Will fishing for a living be a viable occupation for Astoria in the decades to come? Will the children and grandchildren of those in the industry today be able to carry on the traditions and see the economic benefits of hauling in the bounty of the sea in the next twenty or thirty years? Can wave energy co-exist with ocean fishing in an already highly regulated environment?
Those questions were core concerns for those fishermen sitting at the table for a meeting Friday hosted by Clatsop County with the Oregon Military Department to discuss a National Guard plan to site wind energy facilities off-shore from Camp Rilea.
The planning process is still in the early stages and could take years before the first test buoys would be placed and connected to on-shore power conditioning facilities before connecting to the power grid. Permitting alone could take years according to the department experts who say that wave energy is really in it's infancy with private companies still experimenting with different methods of harnessing the power of wave action to generate electricity. One fisherman would not be consoled by a possible five to ten year timeline saying no one thought building the first dam on the Columbia River would lead to the end of his salmon fishing days decades later.
In the end it may be that the project never gets any further than providing a place for experimentation and development. It's far too early to say. The Military Department has completed a preliminary feasibility study that indicates the areas under consideration are favorable. The area in the ocean begins just off Camp Rilea that is off limits when live fire training is taking place which amounts to over two hundred days a year. Fishermen are allowed to fish that danger zone when live fire exercises are not taking place and fishermen say it is a rich hunting ground for crab and other species. If the wrong kind of wind energy buoys are placed there fishing would become impossibly difficult according to the industry representatives.
This is the second meeting between fishermen and the National Guard. The areas indicated on maps showing locations for shallow, mid-depth and, deep water buoy placement are right in the middle of prime crab fishing grounds located just a few miles south of the river mouth in an area that is already heavy with restrictions on fishing due to the large amount of traffic transiting the Columbia River mouth. That traffic has also limited the areas where the wave energy project could take place. Crab fisherman Brian Peterson told participants that most fishermen do not have a problem with the testing phase because that would just involvea few scattered buoys. He said the concern is that after that phase the next phase would see the development of a wave energy "farm" with a larger number of the buoys interconnected and cabled to the beach. Peterson says you don't spend a million dollars on underwater cable for testing and then fail to find a way to get a return on that investment by building a large power generating network.
National Guard Col. Safe stated that the Military Department is not interested in seeing the fishermen entirely displaced and the local fishing industry destroyed. He said what they are interested in is exploring whether these two ocean uses can co-exisist in some fashion. Peterson then suggested that if the goal is to establish alternative energy perhaps the department might look at incorporating wind or wave energy devices in the jetties themselves as other countries have done successfully. Clatsop County Commission Chair Peter Huhtala said that may be a viable approach because the river jetties do need a rebuild but that requires going through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which do not have renewable energy as a mandate in maintaining jetties. Huhtala went on to say he has had conversations with members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation about this issue with the idea of working that kind of mandate into the Army Corp strategy for ocean jetties.
Col. Safe said that an important consideration going forward would be establishing a review system involving the fishing fleet so that any proposals for wind energy installations could be considered and local fishermen would have the opportunity to weight-in on those proposals. Col. Safe said that Clatsop County could become a center for wave energy research and an industry could develop here to build wave energy infrastructure. He said that partnering with Clatsop Community College and the Job Corps would be important to provide training in wave energy technology.