Opponents and supporters of the Deepwater Wind’s proposed five-turbine wind farm off Block Island had a chance to air their arguments before the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Wednesday during one of two public hearings being sponsored by the state permitting agency. The second public hearing will be held Wednesday, May 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. at New Shoreham Town Hall.
DEM officials presented little information about the application seeking a dredging permit and instead immediately opened the forum to public comments on Deepwater Wind’s proposal to build a demonstration wind farm three miles southeast of Block Island and install a 21-mile cable from Block Island to the mainland.
Ronald Gagnon, Chief of DEM’s Office of Customer & Technical Assistance, told the 70 audience members that Michael Elliott, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would listen to comments but not discuss that agency’s permitting or review process. DEM Chief of Groundwater & Wetlands Protection Russell J. Chateauneuf and DEM legal counsel Richard M. Bianculli Jr. also listened to testimony from 17 people who spoke during the three-hour meeting.
Familiar arguments against the project, ranging from environmental and health concerns to the wind farm’s potential affect on property values, were presented by residents from Block Island, Narragansett, South Kingstown and Charlestown.
Maggie and Michael Delia, who own 14 acres on the southeast side of Block Island, testified about how the creation of a wind farm will decrease their property value and create problems for the environment.
“There is a lot of pressure from the state and federal government to make this happen,” Maggie Delia said. “I thank God that there are people who care enough with what is in our backyard to get involved with this. There is something really wrong [with this project] and I ask you to do what you can to have a say in this.”
“Permitting this project amounts to a taking [of property],” Michael Delia said. “Under the U.S. and Rhode Island Constitution taking property requires due process.”
He told DEM officials that he has no recourse because the Coastal Resources Management Council recently ruled that he and his wife could not intervene against the project.
Galilee fisherman Dick Grachek testified that the wind farm will affect the fishing stock, especially winter flounder breeding grounds, create navigational hazards for boats and be exposed to extreme weather conditions of the Atlantic Ocean.
“I put $1,400 worth of zinc a year on my 80-foot vessel to keep it from corroding,” Grachek said. “Can you imagine the corrosion on these [turbines]?”
“This has got to be the worst and most ridiculous idea I have ever heard in my life,” Grachek said to much applause.
Tina Jackson, President of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities, said that the demonstration farm and a proposed 200-turbine wind farm that is planned farther off shore are located in prime marine migration areas.
“The turbines are in dead center of migration routes for right whales,” Jackson said. “This is unacceptable to the fishing industry.”
Jackson said that offshore wind farms in Europe and Hawaii have had numerous structural problems.
On the other hand, the wind farm project received endorsements from the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, whose spokesmen said Wednesday that alternative energy sources are needed to combat global warming.
“We think this is a good project and where Rhode Island needs to be heading,” said Abel G. Collins, program manager of the R.I. Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Rising temps are affecting our fish population more than a cable going across the bay.”
“Climate change is affecting our infrastructure,” he added. “It’s time to take action.”
Miles Grant of the National Wildlife Federation said that his group has worked with wind farm developers to ensure that wildlife is protected. He urged people to visit www.nwf.org/offshorewind to learn more.
He talked about visiting oil spill disaster areas and how wildlife is harmed during such events.
“We need clean energy,” Grant said.
Others urged DEM to slow the permitting process down until more study is done on health concerns surrounding wind turbines. There have been reports of health problems from residents who live near onshore turbines, said Maureen Areglado of Charlestown, who opposes a two-turbine onshore project in that town. Some believe flicker and infrasonic pressure that emits from operating turbines is harmful to humans.
“Do not sell your soul to the devil to get 15 percent off your electric bills,” said Areglado. “There is not enough science out there yet. What’s the big rush? If it harms one person it is not worth it.”
The dredging application
Deepwater Wind’s CEO Jeffrey Grybowski attended Wednesday’s meeting but did not speak about the project. A Notice of Public Hearing published in the Block Island Times last week explains the construction process and why there is a need for a dredging permit.
The five wind turbine generators would be attached to the seafloor using jacket foundations secured with four foundation piles or skirt piles driven to a depth of up to 250 feet below the mudline, the notice states. The turbine foundations would result in approximately 0.35 acre seafloor disturbance from the foundations and includes armoring of the Inter-Array Cable at the base of each turbine. Construction activities would result in up to 1.2 acres of seafloor disturbance associated with jack-up and/or anchored derrick barges used to install the foundations and turbines.
The submarine cables would be installed using a jet plow to minimize seafloor disturbance during cable laying, the application states. Installation of the Inter-Array and Export Cable would result in up to 14.91 acres of seafloor disturbance. During operation, cable armoring in areas where the target depth is not achieved may require up to 0.39 acre of sand and/or cement bags for cable protection.
The Export Cable would be brought ashore on Block Island at Crescent Beach using either a short-distance or long-distance horizontal directional drill that would temporarily disturb up to 2.3 acres of beach and parking areas onshore. The long-distance horizontal directional drill would require the installation of a temporary cofferdam up to 1,900 feet from shore. The cofferdam would result in dredging and refill of approximately 333 cubic yards of sediment.
The Export Cable will require one crossing of navigable water attached to the existing bridge that spans Trims Pond and Harbor Pond on Beach Avenue. A bi-directional submerged transmission cable that will run approximately 21.8 miles from the substation on Block Island to the switchyard in Narragansett would be located within the state and federal waters.
The transmission cable will be installed offshore using a jet plow to minimize sediment and seafloor disturbance, the application states. A maximum of 39.64 acres of seafloor would be disturbed and bags of sand or cement for cable armoring associated with two existing telecommunications cables would result in another 1.33 acres of seafloor disturbance.
The cable would make landfall on Block Island at Crescent Beach adjacent to the Export Cable and would be collocated within existing road rights-of-way to the Block Island Power Co. property.
The cable, which will transmit 90 percent of the wind power to National Grid’s power system on the mainland, will then run from Old Harbor, around Point Judith’s rocky shoal and land at Narragansett Town Beach, where it would connect to National Grid’s system via transmission lines and a switching station. Narragansett would have to grant the company an easement in order for the cable to land at its town beach.
Town officials from Narragansett have notified CRMC that there is no agreement with Deepwater Wind regarding the landing of the transmission cable and that the council is considering suspending negotiations with the wind energy company until July. A motion to that effect will be discussed by the council on May 6.
Terrence Tierney, an attorney representing the Delias, testified Wednesday that because no agreement is yet in place with Narragansett, DEM officials should not even be considering the permit application because it wrongfully states the cable will land in Narragansett.
“The application states that landfall will be in Narragansett and that simply is not true,” he said “You have no right to even hold this hearing.”
Grybowski said in March that if the transmission line into Narragansett is not approved, Deepwater Wind would suffer a “significant setback” in its plans to begin construction for the wind farm by summer or fall.
Written comments on the application will be accepted until May 22 and should be mailed to Gagnon at 235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02980 or sent via e-mail to email@example.com.