Feds open to expanding oil-drilling protection on North Coast

Federal officials say they are open to suggestions from the public that more of the North Coast should be protected from offshore oil drilling under a proposed expansion of two marine sanctuaries.

"We want to know the scope of the area we should be looking at," said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Brown and other sanctuary officials will attend the second of three public meetings on the sanctuary plan at 6 p.m. today in Point Arena, followed by the third meeting Wednesday in Gualala.

Officials are interested in the "boundary options" people might propose, as well as any "additional regulations" in the protected areas, Brown said.

Rachel Binah of Little River in Mendocino County, a longtime foe of offshore oil development, said the sanctuaries should extend to the Oregon border or beyond.

"I think the whole West Coast should be protected," said Binah, who plans to attend both meetings.

Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde, who plans to attend the Gualala meeting, wants the sanctuaries to cover the entire Mendocino coast, an area he described as "pristine."

Oil drilling is not "imminent this year" on the North Coast, but experience indicates the "only way to resolve it is to create permanent protection," he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in December plans to more than double the size of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones sanctuaries, extending their northern border from Bodega Bay more than 60 miles north to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

The expansion, which does not need legislative approval, affords coastal waters permanent protection from energy development, officials say.

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