In negotiations, New Bedford’s whaling past and wind future collide
Credit: By NATALIE SHERMAN | December 14, 2012 | www.southcoasttoday.com ~~
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NEW BEDFORD – Environmental advocates and wind energy companies in New England said Thursday they are working on an agreement to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale during offshore development in New England – the same day that 15 of the rare mammals were spotted near Wellfleet.
“We are currently engaged with several of the same environmental groups in discussing the southern New England region,” said Jeff Grybowski, the CEO of Deepwater Wind. “I’m very positive that we will reach an agreement.”
The New England pledge would follow an agreement that wind companies and environmental groups announced Wednesday related to areas designated for offshore wind leasing in the mid-Atlantic region.
That pledge limits activities, such as pile driving and boat speeds above 10 knots, in the mid-Atlantic leasing areas, especially between November and March, which is prime migration season in the area for the mammals.
“These projects are good neighbors,” said Mark Rodgers, the communications director of Energy Management Inc., which is developing the Cape Wind site and is a signatory to the agreement. The company is also the presumptive first tenant of the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal.
North Atlantic right whales – so named because they were the “right” whale to kill during the whaling era – are among the most highly endangered whale species on the planet, with their total population today numbering around 500.
Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bay are key habitat areas for the beasts, which have been spotted feeding here in large numbers.
Thursday’s sighting by Provincetown’s Center for Coastal Studies is the earliest in 27 years, said senior scientist Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo.
“We don’t know much about these wide-ranging animals. We know a lot about them in little tiny Cape Cod Bay, but in the open areas of the outer continental shelf (where offshore wind development is expected) it’s really not well understood,” he said.
The season for the whales in New England extends into the spring – a better time for construction activities – presenting a potentially greater conflict than in the mid-Atlantic leasing areas, said Grybowski.
“As a company it’s important to us to work out as many potential conflicts at the beginning of the development process,” he said. “We recognized this was one of the single most important environmental issues with respect to developing offshore wind.”
Protections in New England will likely differ from those in the mid-Atlantic leasing areas, said Justin Allegro of the National Wildlife Federation.
“Our goal and I think the intent of many of the leading developers is to look to New England next and come up with agreed upon measures that are appropriate for that area,” he said.
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