Is there a good place to develop wave energy in Oregon’s 3-mile swath of the Pacific?

State planners are developing a series of maps that they hope will reveal places in the territorial sea that aren’t vital to the fishing or shipping industries, or sensitive marine species, or surfers, or oceanographic research, or undersea transmission cables …

The list goes on. But the point is these maps are designed to flag the lesser-used places as potential sites for marine renewable energy projects – a brand new ocean use that isn’t part of the current territorial sea plan.

The maps compile years of work and data from a dozen different groups. For example, Ecotrust surveyed fishermen coast-wide and managed to get them to identify their most valuable fishing grounds. Oregon State University has mapped the sea floor – so we know which areas have rocky reefs, for example. Each of those maps are layers in an interactive Google Earth map.

Spatial planning in the ocean taking the state a step toward a land-use planning system for the sea, according to Paul Klarin of Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

“We’re trying to identify areas where we could have a new use like renewable energy that does not impact any of the existing uses,” he said. “But you’ll see a lot of the map has already got something on it. On land, everything is cut, spliced and zoned for specific uses. In the ocean, there really has been no spatial planning of any sort.”

Oregon’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council is presenting the maps to coastal communities and asking for input on what else should be taken into account before the state swings open the door to marine energy developers (although there are already plans to develop wave energy test sites on the coast off Reedsport and Yaquina Head).

“We’ve been at this for three years, but this is really the first inning,” said Onno Husing, a Council member and director of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association. “The goal is to add more insights to these maps so we can surgically identify sites that would have opportunities for renewable energy. We want to find places that work for everybody.”

Among the ecological considerations in the planning process are seal and sea lion haul-outs, bull kelp forests, seabird nests and, of course, marine reserves. The layers of data built into the Google map can be individually selected to specifically target the conflicts that might come into play from one type of wave energy device on the surface of the water versus one that rests on the sea floor.

The process is making fishermen wary, and it’s keeping marine renewable energy developers on the edge of their seats.

Astoria crab fisherman Brian Petersen said he doubts any wave energy devices will stay put for long in the “savage conditions” in the ocean. And with the rocky areas off limits, he said, the sandy bottom is left open to wave energy development.

“That’s where we crab,” he said. “I can tell you the territorial sea is very small. I imagine there’s been a crab pot in every area of the territorial sea at one time or another and probably will be again. Crabbing is just that aggressive and that important to crab fishermen. They look for ground that hasn’t been fished and fish it. We see some real conflicts between crab fisheries and wave energy farms.”

But members of the industry advisory group Oregon Wave Energy Trust say there are new wave buoy technologies that have proven they can withstand Oregon’s harsh ocean conditions. The wave energy industry has supported the state planning process in general, Klarin said, because developers want to identify the areas they can safely target for future projects.