Ocean Power Technologies, Inc.'s (Ocean Power) 200-400-buoy wave energy project off Newport has received preliminary permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The company applied for the permit in November 2006. The region in which the project will be undertaken was traditionally overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) Minerals Management Service. Both FERC and and the DOI have claimed the area outside of Oregon’s territorial sea, beyond three nautical miles.

The approval is seen as FERC’s effort to flex authority over the territory.

“It’s a project, a site that is not on our priority list right now,” Ocean Power spokesman Len Bergstein, said. “It was a little bit of a surprise to us in terms of timing.”

Ocean Power is trying to work with residents on the south coast for community approval of two sites: a 10-buoy project off of Gardiner and a 200-buoy project off of the North Spit.

FERC’s intentions of adhering to a memorandum of understanding previously negotiated with Oregon to give the state greater siting power over wave energy projects in the territorial sea, has also been questioned.

“My concern is this sends the wrong message,” said Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett. “This is high-value crab grounds, about as valuable as you get.”

Bergstein said as soon as he found out about the approval, he immediately called Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson and other Lincoln county folks, particularly those involved with the Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE) group.

“Clearly, we have not been prompting FERC,” Bergstein said.

Bovett, who was involved in the commenting on the original OPT application, said FINE has been working with wave energy companies to determine the best sites for development that would have the least impact on the fishing industry and local communities. This, though, was different.

“FINE wasn’t involved in the selection of this box,” Bovett said.

In March 2008, FERC and Oregon signed a memorandum designed to “coordinate the procedures and schedules for review of wave energy projects.”

According to the deal, Bovett said, FERC was not going to issue permits whether desired or not.

Oregon has not finished updating its territorial sea plan. The Ocean Policy Advisory Council and the state have been working on it, but the marine reserves issue has dominated the council’s time over the past year.

“This will obviously get everybody’s attention,” Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition Chairman Nick Furman, said.

However, Bovett said, OPT holds the key right now.

“OPT can fix this,” Bovett said. “It’s exactly what they should do.”