PROVIDENCE – Vineyard Wind is offering to pay Rhode Island fishermen $6.2 million in compensation for lost access to fishing grounds as part of a mitigation plan for its proposed offshore wind farm that also includes the creation of a $23-million fund to research new gear and technology to support safe fishing in and around wind turbines.
As expected, the offer to the state’s fishermen who catch squid, lobster and Jonah crab in the project waters south of Martha’s Vineyard falls short of what they wanted.
One benchmark for the potential drop in revenues they would suffer from losing access to the waters where Vineyard Wind wants to erect 84 giant turbines comes from an analysis by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which put the number at between $30.5 million and $35.6 million over the 30-year life of the wind farm.
But New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind, a joint venture between two European renewable-energy giants, disagreed with the DEM’s analysis and came out with its own study that estimated the loss to be less than half what the state agency estimated.
The company described the mitigation package as “significant and comprehensive.”
“Vineyard Wind believes this mitigation package provides substantial financial contribution to the impacted fishermen,” it said in the offer.
The company’s proposal was submitted late Wednesday to the state Fishermen’s Advisory Board and staff at the state Coastal Resources Management Council. Lanny Dellinger, the chair of the fishermen’s board, declined comment on the offer, saying he was awaiting feedback from the other members and from legal counsel.
At a public meeting on Tuesday, Vineyard Wind and the fishermen’s board agreed to meet in closed session to discuss the offer once it was submitted. That meeting has yet to be scheduled, according to Dellinger.
The two sides are set to meet again in an open session Jan. 28 when the fishermen’s board will vote on the offer. The next night, Jan. 29, the coastal council will meet to decide whether to award what’s known as a “consistency certification” to the Vineyard Wind project.
Even though its wind farm would be built in federal waters far from the Rhode Island shore, Vineyard Wind needs the council’s approval because the project would affect fishing activities in the state.
Fishermen and council staff tried to convince Vineyard Wind to widen spacing between its turbines and change their configuration to align with industry-standard fishing lanes in the area, but the company argued that its tight schedule for construction prevented such changes. With the sides deadlocked, talk turned to mitigation.
The conflict has stirred up bad feelings. On Tuesday, in response to a story in The Providence Journal, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a supporter of offshore wind, drew a connection between Vineyard Wind’s actions and the ill-fated Cape Wind project in Massachusetts.
“For years, Cape Wind tried to roll opponents; it failed and died,” he said in one tweet. “Deepwater [Wind]” – the company that built the first offshore wind farm in the nation, off Block Island – “figured out inclusive processes and got offshore wind built.”
He continued in a second tweet, “Vineyard Wind ignores the lesson, tries to roll fishermen. Not smart, and bad start for an industry that must share the ocean with other users.”
Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen met with Whitehouse on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to talk with him about the negotiations with fishermen.
“We appreciate Sen. Whitehouse’s input and will continue to negotiate in good faith,” the company said.
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