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Vineyard Wind and R.I. strike bargain

Vineyard Wind recently announced a $16.7 deal with the Rhode Island Fisheries Advisory Board. The deal was made on behalf of Rhode Island fishermen who ply the waters where a farm of 84 wind turbines is slated to built by Vineyard Wind. The farm will be situated about 15 mile south of Martha’s Vineyard.

“The package agreed to today by the [Rhode Island Fisheries Advisory Board] includes $12.5 million in funding to a trust fund that would be managed by Rhode Island fishermen for the purpose of ensuring safe and effective fishing in and around Vineyard Wind’s project area and future wind farms generally,” a release states. “Vineyard Wind will pay $2.5 million per year for five years into this fund. In addition to this fishermen-directed fund of $12.5 million, a separate fund totaling $4.2 million would be established to compensate for any direct impacts to Rhode Island fishermen or other sectors of the Rhode Island fishing industry.”

“I just think it was a [expletive] deal for the industry, but it’s the deal that we got,” Newport, R.I. lobsterman Lanny Dellinger, chairman of the Rhode Island Fisheries Advisory Board, told The Times.

“I just don’t think the negotiations were set up fairly,” he said. Dellinger said that he and his fellow advisory board members were pressured with unreasonable timelines and forced to negotiate with an entity backed by a multibillion dollar energy company, all the while running their own small businesses without any sort of compensation or help to offset the time and energy they spent.

Dellinger said the board felt it had to take the deal because, he said, Vineyard Wind could have appealed to the federal government, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for a lesser sum or no compensation at all.

“We were between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “No other way to put it.”

Richard Fuka, Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance president, said squid fishermen, who comprise the most lucrative part of the Rhode Island fishing industry, weren’t represented on the board and were therefore cut out of negotiations.

When asked if Vineyard Wind was aware squid fishermen may have not had a seat at the table for negotiations, Vineyard Wind spokesman Scott Farmelant declined to talk about any part of the deal and referred The Times to the Vineyard Wind release.

Fuka said the immediate area around the Vineyard Wind turbine farm produces $400 million of annual revenue for the squid fishery. He said the turbines threaten that revenue. Among other concessions, Fuka wants transit corridors between wind turbines to be four miles wide. To date, Vineyard Wind has assented to two mile wide corridors. Fuka said that width is insufficient for mobile gear fishing boats, like squid boats. He said the gear those boats trail behind them stretches a long way: “Smaller boats a quarter to half mile – bigger boats twice that. It’s quite a bit of wire and net.”

John Keene, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, said his organization maintains its support for a four-mile wide corridor.

Meghan Lapp, fishery liaison for Sea Freeze, Ltd., a commercial fishing enterprise with a squid fleet, told The Times she wants to see a study about transit corridors because the scale of the Vineyard Wind project has no precedent and because the scope of radar interference, if any, remains undetermined.

“How far does that radar interference extend?” she asked.

The Times posed several radar questions to the BOEM officials when they came to the Vineyard on Feb. 12 to hold a hearing on a draft environmental impact statement for the Vineyard Wind project. The Times was told the BOEM engineering specialist was not present and nobody else on their team could field the inquiries.

Calls to their Washington D.C. media office weren’t immediately returned on Friday.

Lapp also alleged the impacts to commercial fisheries were first categorized as “major” in the draft environmental impact statement for the project but since BOEM expects mitigating measures, it reduced the impact to “moderate”.

Lapp criticized the transparency of the negotiations between Vineyard Wind and Rhode Island Fisheries Advisory Board, alleging the public was kept out of key parts of the process and that some of the economic data used in crafting the deal hasn’t been made publically available.

“This sets the precedent for how other projects could go,” she said.

“People don’t seem to realize you’re talking about over 1,400 square miles of uninterrupted turbines between Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” Dellinger said.

Menemsha fisherman Stanley Larsen told The Times he was unconcerned about the potential for piloting problems in and around Vineyard Wind’s project area, citing the sophistication of modern navigation equipment.

“Keene said he is in support of Vineyard and other Massachusetts fishermen receiving just compensation for “known” or “expected losses” stemming from wind farms.

Larsen, who is about to return squid fishing to Menemsha in the next two weeks aboard the wooden dragger Richard and Arnold, waxed optimistic about the ramifications of the Vineyard Wind’s project.

“Hope it will drive the price up,” he said.