Opponents of Deepwater Wind’s proposal to bring an electric cable onshore in Narragansett may have been dealt a blow by last week’s vote by a Coastal Resources Management Council subcommittee, but they are not giving up the fight.
Members of the political action committee Deepwater Resistance continue to pursue several avenues to oppose not only the cable landing near Scarborough State Beach, but the 30-megawatt wind project itself.
“The fight is far from over,” said Myron Waldman, treasurer of Deepwater Resistance, in an email this week. “We feel that as a company, Deepwater Wind is incapable of successfully installing and maintaining the proposed equipment.”
The subcommittee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend approval of the project to the full CRMC. The council is expected to receive the recommendation at its April 22 meeting.
Waldman noted that the CRMC approval is only one of many that Deepwater Wind needs to proceed with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers must issue a permit for the work, and that permit is dependent on both CRMC approval and a water quality certificate from the state Department of Environmental Management.
Although its public comment period ended in December, the Army Corps is still awaiting approval from an alphabet soup of agencies, including the R.I. Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the U.S. Department of Energy, according to Michael J. Elliott of the Army Corps’ Regulatory Division in Concord, Mass.
Gerald McCarthy, vice chairman of Deepwater Resistance, believes the organization will have more luck with local authorities. “I think the Army Corps of Engineers has their marching orders, just like all these agencies,” McCarthy said. “I don’t believe there’s much anybody could say that would stop them.”
Instead, Deepwater Resistance hopes to challenge the CRMC subcommittee’s vote, based on its decision not to allow testimony on economic factors related to the wind farm. McCarthy wrote to the state Attorney General’s Office to complain that the decision not to allow such testimony was a violation of the state Open Meetings Act. The AG’s Office didn’t show much interest in taking up the matter, so he has since contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in hopes it would be interested in a court appeal.
“I think we have a case, because I quoted chapter and verse to the AG’s Office… about what’s in the OSAMP plan,” McCarthy said, referring to the Ocean Special Area Management Plan. It says that “CRMC must consider environmental and economic impacts,” he said.
Deepwater Resistance, a PAC registered with the state Board of Elections, formed after Deepwater Wind proposed landing its offshore cable near Narragansett Town Beach. The group is small – McCarthy jokes it’s pretty much him, Chairman Robert Shields, and Waldman – but it does have community backing. Its latest filing shows a modest war chest of $877.
Deepwater Wind originally proposed bringing the cable above ground through the Pier area to a switching station in Wakefield. In Narragansett, the prospect of disruption at the beach and unsightly overhead power lines stirred what had been up to that point only minimal opposition to the wind farm proposal.
Deepwater Resistance won that battle when the Narragansett Town Council opposed the landing. But Deepwater Wind then negotiated with the state to land the cable on state-owned property at Scarborough State Beach and then underground along two state roads, Burnside Avenue and Point Judith Road (Route 108), to a switching station to be built on state property near Route 1. That move effectively cut the town out of the action, so it no longer had any say in the matter nor the ability to negotiate a town impact fee.
If the ACLU won’t take up the case, McCarthy and Waldman hope the Narragansett Town Council can still have some influence. In its approval of the new landing at Scarborough, the State Properties Committee stipulated that National Grid should consult with the town of Narragansett before doing the work.
“It’s another opportunity for us, Deepwater Resistance, and the people who support us to ask the Town Council again to confirm their decision not to let the cable come through Narragansett,” McCarthy said.
“My understanding was they were against the cable coming into the town anywhere,” he added of the council. “We’re going to hold their feet to the fire on that.”
If they do, Deepwater Resistance can’t count on the support of Councilman Doug McLaughlin. Although he was among the council members originally concerned about the Pier landing, he has grown disenchanted with the PAC.
“I wouldn’t even consider it,” he said, when asked about pressuring National Grid to halt the project. “They [Deepwater Resistance] had their chance and they blew it.”
McLaughlin, frustrated that the town lost its ability to negotiate an impact fee with Deepwater Wind, estimates the town could have settled for up to $10 million from the wind utility. A previous council had negotiated $2.5 million for coming ashore at the Pier, but he believes a higher figure could have been reached based on how much more the Scarborough landing will cost Deepwater. National Grid is now burying lines over four miles instead of bringing them above ground for about a mile and a half.
“I think the Deepwater Resistance and the council really did a disservice to Narragansett,” he said, noting that the town is in financial trouble over its under-funded pension system and could have used the money.
Deepwater Resistance has changed its objections to the wind project many times and distributed information that wasn’t always accurate, he said.
“They have never been on target with any issue,” McLaughlin said. “They took a whole lot of stuff and threw it against the wall and what stuck, stuck, and what didn’t, didn’t.”
But Waldman says the town has an obligation to make its voice heard. “If the Town Council does nothing, it is essentially giving up its rights to fully manage the town,” he said.
McLaughlin and Deepwater Resistance agree on one thing: Block Island needs an electrical link to the mainland and to stop relying on diesel-fueled generators, which they said are expensive and polluting.
Waldman proposes small land-based wind or solar power on the island. McLaughlin sees the 30-megawatt wind turbines as the best alternative.
“It’s going to happen, and I’m excited about that and I hope it’s a success,” McLaughlin said.
C. Davis Fogg, of Wakefield, who has written a number of opinion pieces on the wind farm proposal for newspapers, including The Block Island Times, agrees that the wind project is both inevitable and ultimately a positive development.
“Number one, first of all, it’s going to help Block Island,” Fogg said. Secondly, he added, Quonset Point in North Kingstown could be the site of turbine assembly for wind projects up and down the East Coast, at a great economic advantage to the state.
That, he added, is the only thing that would mitigate what he sees as the project’s big negative: the excessive rates negotiated with National Grid. “What I want to know is exactly what’s going to be done in the first phase at Quonset,” he said. “This project is worthless unless it does something more for Rhode Island.”
Fogg, an engineer by training who has worked in technical development, runs two large manufacturing companies and served as a consultant to more than 100 firms, also cautions that the five-turbine project might not necessarily lead to the larger, 150- to 200-turbine wind farm for which Deepwater Wind has secured an ocean lease.
“This is a pilot project,” Fogg said. “Anything can happen.”
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