Opinions are polarized on Diablo seismic mapping

Fishermen say quake studies will hurt their business; business owners support continued operation of nuclear power plant

dsneed@thetribunenews.comApril 19, 2012 

Dozens of people Thursday testified both for and against plans by PG&E to conduct high-energy, three-dimensional earthquake studies later this year around Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

The State Lands Commission is the permitting agency for the project, and it has published an environmental impact report on the work. Thursday’s hearing was a chance for the public to tell the regulators what they thought of the study.

Opinion on the studies was split between fishermen — both commercial and recreational — who are concerned about closures and damages to the marine ecosystem, and business owners and craftsmen who support the continued safe operation of Diablo Canyon.

The work could begin as early as September and could last until the end of the year. It will consist of a large research vessel sailing in a grid pattern over a large swath of ocean from Cambria to the Santa Maria River.

The ship will emit blasts of very loud noise into the ocean. Streamers four or five miles long will be towed behind the vessel, which will pick up the sound waves as they penetrate several miles into the Earth’s crust and reverberate back to the surface.

This will give seismologists a detailed picture of the earthquake faults offshore of the plant at the depths earthquakes occur. A clearer picture of the Hosgri, Shoreline and San Simeon faults is a prerequisite for PG&E renewing the plant’s two operating licenses to 2044 and 2045.

Fishermen are concerned about the loss of all or part of an entire fishing season. Vessels will not be allowed to operate in the areas where the survey work is being done.

It is also unclear what effect the very loud sounds will have on rockfish, a lucrative harvest for Central Coast fishers. The sounds could deafen the fish or disrupt their distribution.

Steve Moore, owner of Patriot Sportfishing in Port San Luis, said the seismic surveys scare him more than any of the dramatic cutbacks in fishing and other challenges that have happened over the past decade.

He said he is already beginning to lose customers due to the negative publicity the studies have generated. Many fishers recommended the agency require that PG&E do some test surveys to measure the impact on rockfish before the permits are issued.

Port San Luis fisherman Peter Nelson said the agency is rushing to judgment on the impacts of the surveys. He and others said the needs of PG&E should not be given priority over the health of the ocean resources.

“We don’t know if we can survive another economic impact,” said Lori French, a member of a multigenerational Morro Bay fishing family.

PG&E is working on plans to compensate fishermen for lost revenue and will hire some of their vessels as monitoring boats.

Counterbalancing these concerns were business people, chamber of commerce members and trade unionists employed at the plant who said the work is necessary to help plan for a catastrophic event similar to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year that crippled three reactors and caused massive radiation leaks.

Others said the business community is dependent on PG&E for the electrical power.

“PG&E is one of our vital partners providing clean and reliable power,” said Tim Williams with Digital West, a local high-tech company.

The State Lands Commission could make a decision on whether the project will be approved as early as July. The agency will provide written responses to all the comments it received Thursday.

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