Could sea scallops and longfin squid be reason enough to stop an offshore wind farm on the coast of New York and New Jersey?
The Fisheries Survival Fund, which represents the majority of the U.S. Atlantic scallop industry, claims the site picked for the farm is on documented fishing grounds for both commercially important species. It claims the wind turbines would shut fishermen out.
The group is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Sally Jewell, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The BOEM has jurisdiction over the sea floor.
Other plaintiffs include the Garden State Seafood Association, the Fishermen’s Dock Co-Operative in Point Pleasant Beach and the Borough of Barnegat Light.
“We’re looking to stop the construction in it’s proposed location. If they want to build it somewhere else, that’s fine,” said Andrew E. Minkiewicz, attorney for the group.
Last year, the co-op handled close to $15 million worth of seafood, of which roughly two-thirds were scallops, according to the lawsuit.
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The lawsuit states that fishermen’s concerns received “virtually no attention or analysis” from government officials ahead of the lease sale, which the suit claims is also a procedural violation.
It claims BOEM has never considered whether an alternative site would better protect preexisting users of the area and the benthic – the ecological region at the lowest level of a body of water – resources upon which they rely.
The group initially sought an injunction to delay the BOEM from conducting the wind farm lease sale, scheduled for Dec. 15.
However, it withdrew the motion after Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, agreed to hold a court hearing Feb. 8. It is still looking to block any finalization of the lease.
BOEM proceeded with the auction and awarded Statoil Wind US LLC the lease after it bid $42 million.
Statoil is an international energy company that has onshore and offshore oil and gas fields in the U.S. It’s offices are located in Samford, Connecticut.
This year it launched the Energy Ventures Fund, which it said is one of the world’s largest clean-technology venture capital funds, dedicated to the advancement of viable renewable energy projects.
“The U.S. is a key emerging market for offshore wind – both bottom-fixed and floating – with significant potential along both the East and West coasts,” said Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil´s executive vice president for New Energy Solutions.
The nation’s first offshore wind farm to deliver energy to the American power grid, called the Block Island Wind Farm, went online Dec. 12 off the Rhode Island coast.
That is operated by Deepwater Wind, a Providence, Rhode Island, based energy company.
It’s composed of five massive turbines spinning above the ocean. One U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, has called them “technological marvels.” The turbines are three miles from the coast and their energy is linked to the grid by a submarine transmission cable system.
The lease site here is called the New York Wind Energy area. It begins 11 miles south of Long Beach, New York. From its most western point, it extends 26 miles southeast, encompassing nearly 80,000 acres and 127 square miles of ocean floor. The water depths are 65 to 131 feet.
BOEM has approved up to 194 wind turbines, which could harvest 3.6 megawatts of wind energy to produce 700 megawatts of energy daily. The turbines would feed the energy needs of New York City and Long Island homes.
New Jersey would not be online with the turbines.
It could be seven years before one of these wind turbines appears on the surface of the ocean, according to Tracey Moriarty, spokesperson for the BOEM.
Statoil has one year to submit a site assessment plan, which would include a seabed study, the grid connection options and wind resources involved in the lease site.
If BOEM approves it, the group has four and a half years from that point to submit a construction and operational plan. BOEM will conduct its own Environmental Impact Statement.
That is, if fishing interests don’t stop it or have it moved elsewhere.
Fishermen claim the site is essential fish habitat for more than 35 federally managed fish as well as in the migratory path for birds and bat species.
Federally endangered species including humpback and fin whales, Atlantic sturgeon and sea turtle species use the area for migration or feeding.
It’s also located within a seasonal management area for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.