More critics decry seismic testing off the Central Coast

Marine sanctuary board from Monterey and county supervisor question plan

betling@thetribunenews.comOctober 18, 2012 

Members of two advisory groups, a county supervisor and a services district all said in recent days they’d like to see postponement if not outright cancellation of current plans for a high-energy seismic testing off the Central Coast.

All members of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council who spoke at a meeting Thursday in Cambria said they had, at the least, reservations about what’s known about the shifting plans for the tests. The council, however, did not take a vote on its position, as its agenda only listed the discussion as an information item, and not one for action.

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, speaking at a meeting of the North Coast Advisory Council in Cambria on Wednesday, said, “I’m not at this point defending this survey, because I have very serious concerns on how this is setting up.” He said that as proposed, the testing would not use the most up-to-date equipment available.

“Right now,” Gibson said, “I oppose the project as proposed in front of the Coastal Commission. ... I don’t see any urgency for doing air-gun testing this year.”

Members of the North Coast Advisory Council voted unanimously to send a letter of opposition about the current seismic testing plans to the Coastal Commission, the county Board of Supervisors and other agencies reviewing the plans.

Proposed text of the letter says current plans are “unacceptable” and the council will oppose the project “until more definitive information is acquired.”

The San Simeon Community Services District Board of Directors voted 3-2 on Oct. 10 to approve a resolution opposing the project, saying concerns include impacts on fish, fishing, marine mammals, access to the Morro Bay harbor, tourism and “other environmental issues.”

PG&E, in an effort to learn more about earthquake faults off the coast that could threaten the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, hopes to begin the survey next month. It’s expected it would last into December and resume late in 2013.

Research vessels towing long lines would emit very loud blasts of sound — 250 decibels — into the ocean every 15 seconds around the clock.

The Coastal Commission is expected to decide on whether to issue a permit for the seismic survey during its three-day meeting in Santa Monica beginning Nov. 14.

County supervisors have also scheduled their own hearing, though the board has no jurisdiction over the tests, during their regular meeting Oct. 30.

Sanctuary meeting

The marine sanctuary covers more than 5,000 square miles off the California coast from Marin County to Cambria.

The proposed testing is south of the sanctuary.

“There’s no way in the world it would happen in the sanctuary,” advisory council member Geoffrey Shester said at the Cambria meeting, expressing frustration and disbelief that, “because it’s a couple miles away, all we get to do is weigh in on some concerns.”

“This feels like a runaway train,” said council member Margaret “P.J.” Webb. “I have a lot of concern the negative impacts far outweigh any beneficial information (the testing would yield).”

Several members of the council complimented the substance of public comment by the 16 speakers — all against the project — who rose to address the 18 council and staff members. The audience totaled about 60 people, surpassing the number of chairs that had been set up at the Veterans Memorial Building.

“We have no information that this will change what they do at Diablo,” said Mary Webb of Cambria, one of the public speakers. “No way to evaluate the risk/reward.”

“The effects of loud noises on steelhead gathering at creek mouths could be devastating,” added Jim Webb, a Cambria fisherman and member of an advisory council that helped set up the state’s system of marine preserves.

“This project does not mitigate a damn thing,” said Julie Tacker of Morro Bay. “It only monitors the take.  A (public service announcement) earlier (in the meeting) said, ‘If the animal notices you, you are too close.’ ”

“We have to look at the underlying common sense of what we are doing,” said Richard Sadowski of Citizens Opposing Acoustic Seismic Testing (COAST), which represents a coalition of two dozen members and supporting organizations and agencies. “(We’re) destroying something to try to gather information. Other ways to gather data should be looked at. We should think about more than ourselves, about the common good of our future.”

Proposed PG&E Seismic Survey Project Memo

Staff writer Kathe Tanner contributed to this report.

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