NEW BEDFORD – Frustrated, angry and skeptical fishermen unleashed their criticism Wednesday to a group of state and federal officials who had come to town to talk about wind farms south of Nantucket.
This time, it was the Coast Guard, the Interior Department and the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, not NOAA and not fisheries managers.
But the events of the past year resulted in a fishing industry that doesn’t trust federal officials – and is willing to say so face to face.
The map is what bothered them the most. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Enforcement prepared a map of the region when it issued a “request for interest” for potential wind power developers.
The map contains 3,000 square miles in a polygon shaped like a dog. And despite the fact that its eastern edge contains a large chunk of fertile Georges Bank fishing grounds, this is the first time fishermen had been consulted about it.
Local fisherman Tony Alvarez led off, saying: “What are you going to do? Lease it out? Shut us out? The tail (of the ‘dog’) is one of the richest fishing grounds. Two hundred years of a wind farm wouldn’t equal the money coming from fish there. This is insulting. We already have a few nails in our coffin. This will seal it up and throw dirt over us.”
Maureen Bornholdt of the Interior Department tried to impress on the gathering of 75 at the Waterfront Grille that the map was merely a starting point and that there are no specific proposals for any wind farms at this time.
But several in the room pointed out that the map is proof that the process started some time ago and people have already made some preliminary decisions.
They were joined by Priscilla Brooks, of the Conservation Law Foundation, who criticized Bornholdt and the others present for issuing a proposal with virtually no data for fisheries when data is fully available – and doing so without consulting the fishing industry or even fisheries regulators.
Equally galling, in the eyes of the fishermen and others, was the fact that the comment period ends Feb. 28, just 12 days after this hearing. Martha’s Vineyarders will have even less time; their hearings are Thursday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.
Marty Aikens, representing Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Boston, implored the gathering to cooperate with federal and state officials to design a plan that suits everyone.
“We’ve got a shot here to bring some new jobs, real jobs, good-paying jobs, and you’ll get to keep your jobs. Everyone has to work together,” he said.
“You really have some digging out to do,” former Mayor John Bullard told the officials. “It certainly seems to us in the audience that some thought was made pretty early on to adjust some borders in very significant ways before engaging the fishery who is out there more than anyone else.
Bullard also criticized the short time frame for comments. “To give people out there 14 days and expect people to think this is a process of good will is a stretch. You’ve got a ways to go to engage the industry in a way that they trust the process. Are we going to remove some fishing grounds? Then we want to talk about reopening some grounds that have been closed a long time in other places.
“This is an industry that’s under extreme stress. And asking something for whatever purpose is really hard if you want constructive feedback.”
Bornholdt said her agency will look at extending the comment period. Comments may be submitted electronically by going to: www.regulations.gov, or by mail to Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Office of Offshore Alternative Energy Programs, 381 Elden St., Mail Stop 4090, Herndon, VA 20170.
More information is available at www.boemre.gov/offshore/renewableenergy