Morro Bay goes "on the record" against PG&E studies



In case you haven’t heard, the City of Morro Bay is opposed to Pacific Gas & Electric’s plan to conduct seismic studies off the Central Coast.

On an otherwise lengthy and oft-contentious city council meeting, all five council members found common ground in making sure they went on the record opposing the proposed studies before the utility goes before a few remaining regulatory agencies.

The move came following months of controversy in the maritime-dependant community, after an entire industry of North Coast commercial fishermen learned that PG&E’s upcoming seismic surveys would have “significant” and “unavoidable” impacts on marine life and fishing-dependant businesses, as depicted in the project’s environmental impact report.

“This is going to send a ripple effect through our local economy,” said resident Aaron Ochs.

PG&E passed a crucial hurdle on Aug. 20, receiving a necessary permit from the California State Lands Commission to begin its surveys in November. It still requires a sign-off by the California Coastal Commission—which will likely take action on the matter in October—as well as the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District, and the California Department of Fish And Game.

According to City Manager Andrea Lueker, the purpose behind the resolution is to “keep the city informed” on each step of the process. City Attorney Rob Shultz told New Times that the city, in reality, has little jurisdiction in the matter, but that their opposition would likely be taken into consideration at the upcoming state meetings.

Councilman Noah Smukler took special exception with PG&E’s claims process to compensate the local commercial fishing industry and other businesses that are sure to feel the pinch of at least a two-month loss of take, as well as those from other unknown long-term effects on marine life.

“There’s this [claims] process that’s very vague and that’s concerning to me,” Smukler said, adding that he hoped the city could provide some way to back [residents] up” through the claims process.

PG&E reps have repeatedly said the company has created an escrow account to handle claims of financial losses. Should the surveys not be complete by Dec. 31, the company may need to wrap it up in fall 2013.

City officials opened with statistics from a recent report that the local fishing industry has rebounded, worth some $7.4 million in 2011, up from roughly $4.4 million in 2010.

“We’ve brought back an industry that was on the brink of death,” Mayor Bill Yates said before the council passed the measure. “Everyone’s together on this.”

If granted the go-ahead from the final deciding agencies, surveys could begin as soon as Nov. 1.

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