NARRAGANSETT – Rhode Island fishermen have waited seven weeks for Vineyard Wind to put forward a proposal to compensate them for blocking access to valuable fishing grounds in the ocean waters where the New Bedford company wants to install 84 giant wind turbines.
They’ll have to wait a little longer.
Even though CEO Lars Pedersen said that his company had an offer ready, he would not release it at a public meeting of the state’s Fishermen’s Advisory Board Tuesday night.
Instead, to the consternation of the many representatives of the fishing industry who came out for the very purpose of learning what Vineyard Wind is willing to pay to mitigate the impact of the offshore wind farm, Pedersen agreed to submit the offer in writing to the fishermen’s board and state Coastal Resources Management Council staff on Wednesday, after which it will be released to the public.
What does seem clear is that the proposal will be much lower than what the fishing industry wants. Pedersen said his company doesn’t accept a state Department of Environmental Management analysis that estimates the lost revenue in the project area over 30 years – the lifespan of the wind farm – to be up to $35.6 million, a figure that fishermen already complained failed to account for the full impact on their industry.
Hours before the meeting, the company submitted its own analysis to the fishermen’s board, which, according to CRMC executive director Grover Fugate, put the number at about a quarter of the DEM’s figure.
The strained scene that played out at the meeting was consistent with previous interactions between Vineyard Wind executives and members of the board who have repeatedly butted heads over the layout and spacing of the $2-billion wind farm and its impact on fishermen who catch squid, lobster and Jonah crab in the project waters south of Martha’s Vineyard.
The CRMC stayed the permitting proceedings for the 800-megawatt wind farm on Nov. 27 expressly for the purpose of giving the two sides time to reach common ground.
“You understand our frustration,” board chairman Lanny Dellinger said to Pedersen. “It’s been over six weeks since you were granted the stay. It was an opportunity for you to work with the fishing industry. And that hasn’t happened.”
“I want to be respectful, but I think it warrants a smaller group discussion,” Pedersen said of his company’s proposal.
The fishermen’s board was originally scheduled to vote on the offer immediately, but since they had nothing to consider, they agreed to a nearly two-week delay, to Jan. 28.
And because the board’s position on the compensation package will play a key part in the CRMC’s deliberations on whether to approve what’s known as a “consistency certification” for the wind farm, the council has also pushed back its vote from Jan. 22 to Jan. 29.
The meeting on Tuesday was fraught with tensions that have grown in recent weeks as fishermen have become increasingly frustrated with Vineyard Wind, which they say has stonewalled them, and with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration, which they accuse of improperly inserting itself into negotiations with the company.
The role that the governor’s office has played in talks over compensation is unclear. A spokesman for Raimondo has confirmed only that the administration has met with Vineyard Wind over an economic development package that would go into effect if the wind farm wins approval.
Raimondo’s office reached out on Tuesday to sit down with fishing representatives after The Journal published a story detailing their displeasure with the governor. But the criticism of Raimondo continued at the meeting.
“I think the industry has been compromised by our governor,” said Chris Brown, a member of the fishermen’s board. “I think there has been a usurpation of the Fishermen’s Advisory Board.”
Vineyard Wind has said that it waited to put together an offer until the DEM completed its analysis, which was released on Monday. But the company wasn’t just waiting on the state agency. It was also using that time to put together its own numbers.
Over the next two weeks, the fishermen’s board plans to have industry experts go over the data. Fugate said that the CRMC is also planning its own analysis.
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