The federal government has officially announced its intention to sell offshore wind leases off the coast of California for the first time, and the proposed leases include stipulations that prioritize workforce and supply chain development.

On Thursday, the Department of Interior announced it will publish its proposed sale notice for five leases — three leases in the Morro Bay wind energy area and two leases in the Humboldt Bay wind energy area, totaling 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy if fully developed — with the Federal Register on Tuesday. The proposed leases include, among other things, requirements to work with the surrounding tribes and communities to mitigate any adverse impacts as well as incentives to invest in workforce training and enter into community benefit agreements.

“That’s the direction we’ve wanted to go towards for a long time,” Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, told The Times-Standard. “We’ll learn more as we go, but the community benefit agreement is going to be useful to us as locals to make this project be meaningful and help deliver benefits to Humboldt County.”

“There’s also an opportunity to use community benefits agreements to get commitments for environmental protection at the outset of a project,” Wheeler said. “That means we don’t need to wait and fight projects further down the development process about what sort of mitigation measures they might include.”

“These lease sales are the first step towards the real work of assessing environmental impacts and how to avoid or mitigate them,” Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, said in a statement. “Once developers enter into lease agreements, those site assessments will begin and we’ll have a much better understanding of how best to protect wildlife and their habitats as these projects move forward.”

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Three feet of sea-level rise would have significant impacts to communities surrounding Humboldt Bay, but that’s exactly what’s expected to happen in the coming decades.
That’s why the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury’s second report “The Sea Also Rises,” issued Thursday, states that Humboldt County, the cities of Arcata and Eureka, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, and state legislators need to start collaborating on planning for sea-level rise.
“A regional voice speaks louder than multiple local voices,” the report states.
Some of those efforts are at the beginning stages. Humboldt County’s Planning and Building Department, for instance, is expected to conclude the Humboldt Bay Sea Level Rise Regional Planning Feasibility Study in September 2022 and that will likely recommend taking a collaborative approach to the issue.
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The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.
The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.
But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.

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The federal government has completed an environmental review for developing a wind project 20 miles off the coast of Humboldt Bay. That review found developing offshore wind will have no significant impact on the environment.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Thursday released the final draft of its environmental assessment, which broadly examines how offshore wind activities in the roughly 207-square-mile Humboldt Wind Energy Area would affect the surroundings. Any specific project that is proposed in the future would still need to undergo its own environmental review.

“The completion of this Environmental Assessment represents an important step forward for ensuring that any future renewable energy development — should a lease sale occur — is done in a responsible manner,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said in a statement. “Working closely with tribes, state and federal partners and key stakeholders, BOEM remains focused on ensuring that such development is done in a way that avoids or reduces potential impacts to the environment and other ocean users in the region.”

The lease sales for offshore wind projects off Humboldt Bay and Morro Bay in Central California are expected to take place in September, and the completion of the environmental assessment is a major milestone.

You can find the final environmental assessment and more information about offshore wind development in Humboldt Bay at bit.ly/3FvvgjW.

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Coastal residents have come to expect endless weeks of fog from May through August. A few find it romantic; others mutter about how the apocryphal Mark Twain quotation ("the coldest winter I ever spent ...") is right on the money. In truth, we should be grateful for the blanket of mist around them. Its arrival marks the start of a great annual surge of life just offshore.