North Coast marine sanctuary expansion praised at hearing

BODEGA BAY — No contrary words were heard at a public meeting that filled Bodega Bay's Grange Hall with about 70 citizens, federal officials and fishing industry representatives Thursday night concerning a plan to protect an additional 2,770 square miles of the ocean off the rugged North Coast.

"There's celebration in the air," said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who attended the first of three hearings on the proposed expansion of two national marine sanctuaries that have been in place since the 1980s.

"It was great," said Norma Jellison of Bodega Bay, who sat at one of five tables where residents gave feedback to sanctuary officials.

Jellison said she'd like to see sanctuary officials establish an office in Sonoma County, possibly at the Bodega Marine Lab. "The sanctuary office in San Francisco is kind of far away."

All the comments at her table were supportive of the proposed expansion, which will move the sanctuaries' northern border from Bodega Bay more than 60 miles north to Alder Creek, near Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

Oil, gas and mineral development are prohibited within the sanctuaries, which are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The expansion plan, announced last month, brings to an apparent end the four-decade battle to preserve the Sonoma Coast from offshore oil drilling.

Sanctuary officials said they expect to complete the approval process by July 2014.

Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who retired this month after 20 years in Congress, got hearty applause and credit for establishing the coastal protection she had sought since 2004.

"We want to protect our fishing industry and we want to protect our environment. That's it in a nutshell," Woolsey said.

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