Public comment period opens for review of marine sanctuaries

06/29/2017

The federal government is moving swiftly on an executive order that mandates a comprehensive review of marine sanctuaries and monuments designated or expanded in the last decade, including the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank. This Monday began a 30-day public comment period to inform the Commerce Department’s review of a total of 11 marine sanctuaries and monuments. “We have never seen anything resembling this, there’s no precedent, so we aren’t sure what to expect,” said Richard Charter, a Sonoma resident who sits on the Greater Farallones advisory council. The order, which was signed in April, gave the Department of Commerce until Oct. 25 to submit a review that will analyze both the budgetary impacts of the costs to manage each sanctuary or monument and whether adequate public processes were conducted before the expansion or designation—including consultations with federal, state and tribal agencies. Most notably, the review will include a presentation of the “opportunity costs,” or what would be lost, with potential energy and mineral exploration and production. The vital marine ecosystems protected by the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank are on the chopping block because, though respectively established in 1981 and 1989, both were expanded in 2015. (The Farallones expanded nearly threefold and Cordell Bank more than doubled.) The announcement just last Friday of the public comment period follows a request to the two local sanctuaries to provide certain materials for use in the review in the Department of Commerce. Maria Brown, the superintendent for Greater Farallones, told the Light earlier this month that although it will take some extra staff time, most of the requested information—including an environmental impact statement, a management plan, dates and links for public comments, and evidence of consultation with state, federal and tribal groups, among other things—is at the ready. Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties have already passed resolutions in defense of the sanctuaries along the California coast. “There was great turnout, and comments were very supportive of the expansions of the sanctuaries, and the value they bring to Marin County,” Ms. Brown told the Marin Board of Supervisors on June 6 before a vote on a resolution spearheaded by Supervisors Dennis Rodoni and Kate Sears. In addition to the local sanctuaries, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are under review, among others across the nation. To submit comments, visit regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NOS-2017-0066.