Massachusetts commercial fishing groups objected to a proposed $19 million fund to compensate them for impacts on the industry from the planned Vineyard Wind 804-megawatt offshore wind energy project, saying the plan emerged without adequate input from the fishing community.
“As far as we can tell, this plan was developed by Vineyard Wind through private meetings and consultations with officials from Massachusetts government,” the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership wrote in a May 29 to the state Office of Coastal Zone Management, following an email from state officials announcing the compensation plan. “Massachusetts officials may have had the best intentions for the fishing community, but they are not the fishing community and should not have developed a plan on behalf of the fishing community.”
“The plan dramatically undervalues the fishing industry and dismisses legitimate concerns raised by the fishing community and the National Marine Fisheries Service,” the group added.
According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, “the Fisheries Mitigation Plan will provide funds to offset economic impacts to Massachusetts fisheries across two separate funds:” $19.18 million to provide compensation for claims by Massachusetts fishing businesses for economic losses during any phase of the Vineyard Wind project, and a $1.75 million “Fisheries Innovation Fund to support programs and projects that support innovative solutions and technology development to ensure safe and profitable fishing continues off the coast of Massachusetts.”
That could include grants for development of new technology to improve navigation in and around the wind energy area, and alternative gear and fishing methods.
“This agreement to mitigate the impact of offshore wind development on Massachusetts’ fishing industry, developed through the input of the Fisheries Working Group and other stakeholders, represents another important milestone for this emerging industry in the Commonwealth, and importantly, will offset impacts to our fishermen and invest in innovation to spearhead improvements in fishing vessels, gear, and navigation technology,” said Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for the state energy and environment office.
As state officials released the compensation plan, the Coast Guard on May 27 issued its own Ports Access Route Study of the southern New England waters where Vineyard Wind and other developers propose adopting a uniform grid layout for their turbine arrays, with 1 nautical mile spacing between the towers.
The Coast Guard study recommends against vessel traffic lanes, as wide as four nautical miles, that had been sought by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing, seafood businesses and other groups.
RODA seemed to have early success with its proposal, when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in late 2018 put wind developers on notice that they might have to account for traffic lanes in their planning.
But the Coast Guard study contends that setting aside wider navigation corridors through the wind energy areas would create other problems.
“Although these larger navigation corridors may appear to provide more area for navigation, they actually provide far less area than the numerous corridors that result from the recommended array and spacing,” Coast Guard officials wrote in a notice published in the May 27 Federal Register. “Additionally, the project developers have made clear that larger corridors, even though fewer in number, would result in reduced WTG (wind turbine generator) spacing for the WEA. Because the reduced turbine spacing makes navigation more challenging, most traffic would then be funneled into the corridors thereby increasing traffic density and risks for vessel interaction.”
The study holds that the proposed uniform 1-nm will allow fishing vessels to continue working in the areas after construction. If larger navigation corridors were imposed, and the spacing between towers reduced, the tighter grid “would largely preclude fishing in the WEA, an area of almost 1,400 square miles.”
RODA executive director Annie Hawkins said the group is drafting a formal response to the Coast Guard report, arguing the study has structural and analysis flaws.
The report essentially tells fishermen and mariners “there’s going to be sticks in the water, get used to it,” said Hawkins.
In its letter, the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership contends the southern New England wind energy siting process has been flawed from the start, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management policy that makes unsolicited lease bids from wind developers a trigger for the planning process.
“BOEM should not consider unsolicited bids from prospective wind energy developers,” the partnership asserts. “Fishing groups have consistently raised this request to BOEM through public comments, petitions for rulemaking, through litigation, and all other available channels – notably including a request directly from the New England Fishery Management Council. An unsolicited bid is, by nature, an end-run around any effective public multi-sectoral public process as it predisposes decisions based on mere reliance that a private party has done its due diligence.”
RODA is making the same pitch on the West Coast, with a letter to Oregon energy planners urging them to change its offshore wind approach while still in the early stages.
“The current approach will not result in developing a new renewable resource without sacrificing one we already have and need,” according to a June 2 memo RODA submitted to BOEM and Oregon state officials. “The federal approach to offshore wind energy development planning removes areas from consideration that impact national security activities, viewshed, shipping, and other existing ocean uses before Call Areas are identified, resulting in fisheries being the remaining single most conflicting activity.”
While those other maritime uses get upfront consideration, fisheries get a closer look only in the late stages of the National Environmental Policy Act review process, Hawkins says.
“Fisheries need to be an integral part of the process before key decisions and project investments are made, and leases are awarded; well- informed, data-based planning needs to occur now,” she stressed in the memo.
In the deeper Pacific waters, floating wind turbines would be required to develop wind energy areas – bringing an array of spatial conflicts with fishing gear.
“Technology is evolving to minimize the footprint of the base of an offshore wind platform, but current proposed technologies still have mooring lines and flexible cabling that will make any type of fishing – fixed or mobile gear – unsafe and thus unlikely within a wind energy area,” according to the RODA Oregon memo. “Offshore wind energy development in the Eastern Pacific is therefore a topic of extreme concern to the region’s fishermen and fishing-dependent communities.“