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Posts Tagged ‘Fort Bragg’

DAVID R. BAKER, San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2009

The waves off of Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast could one day generate electricity, if Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has its way.

The utility reported Friday that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study the area’s potential for a wave power project. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project could one day generate as much as 100 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt is a snapshot figure, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 750 average homes at any given instant.

Wave power technologies have the potential to provide large amounts of electricity. But they have been slow to leave the lab.

The typical wave power system consists of buoys that generate electricity as they bob up and down on the ocean’s surface. But the ocean has proven tougher than some of the systems.

PG&E two years ago agreed to buy electricity from a proposed “wave park” near Eureka to be built by Canadian company Finavera. But Finavera’s prototype buoy sank during a test, and California energy regulators killed the deal.

Under its $6 million WaveConnect program, PG&E is still studying potential wave park sites off Humboldt County. The utility, based in San Francisco, also examined the Mendocino County coast before ruling it out.

Vandenberg makes an attractive test site. It occupies a bend in the coast of Santa Barbara County where some of the beaches face west, some face southwest and others face south. PG&E in particular wants to study the area between Point Arguello and Point Conception.

“Generally, that piece of the coast is very active for waves,” said PG&E spokesman Kory Raftery. “It picks up swells from different directions.”

If the company wins federal approval, it will study the area for three years before making a decision on whether to test wave power devices there. The company wants to test several different devices but has not yet picked which ones, Raftery said.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, November 27, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

California’s regulatory system, designed to protect whales from science vessels will get some rethinking, following controversy over the October 19, 2009 death of a blue whale off Fort Bragg, a state official said.

The incident has highlighted an inconsistent and controversial regulatory system for which change was blocked by funding cuts due to the state budget crisis.

When the survey vessel Pacific Star struck the whale, it did not have a federally-approved whale spotter on board as required by the terms of its permit that this newspaper obtained from the California State Lands Commission.

Ship owner Fugro Pelagos, Inc. says both they had a valid permit and that they didn’t need one for the mapping being done when the whale was killed.

“There was no official whale observer on board because the work that was being done at the time did not require it,” said said James Hailstones of Fugro Pelagos. However, it contradicts a previous statement where he said an observer was present, as is required on all commercial vessels.

“The permit to which you refer pertains specifically to geophysical surveys, defined by state regulations as operations that measure and record physical properties of subsurface geologic structures,” said Hailstones.

“These are usually associated with mineral exploration and underwater resource development, and require higher-powered equipment than those aboard the Pacific Star. Instead, the vessel was conducting hydrographic survey work that is designed to simply measure the water depth above sea floor’s surface,” Hailstones said.

The permit states that Fugro is required to have “at least one person on board during survey operations that is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved marine wildlife monitor,…” during geophysical work.

A review of the permit confirms that it does apply to geophysical work as described by Hailstones and raises questions as to the efficiency of the regulation system.

Fugro, the largest company in the business the permit was created for, has never found a situation where the permit was needed. As evidence of that, the State Lands Commission permit demands a marine wildlife contingency plan be filed, which specifies information about interactions with marine mammals and reptiles. That plan has been completed but not filed because it isn’t needed, according to the current rules.

“A draft plan exists and is ready for use when we perform a geophysical survey. However, a tailored plan was not filed because there is no requirement to do so for the work that was being conducted,” Hailstones said.

Controversy over the incident and the permit has been stirred by Steve Sullivan, whose family operates Sea Surveyor, Inc., which competes with the larger Fugro Pelagos for surveying contracts. He says the permit was intended to apply to all types of mapping and surveying work.

Sullivan has been predicting for several years that lax and inconsistent regulation would lead to whale kills, state records show.

In interviews and letters broadcast on local radio and the Internet, Sullivan claimed that Fugro didn’t have a permit when it struck the whale.

This was refuted by Sheila Semans, a staff member of the Ocean Protection Council through the California Coastal Conservancy.

“[Fugro] did have a valid geophysical permit. I am told by the company that they have had a geophysical permit since they were required. What Mr. Sullivan fails to point out is that the permit that was issued on October 22, 2009 was effective starting Oct. 1, 2009,” Semans said.

She went on to explain that the permit was issued retroactively because of a series of delays, that were not the fault of Fugro.

Hailstones said the company had a permit issued October 1st, which was not issued retroactively.

How the work Pacific Star was doing at the time of the whale strike may or may not fit into the intent of the permit is a topic in an investigation into the whale strike by NOAA.

Scientists generally believe that the kind of sonar the Pacific Star was using isn’t harmful to whales and some believe they can’t even hear it. However, all say more study is needed.

One study says whales, which can hear for long distances, are becoming confused due to the increasing noise level in the oceans caused by all human activity.

Publicity following the death of the blue whale may revive efforts killed by the state budget crisis to clarify and expand permits and the understanding of the effects of all types of sonar on whales.

“Because of the confusion and disagreement about what the geophysical permit should cover, State Lands has asked [ the Ocean Protection Council] to fund further investigation into any potential impacts from passive equipment’ such as the sonar use for seafloor mapping,” Semans said.

“We have not been able to fund any new projects since December 2008 so discussions have stopped. But I’d imagine this incident will resurrect those discussions once we can spend money again,” she said.

Sullivan argues that the permit was required when the strike happened but says there is a larger issue.

“That’s just paperwork, my main complaint for the past few years is they and others up and down the coast are not taking the precautions needed and required to protect marine mammals,” he said

Sullivan says the Department of Fish and Game itself, along with study vessels operated by universities, operate such surveys without following permits and without complying with regulations designed to protect marine mammals.

He says he first confronted the State Lands Commission, then found that body had no meaningful enforcement power. Recently, he appeared before the Ocean Protection Council in an effort to cut funding to the efforts until marine mammal concerns could be met, a meeting video shows.

Sullivan said that because of the way modern hydrography works, those involved are using only a narrow beam of sonar, which would be unlikely to detect whales.

“The captain is not looking out the window anymore. That’s why you need the special spotters. You don’t see a whale unless you are looking for them,” Sullivan said.

Hailstones said Fugro keeps an eye out for whales, along with other marine hazards.

“Personnel onboard the bridge of the Pacific Star are always on watch for dangers to navigation, other vessels, crab and lobster pot buoys and marine mammals and obviously try to avoid such incidents,” said Hailstones.

The 176-foot Pacific Star completed its mapping work for the state and is now back in drydock in Seattle, Hailstones said.

Sullivan thinks the size of the vessel may have been a contributing cause to the whale strike. He said the work only requires a 50-foot vessel and says use of such a large ship in whale migratory waters is irresponsible. He said a larger ship makes it much harder to see whales and more likely for a strike to be fatal.

“Being experts in our field, we utilize the correct vessel for the application,” Hailstones said.

“The Pacific Star is similar in size to others used in safely conducting offshore and coastal hydrographic surveys. Much larger vessels than the Pacific Star sail California waters every day and do so at far greater speeds than the 6.5 miles per hour the Pacific Star was doing at the time of the incident,” Hailstones said.

Hailstones said the whale apparently surfaced under the propellers in the rear section of the boat and was not struck by the bow.

Sullivan says the propellers of his survey vessels are protected by screens that would keep them from inflicting a fatal wound should there ever be a whale strike.

“The Pacific Star — like 99.9% of the world’s ships — does not have screens surrounding their screws,” said Hailstones.

“Not only would this be impractical to retrofit for the majority of vessels, but the possible negative consequences far outweigh the positives,” Hailstones said. “Screens would offer a large surface area for marine growth to flourish or even water borne garbage to accumulate, it wouldn’t be long before a vessel’s ability to make way would be severely hampered as a screw relies on the ability of large volumes of water to pass by unobstructed.”

Hailstones said the greatest nemesis for a vessel propeller is rope in the water.

“A screen would pose a great catch’ mechanism for rope and often, when rope gets caught in a vessel screw, the vessel is dead in the water, which poses a great risk to the human life onboard,” Hailstones said

One thing Hailstones and Sullivan agree on is that this incident is a first time in anyone’s memory that a survey vessel has reported striking and killing a whale.

“Our company and our sister companies utilize hundreds of vessels in thousands of miles of oceans and seas worldwide to conduct such operations, and are proud of our long-standing safety record. In the company’s 45-year history, Fugro (including Fugro Pelagos) has never been involved in such an unfortunate incident before,” Hailstones said.

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Dan Bacher, October 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In order to stop the killing of any more whales, locals are also asking for an immediate suspension of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that the boat was collecting habitat data for.

The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor

Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-sonar beam surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.

“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”

Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall. On October 9, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.

The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.

“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to an article at National Geographic.

However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.

Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.

Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale “Jane” after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale’s death.

“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”

The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of the MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.

“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine ‘protection’?”

Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”

Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of “Jane ” the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.

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Editor’s Note:  When walking Manny, my dog, at Seaside Beach on the Mendocino coast on October 3rd, I noticed evidence from the tsunami in the dramatically high water markings left behind and advised below:

Ukiah Daily Journal, September 29, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA 25-inch tsunami is expected to hit the Mendocino Coast tonight at 8:53 p.m., according to county and federal officials.

An 8-magnitude earthquake Tuesday morning near Pago Pago, American Samoa triggered a tsunami advisory for the California coast. The National Weather Service issued the advisory for the California and Oregon coasts, warning of possible dangerous currents.

“We’re advising people not to go out in their boats and stay away from low-lying areas,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said Tuesday evening.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center says an advisory means that a tsunami capable of producing strong currents or waves dangerous to persons in or very near the water in imminent or expected.

Widespread inundation is not expected.

The waves are expected to begin arriving about 9 p.m. and built toward the most hazardous period early Wednesday morning.

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TODD WOODY, The New York Times, August 12, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPacific Gas & Electric has quietly dropped one of two planned 40-megawatt wave-farm projects.
Stroll through San Francisco and you can’t miss California utility Pacific Gas & Electric’s latest ad campaign. Posters plastered around town read: “Wave Power: Bad for sandcastles. Good for you.”

But PG&E recently dropped one of its two 40-megawatt wave-farm projects planned for the Northern California coast, according to documents filed with the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission.

“During the past year, PG&E undertook agency consultation and public outreach and commenced an examination of the technical and environmental feasibility of the proposed project,” wrote utility attorney Annette Faraglia in a June 9 letter to the commission. “Based on the results of this examination, PG&E has concluded that the harbor at Fort Bragg, Noyo Harbor, is not suitable for certain aspects of the project.”

In 2007, the utility had applied for federal permits to explore the feasibility of placing wave energy generators in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

The scuttling of the project is just the latest setback for wave energy. Last year, California regulators also declined to approve a PG&E contract to buy a small amount of electricity from a Northern California wave farm to be built by Finavera Renewables, on the grounds the project was not viable.

Despite the difficulties, PG&E is pushing forward with a similar wave project in Humboldt county. The utility has cut that project’s size from 136 square miles to 18 square miles as it zeroes in on the most productive areas of the ocean. Ms. Morris said that the utility expects to file a license application for the pilot project in the spring of 2010.

However, the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified a plethora of protected species that may be affected by the Humboldt project, ranging from endangered coho salmon to the northern elephant seal and long-beaked common dolphin.

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions…with acumen.

Start-ups, utilities companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

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Editors Note:  On June 9, 2009, PG&E filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a petition to release the Mendocino WaveConnect preliminary permit.

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMendoCoastCurrent, May 11, 2009

In early May 2009, PG&E’s WaveConnect team decided to cancel the Mendocino WaveConnect project because the Noyo Harbor didn’t pass muster and was deemed insufficient in several engineering aspects, therefore unable to support PG&E’s Mendocino WaveConnect pilot wave energy program offshore.

PG&E summarily rejected re-situating the launch site to the Fort Bragg Mill Site, only a short distance from the Noyo Harbor, where PG&E could construct a state-of-the-art launch for Mendocino WaveConnect.

PG&E plans to report their decision to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and anticipates surrendering the Mendocino WaveConnect FERC pilot wave energy permit. The City of Fort Bragg, County of Mendocino and the FISH Committee were brought up to speed by PG&E on May 11th.

PG&E had raised $6mm in funding from CPUC and DOE for WaveConnect, allocated to both Mendocino and Humboldt projects. This remaining funds will now be directed to only Humboldt WaveConnect.

And PG&E notes that Humboldt WaveConnect, at Humboldt Bay and its harbor, offers WaveConnect the required spaciousness and the industrial infrastructure as well as a welcoming, interested community.

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