Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Jan. 24 @ 1:04 p.m. / Local Government
Del Norte Supervisors Approve Tri-Agency Agreement Restricting JPA's Involvement in Offshore Wind Energy Discussions
Rather than face its potential demise, Del Norte County supervisors agreed to restrict the role the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority will play in discussions around offshore wind energy.
District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges took responsibility for 5.05(e), the clause inserted into the joint powers agreement he and his colleagues approved Tuesday stating that the Tri-Agency “shall not support or pursue activities involving the offshore generation of wind energy.”
Borges acknowledged the objections from other Tri-Agency members who argued that such a restriction shouldn’t be included in the JPA’s foundational document. But, he said, he was speaking for hundreds of fishermen who were plying their trade while he and his colleagues debated.
“There’s currently hundreds of families out on the ocean putting their lives on the line to bring people in this room food,” Borges said referring to the commercial Dungeness crab fishery, which began last week. “[Offshore wind energy development] has been proven time and time again to negatively impact the fishing industry and so if I can in any way stand up here and protect our local fishing industry then that’s what I’m up here to do. We’re talking about economic development, what’s the economic impact if our fishing industry dies? What’s going to happen if wind comes in or fishing dies? We’re just swapping.”
Borges was supported by District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short, who referenced a study linking noise pollution generated from offshore wind turbines to abnormal development in lobster and crab larvae.
Short said he’d be in favor of including a stipulation in the Tri Agency’s JPA that it shall not support an industry that could potentially harm another, saying crabbing is one of the last decent fisheries Del Norte has.
Short, Borges and their colleagues discussed an amended joint powers agreement for the Tri-Agency for a second time on Tuesday. Each member agency, which also includes Crescent City and the Crescent City Harbor District, must approve the agreement and contribute funding for the agency to move forward.
According to District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard, one of two to sit on the Tri-Agency Board, a 4/5ths vote of the Board of Supervisors is necessary for the county’s contribution to be approved.
District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey, who was absent Tuesday, has continually opposed resurrecting the Tri-Agency.
Following a Tri-Agency meeting on Jan. 4, Howard told the Outpost that one person could “hold the JPA hostage” because of that 4/5ths vote requirement.
“We’re in between a rock and a hard place with the way things are set up with Board policies,” Howard said.
On Tuesday, Linda Sutter, who is a candidate for the Del Norte County District 5 supervisor seat and is suing the city, county and harbor over the Tri-Agency, said the agenda for the Tri-Agency’s Jan. 4 meeting wasn’t properly posted.
Sutter cited California Government Code section 54954.2, which requires governing bodies post agendas for regular meetings in a physical location and on their website 72 hours in advance.
“The lack of transparency and disregard for legal requirements is simply unacceptable,” she said. “When I brought this matter to Chair [Wes] White’s attention during the meeting, I was dismayed to see he disregarded it and continued on with the meeting and took action on the agenda.”
County resident Robert Derego said he also had trouble finding agendas for the Tri-Agency.
Most of the public commenters who spoke Tuesday urged supervisors to remove the restriction on offshore wind energy from the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement. This included Crescent City Harbor Commissioner Wes White, who chairs the Tri-Agency board, but said he was speaking to supervisors as a private citizen.
Stating that Del Norte County is a “premier site” for offshore wind energy development, White noted that process is being managed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management through the U.S. Department of the Interior. BOEM is requiring developers to negotiate community benefit agreements with local governments that include ensuring there are jobs for residents as well as reimbursing those who are negatively impacted, he said.
“In other words, a lot of money can come from one of these community [benefit] agreements,” White told supervisors, arguing that Del Norte County should be prepared to engage in those negotiations. “Do we really believe that a natural resource that’s controlled by the federal government is not going to be developed and we have the power to restrict that development? Do we really believe we have control over what will happen here?”
Continuing past the 3 minutes allotted to the other public commenters, White referred to Oregon Governor Tina Kotek in June 2023 asking the federal government to tap the brakes on offshore wind energy development in her state. The federal government overruled that wish and has identified roughly 200,000 acres off the coast of Coos Bay and Brookings for potential offshore wind energy development, White said.
White suggested that instead of prohibiting the Tri-Agency from engaging in discussions regarding offshore wind energy in perpetuity to restrict the JPA from advocating for it.
Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore, who is also a Tri-Agency Board member, echoed White’s concerns about including restrictions in the agency’s foundational document. Inscore also pointed out that offshore wind energy development is mentioned in Del Norte County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS, a 5-year plan that’s due for an update at the end of 2024.
“At the very beginning of this foundational document [the joint powers agreement] it says that we are going to focus the work of the Tri-Agency based on the CEDS,” Inscore said. “If a future component of offshore wind or any kind of renewable energy ends up in our next 5-year CEDS, we may find ourselves in a conflict with the very document we are supposed to operate over.”
Whitney Pincombe was one of the few that urged county supervisors to keep the JPA’s offshore wind restriction statement in place. She noted that the document could be amended at a later date and said it wasn’t a short time ago that the city, county and harbor discussed if the Tri-Agency should continue to exist.
Offshore wind energy development endangers both the commercial fishing industry and the tourism industry, Pincombe said.
“I don’t feel like this is a matter of whether we’re going to be involved in conversations, it’s a matter of survival,” she said. “And we don’t need one other agency for [fishermen] to fight against.”
On Tuesday Howard urged his colleagues to remove the offshore wind energy restriction from the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement. He pointed out that communities up and down the West Coast are engaging in conversations about offshore wind, including the Yurok Tribe.
Howard also referred the Tri-Agency’s past history of making bad business loans and the work he and the Board has put into of paying off a U.S. Department of Agriculture debt the agency had defaulted on.
Howard said he was unwilling to undo nine years of resolving that USDA debt. There’s no one agency driving economic development in Del Norte County, he said. He reluctantly motioned to approve the joint powers agreement that includes the offshore wind energy restriction.
“I don’t think there’s any path forward here,” Howard said. “After, like I said, nine years of work getting us back to this point, I’m not willing to not push forward with the Tri-Agency implementing our work plan, which is essentially the CEDS document.”