“Marine spatial planning borrows the terms and tools from land use planning, but it is something new and original,” says Paul Klarin, marine program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, the office charged with implementing our storied statewide land use laws. “We’re starting from scratch to figure out how to deal with wave energy, marine reserves, and any other future uses in the ocean.”

‘We are like the Native Americans watching the wagon trains coming into the valley.’ —Bob Eder, Yaquina Bay Crabber

The process will be tested as Klarin’s team begins literally divvying up the ocean: searching first for the sites in the three-nautical-mile-wide strip of state-owned waters just off the shoreline that will be zoned industrial, for wave energy, or conserved with restricted fishing for marine reserves. ?“Every parcel of land is zoned for one or multiple uses,” says Astrid Scholz, vice president of knowledge systems at Ecotrust, a Portland-based nonprofit working on the project. “We’re moving in that direction on oceans.”

In the waters just beyond the sleepy coastal town of Reedsport, the Oregon way of ocean planning will soon get its trial by wave. Reeds-port Mayor Keith Tymchuk, for one, can’t wait. Sitting at Bedrock’s, a local restaurant owned by a former timber worker, the energetic mayor, who’s also a schoolteacher, describes his half-full classrooms—a stark reminder that tourists and retirees are the current lynchpins of coastal economies. The Great Recession isn’t to blame for shrinking the county from roughly 4,900 at its peak in the 1980s to just under 4,400 now, Tymchuk says. Nor for Douglas County’s 14.3 percent unemployment rate. No, Reedsport’s ongoing woes are deeply rooted in the demise of logging and milling. Attracting a new industry is key to restoring family-wage jobs. “Wave power,” says Tymchuk, “might be able to deliver jobs that would reinvigorate communities by encouraging families to move back here.”

As part of his two-term effort to grow green jobs in Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski began rolling out the welcome mat to wave energy companies in 2007. He created the lottery-funded $4.2 million Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a public-private partnership to support responsible development of wave energy, and he spearheaded and signed into law Senate Bill 838, which requires that Oregon meet 25 percent of its power needs with renewable energy by 2025. The trust’s goal is to install 500 megawatts of wave energy by 2025 to help meet that goal. The bait worked. By January 2008, eight companies and municipalities had applied for three-year preliminary permits to study the feasibility of wave energy along stretches of the Oregon coast. But well ahead of the pack was Ocean Power Technologies of New Jersey, which, having long eyed the potential of Reedsport, had applied for a preliminary permit for the nearby waters in July 2006.

Near the major port of Coos Bay, Reedsport sits in a particularly sweet spot for waves. Courtesy of a one-time paper mill just north of town, it’s already equipped with a substation. The old mill’s pipes—which once released up to 9 million gallons of treated liquid waste per day into the ocean—are another plus: they now can carry electrical cables pulsing with clean wave energy, thereby offsetting millions in development costs. When Ocean Power Technologies began hunting locations for a 10-buoy pilot project, Reeds-port was a no-brainer. Scheduled to be in place by 2012, the project, if successful, will be the first facility in the continental US to generate saleable power—1.5 megawatts, enough to light up roughly 1,500 homes.

But to Reedsport and other coastal communities, the jobs and fossil-fuel-free energy come with an unsavory catch. Oregon is providing the incentives for wave energy. Generally, states control their own natural resources. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) controls all energy development and, therefore, federal licenses for wave energy projects connecting to the grid. Those licenses can last between 30 and 50 years.