Despite 25 years of concerns, another application for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of San Luis Obispo County was submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this past month.
It seems reasonable concerns raised by community members, fishermen, environmental and economic experts and anecdotal accounts of the failed promises of other national marine sanctuaries continue to fall on the deaf ears of the supporters of this sanctuary.
Proponents of the CHNMS continue to use the same buzzwords in support of their cause: “job creation,” “economic boosts” and “environmental protection.” They cite these three significant benefits, as if the communities along our coastline are not only in desperate need of them, but as though inviting the federal government into our communities along our coastline will create these benefits overnight.
Activist groups in our county latched onto these claims even more fervently last year when a report, titled “The potential economic impacts of the proposed Central Coast National Marine Sanctuary,” was released. According to the report, “increased economic activity of more than $23 million annually as well as the creation of at least 600 permanent local jobs” could be expected.
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One special interest group chose to cherry-pick these facts and use them as substantial support for the CHNMS.
A commentary on the report by Monica Galligan, a professor of environmental economics, policy and management at Cal State Monterey Bay, outlines the flaws in picking and choosing details to support the CHNMS.
“(The study) did not take any costs into account, so the theoretical $23 million figure would not be a net benefit,” Galligan said.
Further, according to the report, about half of the $23 million would come from “increased coastal tourism.” In her commentary, Galligan points out that San Luis Obispo County already has a thriving tourism industry. In fact, the original report admits that “much of this tourism would exist even without sanctuary designation.”
Supporters of the CHNMS seem to have overlooked this detail. Often, they cite increased tourism as a potential for job creation.
As for the 600 jobs, Galligan points to a table featured in the original report in which a “confidence level” is assigned to various sources of potential revenue. In jobs, a “high confidence level” is assigned to the creation of only 18 jobs.
This lines up with anecdotes from community leaders and fishermen in Monterey Bay who describe the bureaucrats, rather than locals, who moved into town and took the few actual jobs that were created when the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established in 1992.
Influxes of jobs are a tremendous asset to our community, but only when they are given to locals and when they do not threaten other industries.
Despite claims that the fishing industry will not be impacted, other fishing communities all along the California coast, whose ports and harbors have fallen into national marine sanctuary waters, have spoken out about the constricting overreach in the name of preservation. In San Luis Obispo County, the Our Protected Coast Coalition has taken the lead and spoken out in defense of our fishing industry despite cries from sanctuary supporters that overregulation will not happen.
Although other national marine sanctuaries are quick to point out their limited power in regulating the fishing industries, the truth is that their influence is powerful enough to persuade overregulation. The potential for job creation might be in high regard by supporters, but careful attention should be paid to the many fishermen whose jobs will be threatened by the CHNMS and the regulations that could potentially be influenced.
Finally, environmentalism is the loudest pillar shouted by supporters. On May 18, 220,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. For six hours, maintenance crews were unable to stop the spill because of a faulty plug valve at the pump station. The Monterey Regional Water Quality Control Agency blamed aging pipelines and promised to do a better job next time.
The sanctuary status of Monterey Bay did not prevent raw sewage from reaching the ocean.
Proponents of the CHNMS fail to mention the incident in Monterey Bay.
They would rather focus on the Refugio leak, which occurred on the same day, as the reason for needing a sanctuary — they firmly believe that a national marine sanctuary would stop accidents from occurring, but it didn’t stop 220,000 gallons of raw sewage from polluting Monterey Bay.
Ultimately, it comes down to trust.
Do we trust that the sanctuary will create the jobs promised while not destroying the jobs that already exist in our local fishing industry? If the history of Monterey Bay’s sanctuary is any indication, the answer is no net job creation.
Do we want to surrender control of our local coastline to Washington, D.C., bureaucrats or keep local leaders in charge who are accountable to us? I’d suspect most readers would trust locally elected leaders over far-flung government bureaucrats.
The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary along the San Luis Obispo County coast was a bad idea 25 years ago, and it’s still a bad idea. Learn more and get involved in maintaining local control of our communities at OPCCoalition.com.