A Nantucket group wants to delay a key permit needed by Vineyard Wind to construct its 84-turbine wind farm south of the Islands.
ACK Residents Against Turbines, a group of more than 100 citizens, claims that federal regulators favor offshore wind over commercial fishing and intend to allow serious harm to endangered North Atlantic right whales.
“This process is moving too fast, and everyone needs to slow down and make sure we aren’t creating problems for the North Atlantic right whale that can’t be reversed,” Vallorie Oliver of ACK Residents Against Turbines said Tuesday. “This particular animal is clearly struggling, yet it appears that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, in their rush to clear the path for Vineyard Wind, are forgetting their obligation to protect the whale.”
The Nantucket group sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries May 28 as a public comment on the draft version of the incidental harassment authorization being sought by Vineyard Wind to construct the wind farm. NOAA officials are evaluating five public comment letters, including the ACK Residents’ letter, prior to issuing the final authorization, which is expected Nov. 14.
A request Tuesday to NOAA Fisheries for response to the Nantucket group’s assertions was not returned.
At least two of the five letters point to NOAA Fisheries’ use of outdated or incomplete data about the presence of right whales in the wind farm area. The criticism comes as six right whale carcasses were documented in June in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
An additional 12 right whales died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017, with scientists pointing to a new unpredictability in right whale distribution patterns as they follow zooplankton that is changing in density off the northern Atlantic coast.
The right whale population is seen as having declined precipitously since 2010, with early deaths attributed to vessel strikes and fishing rope entanglement.
In the draft authorization, Vineyard Wind would be allowed to disturb 20 right whales without injuring any. Atlantic white-sided and common dolphins are the least protected out of 15 animals considered in the authorization.
Disturbance, as defined, could cause disruption of behavior such as migration, breathing, nursing and breeding, but with no potential to injure the animal. A higher level of authorization, which Vineyard Wind is not seeking, would cause serious injury or death.
According to the Nantucket group, the analysis leading to the draft authorization focuses solely on construction and fails to consider impacts from the wind farm’s operation, such as underwater noise offshore wind turbines make once they’re turning, vessel strikes during routine maintenance and oil spills.
More information is needed on the existing underwater noise conditions for whales and other marine mammals who may already be struggling to maintain basic behaviors, the group said. The analysis also does not account for the combined effects of future wind farms planned in the same area, the group said.
To reduce the chance of injury to marine mammals, Vineyard Wind would not do any pile driving from Jan. 1 through April 30, according to the draft. After April 30, underwater and onboard monitoring, noise reduction devices, speed restrictions and reporting is planned. Vineyard Wind would be able to ask for another one-year authorization, if needed.
Eleven conservation groups sent a single letter of support for the draft authorization with caveats based on differences between the draft and an agreement to protect right whales reached earlier this year between conservation groups and Vineyard Wind. One concern is that the NOAA Fisheries analysis does not fully consider all the available, current data on abundance, distribution and density of marine mammals for the East Coast.
In a similar vein, the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association said it too worries that newer, shifting distribution patterns of right whales have not been considered in the wind farm area. The association also agrees that the authorization should extend through the entire life cycle of the wind farm.
In a key point, the association wants fair, standardized measures to protect right whales for both the wind farm construction project and commercial fishermen.
The wind farm is expected to deliver enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes in Massachusetts via an underwater cable that will land on a Barnstable beach. As planned, it could be the nation’s first industrial-size offshore wind project.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding