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Park Officials Take Dim View of Plan for Island Tower

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to keep the pristine look of the nearest of the Channel Islands unmarred, National Park Service officials are lukewarm about plans to erect a 15-foot-tall weather tower that resembles a NASA lunar lander.

The navigation aid would increase safety in the Santa Barbara Channel--where strong winds, sharp rocks and ocean swells have wrecked more than 100 ships on the islands off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in the past two centuries.

“We’re not opposed to a weather station, but it shouldn’t impact the historic landscape . . . or alter the character of the island, which clearly the ‘lunar lander’ would do,” said Tim Setnicka, superintendent of Channel Islands Park, which owns Anacapa Island.

Lighthouses and sophisticated weather instruments--usually housed in giant buoys floating at sea--help fishermen and sailors steer clear of the jagged coastline and island cliffs.

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But fishermen say they need more weather information--particularly at the eastern portion of the Santa Barbara Channel, where there is virtually none available.

And weather forecasters say they would like a monitoring system that is cheaper to maintain than the bobbing spheres that float in the sea gathering data. The buoys--there are two in the Santa Barbara Channel--each can cost up to $100,000 a year to maintain.

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The Santa Barbara County Energy Division wants to use a fishing-enhancement fund to pay for a new weather tower, which, not including installation, would cost $7,000 to $10,000. The fund collects money from offshore oil and gas drillers to reduce the effects on commercial fishing.

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Doug Anthony, who works for the energy division, said one marine buoy is anchored on the west end of the channel, northwest of San Miguel Island, and the other is in the middle of the channel, between the city of Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa Island. “What would be desirable from a marine forecast standpoint . . . would be to have a weather instrument in the east part of the channel,” said Todd Morris of the National Weather Service, who oversees coastal forecasts for Ventura, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “Conditions in the east are often different than in the west or midpart of the channel.”

Morris said the channel is heavily traveled by pleasure, cargo and commercial ships.

“All of the mariners would love us to do more,” he said. “We are trying to forecast weather, working with really only four pieces of equipment, making a lot of assumptions.”

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Those four pieces of equipment are scattered down the coastline from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles County.

The proposed monitoring station would be 10 to 15 feet tall. Some models are battery operated, others solar-powered. To get optimum readings, the tower-like instrument works better high above sea level. A site near the Anacapa lighthouse would be ideal, Anthony said, although that would probably not be acceptable to the park service.

“The negative side is, it’s not that big, but it’s kind of lunar [looking],” Anthony said. “When people come to a pristine island like Anacapa, its kind of a drawback, so we’re told.”

Indeed, to move forward with the project, the Santa Barbara agency must first get permission from Channel Islands National Park officials.

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Parks chief Setnicka said he is not convinced he wants a futuristic-looking weather instrument sprouting from the treeless island.

Setnicka said earlier weather stations and air-quality monitoring equipment used in remote locations have required a diesel generator. Anthony said the model being considered is solar-powered, but Setnicka questions whether there is enough energy to operate it.

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The park service already uses an extensive amount of solar power on the island--even running the lighthouse by sun-generated electricity.

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“From our system, there is not enough power,” Setnicka said. “And the question is, because of the foggy days, how many solar panels would it take to run it?”

Setnicka said he also wonders how necessary this weather instrument is. The park service has collected years of data by hand, and the weather conditions are called in daily at 9 a.m., then made available to the public.

But Setnicka said he has not ruled out installing the new equipment. And the energy division has sent representatives to the island to search for potential sites.

Officials of both agencies said negotiations will continue.

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“Getting the parks to buy into a good location--trying to find a balance between a site that works and is visually unobtrusive--that’s the more challenging thing,” Anthony said.


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