SOUTH YARMOUTH – As local opposition to a proposed high-wattage transmission cable intensifies, Yarmouth selectmen have rejected a second offer by offshore energy company Vineyard Wind to pay for costs incurred as the town considers a host community agreement with the company.
“Restrictions that Vineyard Wind wanted to place on the use of those funds was not acceptable to the town,” Yarmouth Selectman Michael Stone said Tuesday after a closed-session discussion of the offer.
Selectmen authorized staff to ask Vineyard Wind for a lump-sum payment of $50,000 to cover legal and consulting costs incurred by the town as it explores entering a host community agreement with the company, Stone said. The agreement would stipulate any compensation and protections given to the town if the cable comes ashore within its boundaries.
Vineyard Wind’s preferred route would bring the 800-megawatt cable from its turbines, which would be located southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, through Nantucket Sound and Lewis Bay, onshore at New Hampshire Avenue and underground to a substation in Barnstable.
Yarmouth officials told Vineyard Wind executives months ago that even considering a host community agreement would cost the town tens of thousands in legal, administrative and consulting fees, and in August selectmen balked at an initial $10,000 offer by Vineyard Wind to cover the upfront costs.
Whether or not the board signs a host community agreement is unlikely to effect whether the cable – which would be permitted through several state agencies – comes on shore in Yarmouth.
The sum of Tuesday’s offer was in line with what Yarmouth needs to vet a potential agreement, but the offer didn’t provide enough money upfront and placed restrictions on how funds could be used, Town Administrator Daniel Knapik said Wednesday.
“We’re not interested in a strings-attached offer,” he said.
Knapik said he’s hopeful that a new offer will be ready for selectmen to review by their Sept. 25. meeting.
Vineyard Wind officials are also hopeful.
“Vineyard Wind is prepared to provide up to $75,000 for Yarmouth’s outside legal and technical counsel in support of negotiating a Host Community Agreement,” a Vineyard Wind spokesman wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We remain confident the negotiating process will move forward for Yarmouth to secure a Host Community Agreement that advances America’s first commercial-scale wind farm project and helps to usher in a new era of clean energy in Massachusetts.”
Some residents at Tuesday’s meeting urged selectmen not to sign any offer, saying they’re worried a local agreement could hinder their efforts to persuade state officials to keep the cable out of Lewis Bay and require Vineyard Wind to use it’s second choice landing site at Covell Beach in Centerville.
A group of West Yarmouth neighborhood association and civic group leaders met Monday with Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton and shared concerns about the ecological fragility of Lewis Bay.
“We are making great progress in terms of the argument that the cables should be responsibly located at (Covell Beach) instead of at Lewis Bay,” West Yarmouth resident Martin Reilly said before asking selectmen to hold off on signing anything that could adversely affect the group’s progress.
Two Yarmouth residents who hold aquaculture grants in Lewis Bay have also reached out to a state official who holds sway in determining the landing site.
Michael Dunbar, of Dunbar Aquafarm, and Edmund Janiunas, of Sweetheart Creek Oyster Co., who together have several million oysters growing in the bay, sent a letter last week to presiding officer of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board Kathryn Sedor and requested a seat at the table during future siting board hearings.
“We have not received any notice of any administrative hearings or proceedings in regard to the various Vineyard Wind petitions or in regard to the siting of the cables,” the letter says. “We are unsure as to which government body, if any, represents us in the Vineyard Wind Project proceedings.”
Dunbar relies on shellfish from Lewis Bay for almost all of his earnings, he told selectmen Tuesday.
“If this is allowed and it goes through and things go horribly wrong, which there is no guarantees that they won’t, we will have no income,” he said.
Because the grant areas are located in the eastern end of Lewis Bay near the proposed track of the cable, Dunbar and Janiunas are worried the flow of unsettled silt and sand caused by trenching will smother their oysters.
Damage to the oyster farms would also be harmful to the environment, the letter says, because each oyster flushes about 50 gallons of water per day, and because oyster shells also absorb nitrogen, a major pollutant in the bay.
Vineyard Wind has proposed several preventative measures, including installing silt curtains while trenching is being conducted, but the shellfishermen maintain there’s no evidence the curtains will work.
Vineyard Wind officials say they’ve recognized the aquaculture farmers’ concerns and will continue to work with them.
“Because of their unique situation, we support the Lewis Bay watermen having the same level of participation in the Energy Facilities Siting Board process as residents surrounding Lewis Bay who are already participating, and we will make a formal filing to the EFSB in this regard,” a company spokesman wrote in an email Tuesday.
A group of Yarmouth residents that supports the town entering a host community agreement attempted to assuage concerns by distributing a list of answers to frequently asked questions about the effects of the wind farm and cable. The answers were provided by Vineyard Wind and cross-checked by leaders of various Cape-based conservation groups, according to the document.
One answer addresses concerns about shellfish.
“While some shell fishing may be restricted in certain areas during the brief construction, restrictions are not expected to be major,” the document says. “Project managers have been working with Yarmouth officials to provide several years of supports to seeding and shellfish enhancement that will ensure shellfish resources in the bay are left more productive.”