NEW BEDFORD – Fishermen and city officials raised the alarm Tuesday about potential wind turbines in prime fishing and scalloping grounds south of Long Island.
About 55 people attended a meeting with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to discuss the agency’s evaluation of possible offshore wind locations within a 2,300-square-mile portion of the New York Bight, between Long Island and New Jersey.
Scalloper Eric Hansen said 40 to 50 percent of the scalloping grounds fished by New Bedford scallopers is within the area the federal government is considering leasing to wind developers, and if fishing there becomes dangerous, people will fish harder in the remaining places.
“You’re impacting the whole resource,” he said.
Bureau staff said they want to narrow down the areas to be leased for wind turbines, not use the entire space.
“We have no intention of leasing that whole area,” BOEM spokesman Stephen Boutwell said in an interview before the meeting.
But fishermen were skeptical.
“That’s a hope and not a promise right now, from our perspective,” David Frulla, a scallop industry attorney, said in an interview. “We think this is way overboard and needs to be reconsidered. And we’re actively opposing it.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell addressed the meeting, calling the potential effect on fishing “very alarming.”
“There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to allow for the development of offshore wind,” he said.
The federal agency has indicated to developers that 80,000 acres would be a reasonable project size – compared to the nearly 1.5 million acres contained within the four areas under consideration: Fairways North, Fairways South, Hudson North and Hudson South.
The mayor cited government data showing a quarter-billion dollars’ worth of scallops were harvested in the four areas over a five-year period ending in 2016. He said a small fraction of the total acreage would satisfy New York’s renewable energy goals, and that those goals could be satisfied by unused areas off Massachusetts that have already been through this process.
Amy Stillings, an economist with BOEM, said Mitchell framed the conversation well, and research does show a lot of fishing happens in the New York Bight.
“That’s something we’re aware of. And the whole point of coming out and talking to you is to go ahead and try to narrow down those areas,” she said.
The agency has analyzed the location with regard to fishing, wildlife, visibility of turbines from land, shipping routes, cables, radar and wind. But finding the best place for turbines is not simply a matter of overlaying those maps, said James Bennett, chief of BOEM’s Office of Renewable Energy Programs. He said the analysis must weigh the relative sensitivity of those factors.
New Bedford Port Director Ed Anthes-Washburn urged the agency to give strong consideration to the economic value of the fishery.
In an interview, he said the Massachusetts wind lease areas were originally 60 percent larger but were reduced to remove the most crucial fishing grounds.
“It seems like this process is happening much quicker than the process for areas south of the Vineyard,” he said.
Draft “wind energy areas” – places within which BOEM could lease parcels of seabed – could be released around the end of October, according to Luke Feinberg, a project coordinator at BOEM.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management leased an area in the same vicinity last year to the Norwegian energy company Statoil, which has since been renamed Equinor. Its proposed wind farm is called Empire Wind.
In December of 2016, the northeastern scallop industry, joined by the city of New Bedford and others, sued the federal government to try to stop the lease auction for what would become the Equinor site. They said BOEM did not make enough of an effort to seek alternative locations and that fishermen’s concerns were the last to be considered.
The bureau countered that it did consider input from the fishing community. The agency said it deleted 1,780 sensitive acres from the lease area.
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