Martha’s Vineyard fishermen looking for concrete answers about potential fishing access to wind farms were frustrated yesterday during a meeting with state and federal officials.
For the past 14 months representatives of a renewable energy task force that includes Island officials and fishermen have been meeting with state and federal spokesmen to discuss the Island’s future relationship to large-scale offshore wind projects. In December the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a request for interest in a 2,224-nautical-square-mile area, 12 nautical miles south of the Vineyard, to gauge the interest of developers. The government hopes to produce up to 4,000 megawatts of wind energy in the area. Prior to that, the bureau had received two unsolicited bids from Deepwater Wind of Rhode Island and Neptune Wind of Massachusetts on lease blocks to the west of the Vineyard in an area known as the area of mutual interest between Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Neptune Wind has been found legally, technically and financially qualified to hold a lease block on the outer continental shelf, but at Thursday’s meeting at the Oak Bluffs library bureau spokesman Maureen Bornholdt insisted that there were no concrete proposals in front of them.
While representatives from the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association pressed Ms. Bornholdt and Coast Guard representative Ed LeBlanc about the possibility of exclusion zones around the turbines poised to spring up around the Island, officials insisted that there were no specific proposals in front of them and therefore no specific answers.
Fishermen’s Association president Warren Doty laughed at the perceived equivocation.
“This is the first question – can’t we get an answer to the first question we have?” he asked.
“It’s simple, how close can we go?” asked fisherman David (Tubby) Medeiros.
“We’re not looking to put any sort of exclusion zone around wind turbines in general,” Mr. LeBlanc offered.
“Can we see that in writing?” was a common refrain as Mr. LeBlanc and Ms. Bornholdt said that they had “no intention” of restricting fishermen from areas designated for turbines. Instead Mr. LeBlanc said the Coast Guard would pursue all other mitigation methods, which he said could include sound signals, cable burial and other safety measures.
“Restricting the area in any way is our last resort,” he said.
Those in attendance were eager to point out that in other areas with buried cables there were buffer zones, such as in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s array of observational platforms south of the Vineyard, which Edgartown fisherman Tom Turner said required a half-mile restriction around each platform. Mr. LeBlanc said he was unsure who was responsible for enforcing that restriction and insisted that the Coast Guard would not place any such restrictions on net dragging or scallop and clam dredging within a wind farm.
It was an answer many in attendance found hard to believe.
Jonathan Mayhew said the Coast Guard had been restricting access to areas within a half mile of cables that serve the Vineyard for over 30 years. Mr. LeBlanc said the warnings on Mr. Mayhew’s charts might be from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and that they were simply advisements that were not enforced by the Coast Guard.
“What happens when a guy catches on a cable, who pays?” asked Mr. Doty.
“That is an issue,” said Ms. Bornholdt. “I won’t deny that it’s an issue.”
To conch fisherman William Alwardt the issue represented a threat to the fishermen’s livelihoods.
“I believe that the man that hooks a cable is liable for the cost of repairing it,” he said. “In other words if you hook onto these cables you could be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair it; what fisherman is going to be able to afford that?”
He added, his voice rising: “You’re going to destroy our conch fishery, you’re going to take our living from us. What’s going to happen to us? That’s what I want to know. We’re the little man in this multimillion dollar picture . . . Nobody’s listening. You are going to put us all out of business.”
Charter captain and commercial fisherman Buddy Vanderhoop worried about the effects on fish from electromagnetic fields generated by the webs of undersea cables. Ms. Bornholdt responded that the federal government is currently in the process of undertaking two studies on the issue.
“This whole system seems a little bass-ackwards,” said Mr. Mayhew. “It seems like you’re doing this after the fact. You’re going to go, oh gee, we’ve got a problem here, let’s see what’s keeping the fish from coming.”
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel pressed officials to mandate that projects off Island shores produce some tangible benefit for community fishermen. Mr. Doty referred to the experience of Gloucester fishermen who successfully negotiated with two liquified natural gas companies to donate $6 million into a fishermen’s preservation fund.
Although Ms. Bornholdt said the federal government did not have the legal might to enforce such an agreement, John Weber of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said the state might have some negotiating leverage when it comes to approving the proposals for cable networks that would traverse state waters. Mr. Weber said that Cape Wind’s mitigation package, which at this point he admitted is broad, addressed mostly habitat restoration, not commercial fishermen.
“Everybody cares about the habitat but nobody cares about the fishermen,” said Mr. Doty.
“I’m not here to talk about what has happened, I’m thinking about how do we do this going forward,” said Mr. Weber.
Cape and Islands Rep. Timothy Madden, who attended the meeting and recently met with federal officials, addressed the audience at the close of the meeting.
“I hear you loud and clear,” he said. “I do have a good sense that the mitigation part will be addressed, perhaps not to everyone’s satisfaction but at least it’s on the table, which we weren’t so sure that it was until a couple of days ago.”
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