PROVIDENCE, R.I. – In a report released late Tuesday, Coastal Resources Management Council staff say they have no objections to the five-turbine wind farm proposed by Deepwater Wind in waters off Block Island.
The report signed by CRMC executive director Grover J. Fugate and three subordinate staff members at the agency recommends that the project adopt 17 stipulations that include taking measures to reduce impacts on North Atlantic right whales during construction, conducting regular reports on bird impacts after the wind turbines are installed, hiring a fisheries liaison when the turbines are operating, and carrying out a study on the effects of the wind farm on recreational boating.
The stipulations appear to be largely straightforward. Deepwater has already adopted some, such as taking additional precautions to protect endangered right whales and bringing on a staff member to work with the fishing industry.
On Wednesday, Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski would not commit to all of the recommendations but said the company is willing to work with CRMC staff to address any concerns the agency has.
“We are still reviewing the staff report in detail, but we are confident that we have either already addressed, or can work with the CRMC to address, any technical concerns raised in the report,” he said in a statement.
The staff report assesses the project’s impacts on everything from birds and fish to beaches and marine vegetation. Its positive nature is not unexpected. Deepwater used the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, a CRMC document that regulates the use of the waters off Rhode Island, to develop the 30-megawatt wind farm. The five six-megawatt turbines would be located in waters about three miles southeast of Block Island, an area set aside in the Ocean SAMP for offshore renewable energy.
“The applicant has endeavored to minimize the impacts through project design, construction methods and consultation with regulatory authorities and interested parties,” the staff report, dated Jan. 24, says.
The report is not the final word on the $300-million project, which also includes an 18-mile-long submarine transmission cable that would connect Block Island to mainland Rhode Island and the regional power grid. The report will be used by the council in its deliberations on whether to grant approval.
The document was made public in advance of the CRMC’s first public hearing on the project, which is set for next Tuesday before the agency’s Ocean SAMP subcommittee. The hearing starts at 4 p.m. in Corliss Auditorium, University of Rhode Island Bay Campus, South Ferry Road, Narragansett.
It is the first of two public hearings that have been scheduled by the subcommittee so far. The second hearing will be held Feb. 24 on Block Island. Laura Dwyer, spokeswoman for the CRMC, said that additional hearings before the subcommittee are possible.
“We don’t know how many the subcommittee is going to need,” Dwyer said. “After the first hearing, we’ll have a better idea.”
Once the hearings are completed, the subcommittee will issue a recommendation on the project and the permitting process will continue before the full council.
The hearings are important for the project, which could be the first offshore wind farm in the nation, because the CRMC is the lead state permitting agency for the project.
Deepwater has waited a long time for the hearing process to start. After three years of planning, the Providence-based company filed applications in October 2012 with the CRMC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead federal agency with oversight of the project, but hearings were delayed after opponents to the project filed a court appeal.
The five objectors, who included property owners on Block Island who would have views of the turbines, were seeking formal intervenor status in the hearing process to allow them to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. A Superior Court judge rejected the appeal last October, clearing the way for hearings to be scheduled.
“We are pleased that the staff report is complete and that CRMC’s substantive hearings on America’s first offshore wind farm are now scheduled,” Grybowski said. “We look forward to speaking to the OSAMP subcommittee and receiving additional public input. We are more confident than ever in the future of offshore wind in the U.S., and it begins here in Rhode Island.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding