WEST YARMOUTH – Thousands of visitors and residents have signed a petition opposing an effort by offshore energy company Vineyard Wind to bring a high-wattage transmission cable through Lewis Bay and onshore in Yarmouth.
“We’re trying to get the route changed, that’s the bottom line,” West Yarmouth resident David Bernstein, who helped distribute the petition, said of its intent. “We’re not trying to stop the wind farm.”
Vineyard Wind – which in May won a bid to sell electricity to the state’s distributors – has identified New Hampshire Avenue as its preferred landing site for an 800 megawatt submarine cable that would connect turbines southwest of Martha’s Vineyard with an electrical substation in Barnstable. The cable would travel through Nantucket Sound and Lewis Bay, make landfall at the site, then continue underground to the substation.
The petition was written by about a dozen members of neighborhood and civic associations near Lewis Bay, and asks officials to prevent the trenching of the bay and burying of the cable.
“Lewis Bay is a natural resource which should be protected and preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of our families and tourists, for present and future generations,” the petition states. “Lewis Bay is not the appropriate site for the burial of cables carrying 800 megawatts of electrical energy.”
Within days, almost 1,500 people signed paper copies of the petition and another 600 signed an online version, according to Bernstein.
“Our goal was to allow the petition to be signed by the widest group of people who use Lewis Bay – full-time residents, summer residents and, most importantly, the tourists,” West Yarmouth seasonal resident Judith Warren wrote in an email. “This petition does not represent only homeowners who are concerned about their property values.”
A copy was given to Gov. Charlie Baker last week and to the Yarmouth selectmen at their meeting Tuesday, where Chairman Norman Holcomb told residents the board was open to hearing concerns, but state officials were the ultimate decision-makers.
“This is a complicated application process,” he said. “It goes through multiple levels of state government … on a scale of one to 10, we’re probably a one as far as what is going on at the state level in terms of an environmental review.”
Bernstein said Monday he supports wind energy, but the proposed cable poses too much of a threat to the bay’s fragile ecosystem and to the boating and shellfishing activities that occur there.
“It’s our feeling that the potential for destroying the bay is there,” he said. “It’s not up to us to prove that this can happen, it’s up to them to prove it can’t.”
Many Yarmouth residents have urged Vineyard Wind to move the proposed landing site to its second choice location at William H. Covell Memorial Beach in Centerville, arguing that the alternative site would provide a more direct route through Nantucket Sound without passing through a fragile estuary like Lewis Bay.
Vineyard Wind officials maintain that bringing a cable onshore at Covell’s would be difficult because the landside route travels through densely developed neighborhoods to reach the substation.
Bernstein pointed out that the 2015 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, written by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, maps Lewis Bay as an area to avoid when considering high-transmission cable landing sites. The state’s analysis considered incompatibility with existing uses, as well as data about sensitive resources, habitats and fisheries, and navigation and transportation.
Vineyard Wind officials said they believed the state Office of Coastal Zone Management would review the proposed route and landing site with the plan in mind.
“Concerns about the future of Lewis Bay will be carefully considered as part of the Commonwealth’s wide-ranging, comprehensive environmental review of the project,” a company spokesman wrote in an email Tuesday. “Vineyard Wind is confident that the review, which includes thousands of pages of environmental assessments and related documents detailing steps to avoid impacts on Lewis Bay, will conclusively determine the proposed transmission path to deliver clean energy to Cape Cod and the region is both safe and appropriate.”
Vineyard Wind has been pursuing a host community agreement with Yarmouth, which would stipulate compensation and protections the town would receive if the cable comes onshore within its boundaries. But two weeks ago, Yarmouth officials balked at an initial offer of $10,000 made by Vineyard Wind to cover any upfront legal, administrative and consulting costs the town incurs as it considers a host agreement.
Town Adminstrator Daniel Knapik requested that Vineyard Wind commit by Aug. 28 to pay for upfront legal services, but in an Aug. 27 email to Knapik and the Yarmouth selectmen, Vineyard Wind Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens wrote that the company needed more time to draft a clear memorandum. Vineyard Wind plans to present a written commitment in advance of the board’s next meeting, the letter says.
Not all Yarmouth residents oppose the cable or the idea of a host agreement.
Several at Tuesday’s meeting stressed that because state agencies, not the Board of Selectmen, will make the decision about whether the cable comes onshore in Yarmouth, it’s in the town’s best interest to negotiate an agreement.
Last month, 102 Yarmouth residents from all seven of the town’s voting precincts signed a petition urging the selectmen to do just that.
“Yarmouth includes different people and neighborhoods, and the well-being of the entire town rests upon our Select Board’s taking decisive action despite emotional arguments intended to discourage any action on an opportunity that is so clearly beneficial to the town,” the earlier petition reads.
“We’re all denizens of earth, and everyone needs to act on the climate crisis that’s underway,” Yarmouth Energy Committee Chairwoman Joyce Flynn wrote in an email about the petition Monday. “We have to adopt new models for producing energy.”
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