In a 53-page report, four staff members of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) have stated their position regarding the Deepwater Wind Block Island wind farm.
According to the CRMC Staff Report dated Jan. 24, 2014, the CRMC staff stated “no objection” to Deepwater’s proposal to construct a five-turbine offshore wind farm off the coast of Block Island. If approved, this will be the first offshore wind farm in the nation. The staff report also evaluates the wind farm’s potential impacts on the environment, and lists a series of stipulations Deepwater Wind should follow in order to mitigate these potential impacts.
This report will act as an advisory opinion to a subcommittee of the CRMC: the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP) subcommittee. The OSAMP subcommittee will hold two public hearings regarding Deepwater, scheduled for Feb. 4, at the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus in Narragansett, and Feb. 24 on Block Island. Following the hearings, the subcommittee will issue a recommendation to the CRMC, which is responsible for issuing permits to Deepwater Wind that would allow the company to construct the wind farm.
The report states, “CRMC Staff have reviewed the applicable standards and have evaluated the applicant’s consistency with those standards. Based on this review, CRMC Staff has no objection to the project provided the Council [CRMC] adopts the recommended stipulations, but we defer to the Council for consideration of the staff report and the substantive testimony during the public hearing process.”
Four staff members contributed to the report: Grover Fugate, CRMC executive director; David Beutel, CRMC aquaculture coordinator; Danni Goulet, marine infrastructure coordinator; and David Reis, CRMC environmental scientist.
“They [the CRMC] are not bound by the staff report, but in most cases they usually accept the report,” said Fugate. “They will accept input through public comment [at their hearings], but their obligation is to evaluate the project based on the coastal plan.”
Fugate explained to The Block Island Times that staff compiled the report using an analysis of the Environmental Report provided by Deepwater Wind. CRMC staff also consulted with other agencies, such as conservation groups, said Fugate.
Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski said in a statement, “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. 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.”
The staff report states, “This is a complex project that requires evaluation under the newly adopted Ocean SAMP [Special Area Management Plan] as well as the RICRMP [Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Program]. The project will also result in impacts to the benthic environment [ocean floor], avian resources, fish and fisheries as well as view sheds both in general and from historic resources.”
The report states, “fish and fisheries will be affected by the BIWF [Block Island Wind Farm] and BITS [Block Island Transmission System]. The effects will be different for construction activities, operations, and decommissioning.”
The report states there are seven recommendations that will mitigate the impact on fish and fisheries. However, it also states, “Staff is concerned that there is no mechanism to address long term negative impacts.”
It continues, “There are two major impact issues that may affect marine mammals and sea turtles: collision and noise.” There are stipulations in the report, such as modified construction times, that would protect migrating whales and other marine life.
The report analyzes the wind farm’s impact on 15 species of birds. For most species, CRMC staff concluded, there will be “insignificant” or “less than significant” impact on the birds. The report states, “CRMC Staff estimates that the potential impacts on passerine birds, in total, is likely to be less than significant with the exception of the potential for periodic impacts to nocturnal migrants passing over the south end of Block Island at low flight heights and unfavorable weather conditions.”
CRMC staff recommended that Deepwater make “operational adjustments” to minimize the impacts to migrating birds.
Also, the report analyzes several other environmental issues. It states, for example, that “With the exception of pollutants which may be associated with marine construction equipment, there are no expected discharges of sewage (pollutants) associated with this project.”
It says the staff has no concerns about the dredging required to construct the wind farm.
However, the report raised some concerns about the project’s potential impact on eelgrass at Scarborough Beach, where Deepwater has proposed its cable landfall. The report states, “although CRMC staff believes it is somewhat unlikely that eelgrass exists at the Scarborough Beach alternative location, based on side scan sonar results only; Staff does not agree that a conclusive eelgrass survey has been conducted consistent with prior agreements for this project.”
In addition, the staff report includes comments on the wind farm’s potential impact on historical and archeological resources. The report states that the CRMC received input from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (HPHC) on this matter. The HPHC recommended that action be taken to mitigate “adverse effects” to significant cultural resources.”
The CRMC staff report also evaluates the impact the wind farm would have on coastal views.
It states, “Potentially impacted viewer groups include residents, ‘through travelers’ and tourists/vacationers.” The report further states that within 30 miles of a survey area, 677 “visually sensitive” resources, such as historic sites and parks, would be affected by the Deepwater project.
The report also looks at the lighting effects of the turbines, stating, “Interior turbine USCG lighting will have a range of 2.3 miles and a synchronized flash rate of 20 flashes per minute.”
CRMC staff said they would recommend that CRMC listen to comments from the public and the R.I. HPHC. CRMC staff also recommended a further review of any visual impact assessments and computer-enhanced simulations of the wind farm.
As part of the wind farm, Deepwater plans to install an electric cable on the ocean floor. The cable will connect the wind farm to Block Island, and to the mainland power grid.
The staff report states, “transmission cables will be installed by burial below coastal beaches both at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett and Crescent Beach on Block Island.”
According to CRMC regulations, there might be potential variances needed from the CRMC for the installation of the cable.
However, the staff report “concludes that variances are not required” for the installation of the cable. The staff report states “setback variances are not required if the Council determines that the [Block Island Wind Farm] and [Block Island Transmission System] transmission cables are considered ‘water dependent.’” The staff report concludes that the electric cable is “water dependent.”
The CRMC must also grant a “special exception” to allow the cable to be installed at the beaches in Block Island and Narragansett, R.I. The staff report recommends that this special exception be granted because it meets the criteria required for the exception.
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