commercial Crab Committee closely regulates harvest. The committee conducts annual reviews of crab populations and limits permits, timing and take in order to maintain the important Dungeness crab resource for both commercial and recreational take,” the application reads in one part.
But in reality, each state, Washington, Oregon and California, manages and regulates its own fleet and crab resource.
Kopf said there still is work to be done and planned to continue OPT’s commitment to working with fishermen.
“We’re committed to continuing the dialogue,” he said.