AQUINNAH – Buddy Vanderhoop is starting to feel boxed in.
“People come here for the serenity and beauty of the place,” he said Thursday while standing beside two bushels of clicking scallops he and his wife had just pulled from Menemsha Pond. “There’s going to be turbines everywhere. It’s going to be awful.”
Within two hours, Vanderhoop, 60, a charter fishing captain and commercial fisherman on Martha’s Vineyard, was sitting in a conference room at the Oak Bluffs Library face-to-face with state and federal officials most islanders believe are responsible for the turbines they expect to surround their shores.
Although the meeting, which was called by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, was focused on 3,000 square miles of ocean south of the islands that the federal government opened up in December to gauge interest from wind energy developers, the discussion repeatedly strayed into familiar territory: the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm.
About 20 members of the Martha’s Vineyard Dukes County Fishermen’s Association came to the meeting armed with a long list of questions primarily aimed at whether they will be able to fish between the turbines and whether they would be forced to add a lookout to their crews.
“We really want to know where we stand,” commercial fisherman William Alwardt of Oak Bluffs said.
After Cape Wind or other wind energy projects are installed, Homeland Security could decide to restrict access to the waters near the turbines, he said.
“Restricting the area would be our last preference and we have no plans to do that,” Coast Guard spokesman Edward LeBlanc said.
Barring an emergency, the only times vessels will be excluded from waters around turbines will be during construction, as is done for any project on the water, LeBlanc said.
“Cape Wind will not have a fence around their project keeping people out,” said Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for the Office of Offshore Energy Programs at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, a division of the U.S. Interior Department.
There are no projects officially proposed for the large area of federal water south of the islands, Bornholdt said.
Two developers have proposed projects in an area southwest of the Vineyard, where Massachusetts and Rhode Island share an interest, but those proposals were unsolicited and are not currently under review, she said.
“I’ve heard rumors we’re going to need an observer onboard,” Alwardt said. “If so, how are we going to get this paid for?”
Although a study of the effects of the Cape Wind turbines on marine radar found a moderate impact, the Coast Guard will not require additional crew onboard, LeBlanc said.
“The crewing of a vessel is up to the captain,” he said.
Fishermen also raised concerns about how deep developers would bury cables that connect turbines to the electric grid and pushed for financial compensation.
There may be some money in a mitigation package negotiated by the state and Cape Wind, state officials said.
“I’m confident there will be something,” said state Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket. “I’m not sure that we’ll all be pleased with what we get.”
After the meeting with fishermen, Bornholdt said the ongoing discussion about marine-based wind power projects is good even if there are a lot of negative feelings about wind turbines.
“This is heartfelt,” she said. “It’s not always positive but that’s fine.”
The 3,000-square-mile section of ocean the federal government has opened for wind power proposals is a first step, she said, adding that the area will likely be reduced in size using information from interested developers and the public, including fishermen.
Bornholdt plans to ask for an extension for the leasing area comment period, which is set to end Feb. 28, she said.
For fishermen such as Vanderhoop, any changes to the federal government’s leasing plan for turbines off the coast are unlikely to be enough.
“They were sort of beating around the bush,” he said of government officials after the meeting.
Cape Wind’s approval by federal and state agencies is facing legal challenges, including from the island’s fishermen association, Vanderhoop said, adding it will be a long time before anything is built.
“In the meantime, we can regroup and keep on hammering just to stop them,” he said.
After meeting with island fishermen Thursday, government officials held a second meeting at the library to address concerns voiced by other islanders, including the effects of turbines on birds, marine mammals and other wildlife.
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