Federal officials Thursday announced plans to expand two marine sanctuaries in a move that would permanently protect the entire Sonoma County coast and the southern third of Mendocino County's coast from oil and gas drilling and other environmental impacts.
The administrative step follows years of attempts by North Coast congressional representatives to protect the area through legislation. Retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey said the expansion mirrored a proposal she introduced in 2004 but which failed to win final approval in the Republican controlled House of Representatives.
"This is a good day," Woolsey, the 10-term Democrat from Petaluma, said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. announcing the expansion plans. "At long last, we're on the road to giving these waters off the Sonoma County coast the protection they need and deserve."
Environmentalists, who have pushed for permanent protection of the area since the late 1970s and fought off drilling threats through a patchwork of annual moratoriums that lapsed in 2009, hailed the move as a historic accomplishment for their campaign.
"This is Santa arriving and landing on the beach," said Richard Charter, a senior fellow of the Ocean Foundation who has worked against oil drilling on the coast for four decades.