Members of the state’s congressional delegation are pressuring the U.S. Department of the Interior to listen to fishermen as the agency plans to lease waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to offshore wind energy developers.
“I’m disappointed in both state and federal officials,” U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said Tuesday about potential leases in 3,000 square miles of ocean. “They should have been much more careful and deliberate about this.”
The Newton Democrat is concerned about the effect of wind energy projects on fishing grounds near Georges Bank, he said.
“I’ve supported the Cape Wind farm,” Frank said, noting he and his congressional allies are “not anti-wind.”
The proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm is located north of the islands and is not part of the new area federal officials opened up in December to gauge the interest of wind energy developers.
Frank joined Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney along with Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown in signing a letter sent Tuesday to Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar requesting more time to comment on the proposed leasing area and more consultation with the fishing industry.
Fishermen and lawmakers have bemoaned the process that led to the area’s designation for wind energy development. Fishermen in New Bedford and on the Vineyard voiced a range of concerns during two meetings with state and federal officials last week.
“We were troubled to learn that many (of) our constituents were unaware of this proposal until the Department of Interior recently held a hearing in New Bedford on Feb. 16 with the comment period ending only 12 days later on Feb. 28,” Frank and the other legislators wrote in Tuesday’s letter. “We feel that amount of time is insufficient for affected stakeholders to analyze and submit comments on an energy development proposal that could have lasing impacts in the region.”
Officials with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, who attended the meeting with fishermen on the Vineyard, said they would request an extension for the comment period.
A spokeswoman for the agency, which is a division of the Interior Department, declined to comment Tuesday on Frank’s concerns, nor whether an extension was likely. But Frank is optimistic an extension will be forthcoming.
Gov. Deval Patrick, a strong supporter of Cape Wind and other offshore wind energy projects, said Tuesday that his administration has worked closely with the fishing industry.
“There’s common ground to be found here,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that every place is perfect.”
Vineyard officials and fishermen are rushing to be heard.
“This would appear to be a preferable general location,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Mark London said of the leasing area. But there continue to be concerns for how the leasing plan was developed, he said.
“Do the planning first and then you do the development,” he said. “The concern here is the planning work has only just begun for this area.”
The danger is that locations for wind energy projects may be based on developers’ preferences rather than on a more objective analysis, he said.
“In retrospect, it would have been far better in 2005 if the federal government had come up with $10 million, spent two or three years, and done the studies,” London said.
Fishermen continue to have concerns about legal liability for damage to turbine cables caused by draggers and the potential need for an extra crew member to watch out for turbines, he said.
Coast Guard officials have said there will be no legal requirement for additional crew members and that fishing vessels will not be excluded from wind farms except in an emergency.
But fishermen have a hard time believing that, said Michele Jones, secretary of the Dukes County Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen Association.
“All the pleasure boats, fishing vessels, ferries, fast ferries, freighters,” Jones said, “I can’t even imagine how navigation will be made safe.”