PG&E’s alleged broken promises prompt resignation
December 27, 2012
Today, I resigned from my position as vice president of Port San Luis Commercial Fishermen’s Association, (PSLCFA) over issues surrounding the recently completed PG&E Low Energy Seismic Surveys (LESS).
Less is conducted under the CSLC outdated Geophysical Survey Permit Program, on a 1984 environmental document without a current CEQA review or any public involvement. LESS is a slightly lower decibel version of the High Energy Seismic Surveys which had been proposed by PG&E to test for earthquake faults around Diablo Nuclear Power Plant. The project was defeated unanimously by the California Coastal Commission in November.
I am resigning from PSLCFA due to no help from my directors in regard to LESS and other actions from my board that I am aware of. I do not wish to be associated with the organization as an investigation of LESS goes forward.
There are many unanswered questions in regard to public participation that did not happen: CEQA rights that were ignored and not provided, local officials that allowed this, state entities that would not ensure compliance with mitigation measures attached to “Fugro,” PG&E’s contractors permit and many other items my board failed to assist me in trying to bring to light.
Both local fishermen’s associations, Port San Luis and Morro Bay, were not addressed prior to PG&&E doing the “LESS” which may well turn out to be the only seismic surveys ever done to comply with AB 1632. The New Times first exposed LESS issues last week in their article “Fishing Unfriendly Waters,” but they failed to tell the entire story due to space constraints.
Therefore, I have resigned from PSLCFA effective immediately. I will forward my resignation letter momentarily. Following is the story of how I figured all this out, and what I went through to do so.
Broken promises: PG&E’s high-energy seismic survey negotiations with Central Coast Fishermen
It all started in 2009 when Frank Loving showed up with a 100-foot-plus tugboat, the Michael Uhl. Many of my friends who did construction were refurbishing it. I had been the victim of a horrific medical mistake and was in the hospital for 72 days that year with multiple surgeries (thanks to French hospital) so I didn’t give the tug much thought, but it was a noticeable addition to the waterfront. It seemed somehow out of place as it dwarfed the other boats in the harbor, and I wondered why it was here since the tankers were gone and the cables had been laid.
In 2010, the tugboat began doing something out front of Morro Bay and down off Diablo Canyon. Our salmon fishing was closed, and I was still trying to shake off the Diladid hangover from my medical issues. I didn’t do hagfish yet, so whatever they were doing, it was not an issue for me personally. I just wondered what it was up to.
In early 2011, we learned we would be getting a salmon season and I began to prepare for it. That was the first time I saw a potential conflict with the boat’s operations off Point Buchon, as that is where some of the best salmon fishing happens. Our season was scheduled to open on May 1. In April, I started asking around to see why we were going to have to fish around this boat and more than likely have to avoid it by a mile as that was what the cable ships always required.
The fisheries that have and will be impacted by the noise and displacement issues from PG&E’s seismic surveys are primarily near shore rockfish. These fish are caught on fishing polls with “set gear,” both hook and line and fish traps. Set gear is any gear with a buoy attached that you put in the water, leave behind, and let it fish while you either “set more gear” or “pull gear,” where you retrieve the gear and fish then reset it. The hagfish fishery “traps” encounter the same issues as near shore rockfish and so does the crab fishery “traps,” as well as the black cod and offshore rockfish fishery “trap” and hook & line. This is quite possibly noise related.
The fish that will be impacted are all the fish that live in the project area and perhaps for many as miles 20 miles around. These include all near shore species, salmon, hagfish, vermillion rockfish (reds), lingcod, swordfish, black cod and others.
I assumed there must be some kind of explanation available and a claims process, as that’s what happened with the cable installations in 2000. No one in town was able to explain why there was none with this operation or why there had been no public meetings to address the conflict between whatever that boat was doing and commercial fishing operations here. I called the offices of the State Lands Commission and was unable to get answers.
Our season opened and the tug boat tied up, yielding fishing to us I believe because I was asking questions. Once realized there was not much salmon around the salmon fleet moved on, I went back to near shore rock fishing, the tugboat went back to whatever the secret mission was taking place off of Point Buchon.
Summer came and went, then one day in September 2011, I saw a meeting going on for the public about seismic. Some other fishermen and I went in and there were no people, just Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) staff and stacks of literature. My buddies said, “We are out of here.”
I stayed to find out more. PG&E’s John Shoals was there. Two Morro Bay citizens showed up. So I listened to PG&E’s spew. The two Morro Bay people and I asked our questions. The two other people asked which way to run when it melts down. I told PG&E that next time they might try talking to AGP video (producer of the local government-access cable channel in Morro Bay) and actually get some people to come. I ended up talking to PG&E’s spokesperson John Shoals.
Then came my first PG&E meeting regarding High-Energy Seismic Surveys (HESS). John Shoals told us little that was helpful, just that they wanted “Fishermen’s leaders to deal with” as opposed to the mob of fishermen that was there then.
A couple weeks later I get a call from a friend asking if I knew there was a seismic meeting that night. I said, “I do now,” and went to the meeting. It was a MBCFO (Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization) sponsored meeting. The agenda was to determine what Morro Bay fisheries or gear types would be represented in seismic negotiations, and to select Morro Bay representatives.
I put my name up for Morro Bay near shore fishermen’s rep as I am the longest-standing local near shore fishermen. Near shore fishermen ply our local waters close to shore and bring the fish in alive. We were scheduled according to PG&E to be the “most impacted by HESS.” The Morro Bay near shore fishermen had an election at the park a couple days later and I was elected a representative and later became the “main rep” for HESS due to our impending impacts and my chance meeting with John Shoals.
Then came the first meeting between the reps and PG&E on HESS, or as I call them “dog and pony shows.” Here’s my dog, here’s my pony – that’s what PG&Es presentations generally sounded like to us when they explained: “We have four things that need to be addressed 1) We are going to impact you, 2) We want your cooperation, 3) We need you to stay out of the way of our boats, and 4) (this is the Big Lie) We are going to compensate you.” I reported this to my group of fishermen at the time.
The next meeting was set for Dec. 5, 2011. I began to study seismic surveys and quickly realized they were very bad for our resource and the overall wellbeing of the ocean.
On Dec. 4, my phone rings and it was Port San Luis near shore fishermen I know and a couple of Morro bay’s fisherman that fish there for the Bolina that we catch mainly in that area and further south. They were all asking if I knew of this large ship in shallow water, what it was doing, and to not bother coming south and trying to fill my deeper near shore quota, as the fish had quit biting that day, the day LESS came to the area.
So the next day I go to the HESS meeting and asked John Shoals, “What’s going on with that ship displacing the near shore fishermen?” He indicated he was “unaware of its presence” and would look into it. That was the beginning of the nightmare that my life has been ever since!
So, concerned by the obvious misinformation, I began making some calls to try and pin down when the CEQA process required for this type of project, took place to allow the issuance of a permit that would allow this displacement, had happened. I also wanted to know why I never heard of the CEQA process — usually a “notice of preparation” of an Environmental Impact Report or “Mitigated Negative Declaration” followed by a “public scoping meeting” and public hearings to allow required public participation — as well as where the mitigations for my fishermen were identified.
The California State Lands Commission (CSLC) should be the permitting agency. I was aware of that much from the 2000 cable installations where they refused to enforce their own mitigation measures and allowed fishermen to go without their full compensation due under the CSLC mitigation measures identified beforehand by the cable companies in regard to “Lost Catch Compensation.” So I was concerned before I ever called.
The HESS project manager, Jennifer DeLeon, gave me a little background but not enough to do much with, so I discussed it with the President of Port San Luis Commercial Fishermen’s Association (PSLCFA) at the time; he was my counterpart as far as HESS went in Port San Luis. We were working closely together, I thought. He had been able to get the current permit for the work from PSL harbor and forwarded it to me.
During this time between November, December and January there were PSLCFA meetings going on monthly and I joined as I did in 2001. I was developing the mitigation plan for them and MBNF, as PSLCFA has a voting membership that was in favor of my direction over the president and others. It was to do the same thing that was done 12 years earlier regarding the one cable installation that did not produce hard feelings among fishermen — a one-size-fits-all mitigation package that only two PSLCFA fishermen were not in favor of — but they were not against it.
So I studied the “geophysical survey permit” he had provided and I noticed a reference to a “Mitigated Negative Declaration” (MND), the now-infamous 1984 MND 358. I see the name of the “project manager,” Richard Greenwood, on the Notice that was not widely received, and I called him. I asked for a copy of MND 358 the he was giving out these permits on so I can see where I stand in this whole mess that’s developing before my eyes.
He indicated he didn’t have one. So I called Jennifer DeLeon and asked her. She was new to CSLC and sent it to me along with the document for the program it was produced for, the Geophysical Survey Permit Program (GSPP).
During this time between December and January, after turning up the heat a little and having realized the permit holder, Fugro, was not going to even think about compensating my fishermen or altering their operations, and that a CEQA process had been conducted in 1984. Without a time machine it was going to be tough to have our concerns addressed through that avenue. PG&E’s ST John Shoals decided that PG&E will “compensate the effected fishermen” I was trying to lookout for. So he provided me the now-notorious “Refrigerator Form” aka “fridge form,” known from here to Washington as a joke. It is the standard form they give to people to make claims when the power goes out and ruins your food.
It is not the form we would use for a negotiated fishing displacement situation. We would have developed a “lost catch compensation” claim form and process that if we had been given a chance by CSLC through a CEQA process to identify impacts and mitigation measures and call for a baseline of data before they proceeded and disrupted the resources. And we would have expected an “after study” to determine damage. I believe the damage to the resources had already happened at that time. Shoals told me, “Give them fridge forms to the impacted fishermen, PG&E is going to compensate.”
That statement still haunts me to this day!
So I handed them out to all the potentially impacted fishermen at PSL and the MBNF. My whole mission since the beginning of this has been “to do the right thing for the most fishermen,” as I have been on the other side of that before in my career and was less than happy for a long time. I did not want anyone feeling like I did during that time in my life.
Once I realized the PG&E fridge form had no place for fishermen-oriented information, I took a BP Oil Spill form a friend of mine found and we adapted it to be a “PG&E Lost Catch Compensation” claim form. I handed this out as well and told the fishermen to “fill out and send both” as instructed by John Shoals. I even did a sample claim as had been done in the past with the cable claim forms.
So there it was, the big mistake in this story. I had trusted PG&E when they told me to hand out these forms and they would “pay the fishermen’s claims for Fugro displacement.” I had spoken to Fugro prior to the fridge form coming into play and they said, “We would have never taken the job if we knew we had to pay the fishermen.”
As all this was happening I was still trying to get a handle on MND 358 and the GSPP. There was one sentence in the GSPP that caught my eye and one word in particular, “Agreement,” with the fishermen. I started trying to figure out what and where this “Agreement” was, as it was the one thing that seemed like if it existed it may help me, absent the time machine. The Agreement should have been produced either before any work was scheduled or during the 15 days after notice.
So I mentioned it in some local circles and got a tip on who may know and make the call. This individual had the update produced after it was realized there were problems with the mitigation measures outlined in the MND and GSPP. It was the 1989 “Guidelines to Reduce Conflicts Between Geophysical Survey Operators and Fishermen.” So I would have needed to go forward five years in my time machine prior to coming home to the present to fully participate in the applicable CEQA process regarding the Fugro permits. Fortunately, there was a Morro bay fisherman there at that time that has recently confirmed its applicability to the other two documents, as CSLCs Greenwood refused to recognize. Also, I realized the addresses for the required 15-day notices are from 1984 and perhaps explains why no one was getting them, and although a few addresses were current they were still not received.
That particular notice is designed to allow agreements with fishermen to be reached for gear and direct displacement of permitted fishing operations. I tracked down the proper current addresses for associations, fuel docks, marine stores and individuals, including mine, and provided them to Greenwood in January. To this day in November 2012, 10 months after updating the addresses, they still have not been updated, and no one, including me, ever received a notice on the surveys that have been going on since.
As February turns into March I had all the info, the claims were filed and scheduled to be paid “any day” according to John Shoals; the addresses were updated and HESS negotiations underway. You’re probably thinking, Brian can relax now? Or even go back to being a full-time fisherman? Not so fast. We have many more meetings on HESS ahead that require time for preparation and participation by the fishermen along with lost wages and money for legal and professional services, etc. PG&E keeps surprising us at every meeting with new information even after we told them to give it to us prior to the meetings. A couple times they even took the time to put that day’s date on the new documents about our fisheries produced by their consultants, Padre and Tenerra, to make it look like they are hot off the presses. Each time we are trying to absorb new information we should have had prior to the HESS meeting to digest, and it skews every meeting and creates the DAPS effect.
They employed every dirty negotiating tactic in the book, i.e. “reversion to higher authority” — “I am just a spokesman, I have to ask my boss”; “change in leadership” fake-out, “we can’t meet right now, Loren Sharpe is being replaced.” And, “We are trying to identify a new leader,” although Jeryl Strickland who later assumed that spot was in the mix all along, etc. All came from John Shoals who always blamed it on his superiors, but still works there. I would quit if my job was lying to my neighbors and welshing on promised payments, wouldn’t you?
I smelled a change in the air with the Morro Bay reps. PSLCFA elected me vice president as they had been working closely with me and knew I was needed in this process for my knowledge and honesty. Meanwhile, it started to become clear the proclamation that PG&E will pay the displaced fishermen’s claims was a crock.
I began trying to find out why payment was not forthcoming after 30 days, which they said they would pay on the fridge form, and I got more slick talk from John Shoals and Carolyn Hansen at their Templeton office when I tried to track down payment for my fishermen. They tried first to disqualify the claims with a bogus concept: “You had to fish the same days a year earlier and base your claim on that income for those days only.” I explained, “This is not a formula that we would have negotiated if the required agreements were in place. Would they like to negotiate those agreements now?” PG&E refused saying it was Fugro’s responsibility, and you recall what Fugro said: “We would not have taken the job if they had to compensate fishermen.”
This went on until April. I brought it to the attention of my friend at Barbara Boxer’s office. They had helped me bring the SBA disaster relief loans to the state the year before for all effected businesses for the 2010 salmon disaster as others had forgot to call for them, they are still in the loop today.
I tried to get Sam Blakeslee’s office to help. His people were at the original MBCFO meeting where this all started for me and had said, “If you need us we will be there for you,” as it was Blakeslee’s bill that started it all, but my call for help was to no avail. I rattled CSLC until the cage came apart.
Nothing. I tried over and over from every available angle. But no payment. It became clear that PG&E had welched on payment.
Then on April 12, every fisherman that filed for displacement compensation, as told to by me through PG&E’s mouthpiece, John Shoals, received a rejection letter. PG&E said in the rejection letter that after discussions with Fugro and CSLC they “respectfully deny our claims,” and because of the fact “the studies were mandated by NRC” we needed to share the burden of their re-licensing the plant. They said “we could have fished, just not were the boat is working.”
But those that tried found the fish around the unnoticed survey vessel were not catchable — they had fled and were stunned from noise. They began having high dead loss in the near shore live fish fishery as well as weak fish, and the halibut had left and have still not returned as of now.
Our local PSL trawl fishermen are catching 10 percnt of normal. One of them is 90 years old and the longest-standing fisherman in the county. He indicates it has to be the LESS that caused his fish to flee. I certainly would not argue with Travis’s experience and knowledge.
I spoke with a very knowledgeable and experienced friend, Pete, that near shore fishes almost exclusively in the survey area today, and he said fishing has not recovered even after a month since LESS left. The fish buyer in PSL reported his outlet quit buying from him live as they were all dying during the survey time (this had never happened before LESS), and the fishermen are having to endure higher fuel bills to get away from the impacted area. And put in more hours.
I sat the letter on my table and walked away needing a break as I was kind of beat down by the all-around unethical behavior of my “bad neighbor,” PG&E. They only got involved to deflect claims for Fugro, and to hinder my attempts to hold the permit holder accountable and fix the broken system.(keep this claims deflection and meddling in mind for later) PG&E was looking to continue to abuse fishermen with their bully tactics as they were doing in their HESS meetings with their dogs and ponies (Tenerra and Padre). I went to all the HESS meetings, tried to remember to bring my pooper scooper for Tenerra documents, and started wearing boots as the poop was too deep for tennies. It was a pathetic attempt by PG&E to pretend to the Coastal Commission they were negotiating “in good faith.”
We made three proposals that took several meetings with fishermen and my personal time, research and energy to produce. They were all based on past negotiated mitigation plans. PG&E never made a counter offer other than the “Fridge Form.” Still, to this day that is the only offer ever made. They didn’t even respond in writing to our proposals. John Shoals said, “They are reviewing them in San Francisco.”
Now, in lieu of the negotiations that never happened, they are forcing us to mediation even though at PSLCFA we pleaded with them that we would rather have them “negotiate instead of mediate. Again, to no avail!
So we are scheduled to meet with a mediator. PG&E has their squad of high-dollar attorneys. The fishermen have me. It’s not looking good!
However, PSLCFA has since joined the C.O.A.S.T Alliance (Citizens Opposing Acoustical Seismic Testing). I attended the first meeting of C.O.A.S.T. This story is the reason I and our association joined C.O.A.S.T — to stop seismic surveys off our coast, as HESS is a bad idea for the environment and fishermen.
“So we realize our neighbor has a tractor (diablo canyon) and that’s OK as long as they do not leave it idling next to our couch while we are watching TV.” (Thanks Sandy!) I didn’t get it when a fisherman said it to PG&E at our first HESS meeting, but I do now.
We realized that we needed help from a larger group with broader interests and insights into full effects of HESS beyond fishing and being separated from our permitted right to fish. Since the beginning of the C.O.A.S.T Alliance we have tried to help stop seismic surveys off the coast.
I have provided background to C.O.A.S.T to show that PG&E will not do the right thing in any situation. Ask the poor folks in San Bruno, or watch “Erin Brockovich” again. I thought we could work with them due to our close proximity, but I am now aware that was wishful thinking, and we should all be highly concerned.
So it was over but I lagged and did not make the editing deadline So during the PG&E “Daps HESS” meetings we the fishermen when we were walking away “DAPSED” would always say things like “They are so disorganized” and “it’s like they are not even trying to get a permit” They won’t negotiate and they are stalling us. They are acting like linebackers for fugro on LESS.
We would scratch our heads and say “they are wasting our time again, won’t make an offer they possess messed up data. Have not fired Tenera for being inept, keep having us assemble for nothing on our own dime, ect, ect.
When they put out the HESS EIR I went to the Morro Bay City Council. I described to them how “the EIR would need a substantial upgrade to be flimsy,” it was that bad. Jeramiah Obrien exclaimed “this would be an F at a high school level”. It left out endangered species “western gray whale” for instance and was lagging in every area. It was a heaping pile of dung. And Tenera was still employed and they made no attempts to “pull it off the table” and fix it. I wonder how much they get for allowing PG&E to fake an attempt at high energy seismic surveys to avoid all mitigations for LESS?
Back in September, when the last improperly noticed LESS Survey was done and the problems with the ocean and fish were even worse, then It came out it was “3D” LESS”. Hey wait the HESS was supposed to be “3D”? You don’t think they faked a permit application and bogus process on us so they could slide under the radar with LESS survey that are damaging the ocean unstudied and unmitigated and displacing my fishermen do you? I do.
They rushed a deal through via mediation with the fishermen on Nov. 13 for the 14th coastal commission hearing so they could try to look legit. We got all we could for our fishermen but not what I, PSLCFA or the MBNF wanted. We only took it to get our legal fees paid there was nearly $40,000 incurred by the two associations and we were getting stuck with them by our bad neighbor due to their HESS fake out.
Of course the coastal commission denied their permit just like PG&E had planned all along. Fortunately, they have been tagged by me and COAST and others as the unscrupulous actors they are and hopefully will have to do a complete EIR for any further LESS in our State. That is all I have to hang my hat on for now. But it is not over COAST and I as well as some other good friends I have gained through this debacle are on it!
I hope I get my life back one day soon. I lost my health insurance. My health is poor, I lost 50 pounds. I missed my salmon season over this. My boat has been tied up since June and I have worked only on this every day since as I was aware what we would get if I stopped short.
Brian Stacy is a Morro Bay native and commercial fisherman. He has owned and operated his own fishing boat, the Marja, moored in Morro Bay, for the last 20 years.