Supervisors support Diablo seismic surveys

dsneed@thetribunenews.comAugust 7, 2012 

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date. The hearing will be held Aug. 14, not Aug. 15.

In spite of concerns by fishermen and environmentalists, county supervisors Tuesday voted to support plans to conduct high-energy earthquake fault surveys later this year offshore of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

Supervisors said the increased understanding of the earthquake threat at the nuclear plant outweighs the potentially significant harm the surveys are expected to do to marine life. The surveys involve sending very loud blasts of sound into the ocean that can kill or injure fish and marine mammals.

PG&E plans to begin the surveys Oct. 1 and finish them by Dec. 15. The State Lands Commission, the agency that regulates the state’s near-shore waters, will decide whether to allow the surveys when it meets in Sacramento on Aug. 14.

Within the next few days, supervisors will send a letter to the commission supporting the surveys but asking that a third party team of experts review the technology PG&E plans to use to ensure that it is state-of-the-art. They also want to make sure that fishermen are adequately compensated for their losses and that scientific monitoring is done to determine the long-term impact the surveys will have on ocean life.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who has a doctorate in geophysics, said his research indicates that it would be better to use a larger boat, towing a larger array of sensors. The larger boat could get the job done more quickly and, thereby, reduce the damage to marine life.

“It’s important that we get the best possible results from these surveys,” he said.

Jearl Strickland, Diablo Canyon’s director of nuclear projects, said the utility originally proposed using a larger boat but industry experts said a smaller boat would be better in the shallow waters near Diablo Canyon. He also said PG&E’s plans have been reviewed by outside experts.

PG&E is negotiating with fishermen to arrive at a fair amount to pay them to offset their losses. PG&E has offered $1.2 million based on local catch data over the past decade.

Strickland said the $1.2 million is generous because it’s the highest landing data the fishermen have reported during the past decade in the four-month stretch from September through December. But the actual surveys are only planned for 33 days.

Tom Hafer, a Morro Bay commercial fisherman, said he thinks $10 million would be a fairer sum. The periods during which the surveys are planned are some of the most productive for some fishermen.

“We do not want these studies to happen,” he said. “They are going to be a big problem for the commercial fishing community.”

In contrast to the concerns of the fishermen, representatives of the chambers of commerce of San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles as well as trade union groups told supervisors that they want the seismic surveys to be undertaken as quickly as possible. The data the surveys will yield will allow Diablo Canyon to continue to operate safely, they said.

In addition to the State Lands Commission, PG&E must also get the approval of the state Coastal Commission and National Science Foundation. Those agencies are expected to make their decisions in September.

PG&E is also working to get approval from the state Public Utilities Commission to recoup from ratepayers the $64 million it is costing to do the earthquake studies.

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