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More analysis will follow offshore lease bids

NEW BEDFORD – Commercial wind leases could be issued as soon as December to developers interested in constructing turbines in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf area off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Tommy Beaudreau said Tuesday night at a meeting about the proposed project.

Despite the fast-approaching lease date, Beaudreau said actual turbine construction at the 250-square-nautical-mile area is years away because any developer granted a lease would be required to spend up to five years researching the environmental impact of any planned turbines.

“The leases only would give them the right to do a study,” Beaudreau said. “It would allow them to give us a plan saying here’s how many turbines we want, here’s what they would look like, and here is the environmental impact they would have.”

“The idea is that we give them certain rights as an incentive for more analysis,” he added.

The developer’s environmental impact study would have to be reviewed and approved by BOEM before being carried out.

“Once we receive their report, we are in a position of strength because we will have a proposal that we can tear apart and look at from every angle, in every which way, to make sure it is beneficial,” Beaudreau said.

In July, BOEM released its own environmental assessment of the Outer Continental Shelf area that would be eligible for lease.

That assessment did not analyze the environmental impact of turbines, instead discussing areas of the region that should be excluded from a lease all together due to environmental or economic concerns.

“We removed the Cox Ledge area entirely from the eligible land because it has … unique food, shelter and reproductive benefits for fish,” National Environmental Policy Act Coordinator Jennifer Kilanski explained during the meeting.

More than 50 people attended the meeting, including members of the fishing community who were concerned not only with the impact the turbines could have on fish populations, but also how they would impact navigation.

“In bad weather, as you come inshore it gets more dangerous,” said Meghan Lapp, a fishing net maker and a member of the American Alliance of Fishermen and Their Communities. “The tides, the winds, the waves – even with radar – you will have collisions and you will have deaths from these turbines.

“Our culture and our history thrive on the fishing industry,” she continued. “You can’t just bypass that one for the sake of another.”

Fishery consultant Jim Kendall agreed, saying “navigation is key because it is a life and death issue, you can’t ignore it.”

Beaudreau said the environmental impact statements from the developers receiving leases would also take into account the effect of turbines on humans and the economy.

“We have three to five more years of scientific study before anything gets built,” he said. “I can’t promise that what we come up with will, at the end of the day, satisfy everyone. In fact, I can almost promise the opposite, but we are going to be smart about what we decide.”