PROVIDENCE, R.I. – As a state regulatory agency, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council wouldn’t normally have authority over development projects proposed in federal waters far offshore.
But the large ocean wind farms that Vineyard Wind and Deepwater Wind want to build in an area of waters stretching east of Block Island and south of Martha’s Vineyard are subject to oversight by the CRMC because of regulations that aim to balance federal activities with state coastal policy.
The state agency is allowed to step in when it’s determined that a project would affect existing Rhode Island activities in offshore waters or affect the state’s natural resources. The list of uses and resources includes marine navigation, fishing and fish and mammal populations.
The CRMC’s authority was expanded in 1978 when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved Rhode Island’s coastal management program, informally known as “the Red Book.” Under that decision, applicants must submit what’s known as a “federal consistency determination” to the CRMC.
“It gives the agency a lot of power,” said executive director Grover Fugate.
Vineyard Wind, of New Bedford, filed its determination with the agency last month. Deepwater plans to make the first of its filings in the coming months.
The CRMC has experience permitting offshore wind. It was the lead regulatory agency for the Block Island Wind Farm, completed by Providence-based Deepwater in late 2016, the first offshore wind farm in the United States.
Just like with that project, the agency will try to balance the goals of the developers to maximize energy production with the needs of fishermen and a desire to protect the environment.
Fugate points to the compromises brokered for the Block Island project as they applied to the state’s fishing industry.
“They weren’t completely happy, but they weren’t opposed either,” he said.
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