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Published: November 29, 2022

The SLO Tribune: Offshore wind development should be collaborative  — not combative

By Violet Sage Walker

It is a great opportunity for our region that the Biden administration announced in October the first-ever offshore wind rights sale off California’s coast. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Dec. 6 sale includes five lease areas. Three of the areas begin in the waters of the Chumash ancestral homeland.

For a decade, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council consulted with the bureau and other agencies regarding offshore wind. We see a unique opportunity to take responsibility to protect our Grandmother Ocean and homeland from harm while pursuing the renewable energy necessary to sustain our collective way of life.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council was the nominator of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary – the first tribally nominated sanctuary – and has been leading the designation process. The marine sanctuary designation will provide a complete unbroken chain for wildlife passage from Northern California to Santa Barbara and will serve as a buffer between the coastline and ocean industrialization.

New offshore wind farms alongside the proposed sanctuary are an opportunity for collaboration in monitoring, science and research.

The effects such a large offshore wind project would have on wildlife have not been studied before.

With that in mind, I embarked on a week-long European wind energy trip. I heard reports of “dead zones’‘ surrounding offshore wind installations. First-person stories coupled with data indicate potential negative impacts on fish, marine mammals, invertebrates and birds. Loss of use, collision, habitat displacement, exposure to electromagnetic fields and underwater noise are key issues.

One individual told me that whales had once been prevalent in the area but since offshore wind activity began, they “hadn’t seen a whale in decades.” And while offshore wind in Europe is often adjacent to offshore oil and gas — making it difficult to be certain of these negative findings — it is impossible not to worry about offshore wind off our treasured coast.

In an area with critically important wildlife species — whales, southern sea otters, turtles and migratory fish like salmon and halibut — we have an obligation to Grandmother Ocean to provide safe wildlife habitat and passage. The interests of fishers, tourists, whale watchers, beachgoers and residents depend on offshore wind not threatening or diminishing the quality of life we love on the Central Coast.

Mitigation measures that span the lifetime of leases, with meaningful community benefits, must be included along with local labor trained to work on renewable energy. The Tribal Council, the proposed marine sanctuary and the local community that supports them are eager to take a leadership role in the data collection, monitoring and management of this new opportunity.

As climate change intensifies, we must protect California’s landscapes, wildlife and ecosystems from environmental crises while addressing California’s energy needs. International island and coastline communities must share new technology and research to combat extreme ocean weather and sea level rise.

Our world-class tourism along the Central Coast depends on exceptional commercial fishing, phenomenal whale migrations, a sanctuary for vulnerable endangered species and gorgeous coastline vistas that promote our collective quality of life.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council advocates for marine conservation, equitable mitigation measures and fair community benefits. We believe offshore wind must coexist and cooperate with marine protections, and we see this as a unique opportunity for a collaborative effort, not a combative one. Working together, both will succeed.

We must prepare for the massive onshore infrastructure needed to support offshore wind. Planning for supply chains, ships, trucks, and ground support should have started ten years ago. Ports like Long Beach are going to be tapped and the prospect of new ports is being investigated.

If we work collaboratively, in the true spirit of cooperation and conservation, I believe wind and water will benefit. To quote my father, Fred Collins, “Indigenous peoples have a unique perspective. When incorporated with science, our perspectives highlight Grandmother Ocean’s life and connectivity in a living matrix of thrivability.”

Let’s make the right choices now so in the future we can thrive and prosper together.

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Northern Chumash Tribal Council: 
Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary: 
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