‘Progress’ — a Danger to All?

Viewpoint

By Gail Johnson, Morro Bay

In his 12/14/23 opinion (Estero Bay News Vol. 5, Issue 25), “Is Morro Bay in danger of being ‘industrialized’?”, John Lindt waxes nostalgic about a time when industry, energy production and military use co-existed with tourism and commercial fishing in Morro Bay. He implies that because this was historically true, we should welcome it in the future. While Mr. Lindt romanticizes an era marked by dubious “progress,” he acknowledges that advancements often have serious impacts.  

The World War II effort required universal resolve to fight our enemies, and coastal towns were needed to protect our nation.  In our collective determination to save our country from foreign threats, mistakes were made that affected us locally, such as the internment of our Japanese American neighbors and seizure of private property.  Our iconic Morro Rock, considered an Indigenous sacred place, was partially blasted apart and used to renovate our harbor. Today we are making symbolic gestures to restore it.

Post war exuberance brought a baby boom, a building boom and the need for energy to power our bright ambitious world.  PG&E’ s power plant provided the electricity, and because it required abundant cooling water for its operation, it was located adjacent to our harbor.  The power plant was not universally accepted when it was built and led to even more dissent when the effects of the toxic smoke, discharged wastewater and sea life mortality became evident.  Today, we continue to experience the impacts of unsightly asbestos-filled stacks and polluted ground, and question how and when these offenses will ever be resolved.  

The legacy of commercial fishing has defined our town, but drag-net fishing, chosen by the fishermen themselves as a survival strategy, proved unsustainable. Now, the fishing industry and government agencies are coordinating to promote sustainable fishing practices. Newly proposed industrialization of the ocean off our coast could hamper their efforts and seriously reduce the fishing stock.  Fishing families are in a battle for their legacy and their livelihoods.  How much more adaptation and hard work must our fishermen endure? 

Climate change IS the defining threat of our times. Mr. Lindt recognizes that “Morro Bay does have a clear and present danger from rising seas, stronger storms and ocean acidification.” The need to develop renewable sources of energy is undeniable, but it must be safe, smart, properly engineered, appropriately located and cost-efficient.  We must follow the science and be honest about the costs. To that end, several projects are being proposed that would drastically transform our world-renowned tourist destination and historical fishing village. 

The docks, infrastructure and harbor created by the military in the 40’s are laughably inadequate for the kind of Long Beach-style port necessary to build and service the proposed wind projects and potential commercial sea-borne deliveries.  

A major port overhaul is envisioned.  Our bay would be unrecognizable and would be so transformed as to be useless for fishing, recreational boating and beach-loving families. The north end of our famously safe harbor would be annihilated. Our most protected shore, Coleman Beach, locally known as “Mothers’ Beach”, where children learn to swim, surf and safely enjoy the sea, would be gone. Our otters will disappear. The harbor would be dredged to over twice its depth. The view of our harbor would include massive piers, huge ocean-going ships, cranes and platforms that would dominate the skyline. Heavily laden trucks would damage our roadways, pollute our air and drown out the sounds and smells of the ocean with their diesel-hungry engines.  Is this what a tourist, much less us, want to experience?

Located directly across the Embarcadero from Mothers’ Beach would be a 22 acre lithium-ion battery storage facility, the largest project of its kind in the world, proposed by an out-of-state corporation:  Vistra.  The battery facility would loom nearly 70 feet above the beach, within a stone’s throw from the old power plant.  Shorelines and waterways are not required to cool battery energy storage systems (BESS).  Placing lithium-ion batteries near salt water (flooding, rising seas and tsunami potential notwithstanding) increases the risk of failure resulting in lethal fires and deadly toxic gas plumes. Existing substations and transmission lines are antiquated and would need to be rebuilt. 

Is an unsightly, dangerous and deadly BESS, electrical sub-station and transmission lines surrounded by razor-wire-topped cyclone fencing truly the best use of a precious piece of our coastal land?  There are vast expanses inland, away from population centers, to develop these new industrial facilities.  How can anyone imagine the coexistence of these threats and blight with a thriving tourist industry?  There is absolutely no reasonable argument that these should be located in the heart of our town, on our Embarcadero, and near our precious beaches.

Mr. Lindt argues that Morro Bay citizens should coexist with industrialization. We, the residents, boaters, fishermen and surfers, the birders, hikers, beach and nature-lovers, are not willing to surrender our community’s character, harm our natural resources or threaten our economic tourist base, and certainly not our lifestyle, for whatever questionable “benefits” there may be from reckless development.  There are exceedingly safer, more appropriately located and financially rational sites to locate industrialized development.

“Progress” that outpaces caution, shuns testing and eschews experience is a danger to us all.

In the past, Morro Bay may have welcomed and coexisted with the impacts of industrialization, for “good” causes. We can choose a different path for our future.   We have the power of our vote.  

The current General Plan of Morro Bay, known officially as “Plan Morro Bay”, was approved by our elected City officials and certified by the California Coastal Commission in 2022.  It does not allow industrial uses on our Embarcadero, our harbor and adjacent beaches.  In November, by voting YES on Ballot Measure A-24, Morro Bay citizens will preserve the uses currently allowed in these sensitive areas.  Industrial projects would have to be approved by Morro Bay voters before they could proceed, now and in the future.  We can discuss, debate and decide for ourselves whether the benefits and impacts of a proposal is good for us, or not.  Ballot Measure A-24 takes decision-making out of the hands of the corporations, profit-motivated entities and politicians, and gives us, the Morro Bay citizens, the right to make choices for ourselves concerning the future of our beautiful harbor and valuable natural resources. 

Plan to vote in November and show your support for Ballot Measure A-24. And  — VOTE YES! 

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