Federal fisheries, energy agencies negotiate deadlock over Vineyard Wind

Gov. Charlie Baker and other Massachusetts politicians pushed federal officials to break a deadlock over the environmental review of the Vineyard Wind offshore energy project, amid the developer’s warnings it needs an approval by the end of August.

But advocates for the commercial fishing industry say the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has failed to address issues raised by the NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Mass.

Baker met Monday in Washington, D.C., with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to urge progress on issuing a final environmental impact statement for the 84-turbine, 800-megawatt wind array planned on a federal lease about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

“I thought our meeting was a good one,” Baker told radio station WBUR Tuesday. “Our goal is to get as much clarity as possible and put together a plan because we really want this project to happen.”

Those negotiations were ongoing. “BOEM continues to incorporate feedback on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and is working closely with the cooperating agencies to facilitate the environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project,” according to a statement from the agency Tuesday afternoon.

The Washington meeting was the latest in a flurry of activity by Massachusetts politicians after a July 9 announcement from Vineyard Wind that BOEM would not deliver the environmental report in the mid-July time frame the company had hoped for.

Company officials have portrayed that delay as possibly endangering the future of the project if BOEM does not give an answer by the end of August, so Vineyard Wind can secure new financing and construction equipment and vessel contracts for 2020. The company has been aiming for a groundbreaking on shore side construction in December 2019.

Those start times are important, too, for qualifying the project for the 12 percent federal income tax credit for renewable energy, an incentive program set up by Congress and now phasing out.

In a story published Sunday, Reuters reported on an exchange of correspondence between the agencies that its reporter had seen — starting with an April 16 letter from Michael Pentony, NOAA’s Northeast regional fisheries administrator.

Pentony notified BOEM that NOAA could not sign off on the environmental review, because the plan had not fully addressed fishing industry concerns. Notably the plan was for turbine towers space 0.75 miles apart, far from 2-mile interval recommended by fishing advocates, and oriented along southeast to northwest axis, rather than the east to west preferred by fishermen

In a reply, William Brown, BOEM’s chief environmental officer, said those objections did not “justify the likely project delays and likely failure of the project,” Reuters reported, quoting the letter. If NOAA maintained its position, Brown wrote that BOEM was prepared to go ahead and issue the environmental impact statement without NOAA concurrence, according to Reuters.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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