NEW BEDFORD – The first meeting of the governor’s Fisheries Working Group on Offshore Renewable Energy nearly became the last.
About 30 members of the fishing industry met with state officials Monday in the Wharfinger Building, expressing deep skepticism and often open opposition to the idea of putting as many as 800 wind turbines on a 3,000-square-mile swath of Atlantic Ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Bill White, assistant secretary of federal affairs for the state’s Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs, became frustrated that the meeting wasn’t generating comments to submit to the Interior Department during what is an extended comment period.
“If you want to say ‘no,’ we don’t need to meet again,” White said at one point.
“We’re not saying ‘no’ to anything. These are quick, initial recommendations to submit to the feds. We’re sending them during the comment period to make recommendations to minimize impacts.”
Yet several people expressed worry that participating in the review process is tantamount to endorsing the idea of wind farms atop a fishery and a critical habitat for spawning fish.
Edward LeBlanc, a civilian representing the Coast Guard, assured that no exclusion zones would be imposed around the wind turbines but fishermen remained skeptical.
Some contended that the first time there was a mishap, fishing boats would be chased out of the area for good. It happened in England, they said.
Others voiced concern that insurance companies would forbid fishing boats from entering the waters around turbines if the government didn’t, if only because turbines generate heavy radar clutter and make it unsafe to navigate.
They also said the fish themselves would be driven away by the pile-driving during construction, and that the government is trading in a fine fishery for the promise of a few jobs and expensive wind power.
There also were concerns about cables all across the ocean floor snagging fishing gear and emitting electrical fields.
John Pappalardo, chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council, suggested that if exclusion zones appear inevitable, then turbines can be “packed together” at intervals far less than the planned three-quarters of a mile.
Participants also called for more science and a “legitimate baseline” for studying the environmental effects.
Finally, after John Weber, ocean services manager for the state’s Office of Coastal Zone management, laid out a five-year process before installing any turbines, it was pointed out that U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said the Obama administration wants the first turbines to be up and running by 2014, just three years away.
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