Six counties on the Oregon coast have joined an effort to overturn the state’s 2013 offshore renewable energy plan.
In late September, Clatsop, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lincoln and Tillamook counties filed an amicus curiae or friend of the court brief on behalf of two coastal residents who are challenging the 2013 decision by the Land Conservation and Development Commission to create offshore renewable energy study areas under the state’s ocean management plan, known as the territorial sea plan. Lane County commissioners missed the deadline to join in the brief, but sent a letter of support.
The two residents, Charles Ciecko and David Yamamoto, filed petition in January 2014 asking the Oregon Court of Appeals to reject the renewable energy amendment to Oregon’s existing sea plan. The plan attempts to balance coastal renewable energy projects with protections for marine plants and animals, scenic coastal areas and the fishing industry. Currently, the only offshore energy projects proposed in Oregon are research and pilot projects and the technology remains expensive.
The petition to overturn the latest sea plan rests on a procedural issue: whether the Land Conservation and Development Commission could legally adopt a new sea plan that was not endorsed by a group of representatives of coastal cities and counties, Indian tribes, the commercial and sports fishing industries and conservation organizations. That group, the Ocean Policy and Advisory Council, has had a role in state ocean planning since the late 1980s, and attorneys for Ciecko, Yamamoto and the counties wrote in legal briefs that state law only allows the state commission to adopt ocean policy recommended by the council.
However, the petition is the result of a fundamental disagreement over how the state should allocate space in the territorial sea — which extends three miles from the shore — among fishermen, tribes and other longtime mariners, and offshore renewable energy companies that want to build projects in the area.
The Land Conservation and Development Commission’s 2013 amendment to the sea plan added three renewable energy study areas which the Ocean Policy and Advisory Council opposed, according to the coastal counties’ brief. For example, the commission approved a renewable energy study area off the coast of Camp Rilea — a popular fishing area — that is three times as large as the proposal which the Ocean Policy and Advisory Council voted to recommend for that area.
“It is important to Counties that their legally delegated role in ocean planning be preserved and protected,” lawyers for the six counties wrote in their brief. “The challenged rule abrogated that role.” The Ocean Policy and Advisory Council includes county commissioners and city councilors from some of the counties who joined the case.
“The presence of complex logistical considerations and competition for the same spaces between marine renewable energy interests and other historical users of the ocean underscored the need to support community-level engagement processes to leverage the expertise of fishermen, other mariners and coastal interests to inform the state (and federal) regulatory frameworks such as the (territorial sea plan renewable energy facility) amendment process,” the lawyers wrote.
David Allen, a lawyer who represents Ciecko and Yamamoto, is also a member of the Newport City Council and a member of the Ocean Policy and Advisory Council.
“There was a procedure that needed to be followed,” Allen said of the state process to amend the sea plan. “It was one people up and down the coast were expecting was to be utilized.”
Allen said he expects the Court of Appeals will not issue a decision on his petition until mid-2017.
Jason Busch, executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, said the people challenging the renewable energy amendment want to protect fishing interests.
“I’d call it pretty good coastal politics,” Busch said. “It’s just how the game is played, and I think people understand that.”
Bush said the Ocean Policy and Advisory Council does not represent everyone on the coast.
“Do they represent an important part of the coast? Absolutely,” Busch said.