Federal Agencies Voice Reservations About Vineyard Wind Impacts

Despite the fact that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued its final record of decision in early May permitting the 800-megawatt (MW) Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm in waters southeast of Martha’s Vineyard, several federal agencies registered their concerns about the project’s impacts.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in its official contribution to the record of decision, forecast a generally negative effect on commercial fishing due to limitations on fishing within the planned 62-turbine array.

“While Vineyard Wind will have beneficial impacts to the local economy, it is anticipated that there will be negative economic impacts to commercial fisheries…due to the placement of the turbines it is likely that the entire 75,614-acre-area will be abandoned by commercial fisheries due to difficulties with navigation,” according to the Corps.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) had asked BOEM to ensure 4-nm-wide vessel transit lanes between the turbines, which it contended would enhance safety for fishermen. BOEM, however, declined to adopt that plan. “Primary concerns with the inclusion of a transit lane focused on the precedent that may be set with the addition of transit lanes that would limit the potential of offshore wind leases to meet state demand and reduce economic benefits from offshore wind development,” BOEM stated in its decision.

Local fisheries are likely to feel the impact of the wind farm, according to the Army Corps.
(Image courtesy: NOAA)

“We strongly oppose BOEM’s approach of giving greater credence to commenters without the relevant expertise in marine operations over the fishing industry’s expert testimony regarding safety. We do not know, nor were fishermen asked, the safety and operating impacts of this spacing across the entire coast,” according to RODA. “Instead of learning from fishermen’s experience, BOEM now rewards those who ignore traditional knowledge and shoehorn data into predetermined outcomes based on political preference or financial goals.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in its contribution to the decision, highlighted two major concerns: the effect of Vineyard Wind and other large arrays on its fisheries surveys and on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

NMFS noted that it sees “major adverse impacts to NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center scientific surveys…The adverse impacts to NMFS surveys will gradually increase in intensity and scope if future wind energy projects are approved throughout the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessels that conduct the science surveys are restricted from operating closer than 1 nautical mile from wind installations, and NOAA aircraft used in surveys and whale monitoring will likewise be subject to flight height restrictions around planned turbines, which will stand more than 800 feet above sea level.

The Army Corps had a gloomy prediction of the long-term impact of Vineyard Wind on commercial fishermen and the local economies along the coast. “The extent of impact to commercial fisheries and loss of economic income is estimated to total $14 million over the expected 30-year lifetime of the Project. Vineyard Wind has established compensation funds for Massachusetts and Rhode Island fishermen to mitigate for the potential loss in economic revenue associated with the potential loss of fishing grounds. When considering these factors, the project as proposed is anticipated to have a negligible beneficial effect to local economics.”

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