SANDWICH – After 40 years in the business, Sandwich commercial lobsterman Marc Palombo foresees the presence of fog in the summer months as his biggest worry as he considers whether or not to navigate through the proposed swath of offshore wind turbines south of the Islands.
“There’s a new generation of the world coming and we’re moving to different energy sources,” Palombo said Sunday, as he prepares to start his fishing season. “Is it going to really be a problem for me? In the bigger scheme of things, no. I’ll just change my course, and spend a little bit more time getting home and getting out. I’ll avoid it. So be it.”
The Coast Guard has begun a study of vessel traffic – a Port Access Route Study, or PARS – in and around the seven offshore energy lease areas south of the Islands, off both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, to determine if any new vessel travel routes are necessary to improve navigational safety, in a Federal Register announcement March 26.
While Vineyard Wind is the only leaseholder south of the Islands with a contract to sell electricity from what is expected to be an 84-turbine wind farm, there potentially will be several distinct wind farm installations, across what is close to 1 million acres, each with a unique number of turbines, turbine sizes and layouts.
On Thursday, the Coast Guard hosted one of its public hearings on the traffic study at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, and Palombo was one of a handful of fishermen who commented on two competing proposals for navigation routes announced by stakeholders following forums held last year in southeastern New England. Vessels that could be affected might be traveling between Georges Bank and New Bedford, Point Judith, Rhode Island, or Montauk, New York, according to the Federal Register notice.
For Palombo, whose family has been lobster fishing since the 1970s, his season typically runs from May to January, and for each fishing trip – usually a five-night trip – he and four crew members leave Sandwich on a 65-foot vessel and head through the Cape Cod Canal, he said. They pass through Buzzards Bay, through the Elizabeth Islands, around Martha’s Vineyard, and then they see the last buoy at Nomans Island and the Squibnocket Channel. “From there it’s a beeline to wherever we set our traps down on the canyons.”
Practically speaking, though, that beeline would take Palombo and his crew diagonally right through the offshore wind farm lease area.
“It’s going to directly impact my route to my fishing grounds,” Palombo said, after it dawned on him that an offshore wind development company’s buoy and survey vessel that he kept seeing on his route to the canyons was something he should really pay attention to.
“I had my head stuck in the sand about it,” he said. “I thought that it really didn’t pertain to me.”
Palombo – who is a member of both the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, and a 1978 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy – said that while he may try out any proposed corridors through the offshore lease areas on a clear day, he likely would avoid the area totally, due to the risk of both running into another vessel in the fog and the lack of predictability with the actions of other vessel captains.
“Luckily we’re only doing 10 knots, but I would do it in good visibility where I could see the other vessel and I could see his running lights and you could talk to somebody or flash some lights,” Palombo said of the possibility of navigating through routes designated for safe travel through the lease area.
The concerns would be the width of any proposed channels, the closeness of a wind turbine to that channel, and whether the turbines are outfitted with AIS, an automatic identification system that boat captains can use to identify other objects in the water, among other concerns, Palombo said.
“Some people aren’t always on Channel 16, or they turn it down or you can’t get a hold of them,” he said. “There are no perfect situations out there. Even if you’re meeting a vessel head on, at least if you can see him, you can understand what he’s doing. When you add no visibility and they don’t talk to you on the radio, it gets kind of hairy.”
Palombo estimated it would add an hour or two onto each trip to the canyons and back.
Vineyard Wind has said the study’s results will provide important information for orderly development of the New England offshore wind area in a way that ensures safe navigation for all mariners. The company is in the midst of federal, state and local permitting, and expects to start construction later this year.
Comments must be given to the Coast Guard by May 28.
The recommendations of the study, which is expected to take six months, may lead to future rule-making action or appropriate international agreements, according to the Federal Register notice.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding