First public forum today on expanding North Coast ocean sanctuaries

Plans to expand two ocean sanctuaries and put all of Sonoma County's coast and a third of Mendocino's off limits to oil drilling are set to get their first public airing today in Bodega Bay.

Federal officials are scheduled to hold a 6 p.m. hearing at the town's Grange Hall to discuss the proposed expansion of the protected ocean areas, announced by the Obama administration and congressional representatives last month.

Under the proposal, the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries would take in an additional 2,770 square miles, including more than 60 miles of coast from Bodega Bay to Point Arena, in southern Mendocino County.

The two protected areas currently span about 1,800 square miles, stretching more than 50 miles off the coast in some spots from San Francisco Bay to Bodega Bay. The sanctuaries allow fishing, but restrict other activities, including energy development, seafloor disturbance and discharges by ocean liners.

Today's hearing, the first of three on the North Coast, will unveil the proposal and allow public comment on the expansion. The other two meetings are planned next month for Mendocino County, in Point Arena on Feb. 12 and in Gualala on Feb. 13. Written comments will be accepted through March 1.

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