The long road to construction of what may be the nation’s first utility-scale wind farm appears to be reaching the end as the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Thursday released its report on the impacts of the proposed Vineyard Wind project.
The report marked the last major hurdle faced by the 800-megawatt project of 57 to 100 turbines rising nearly 500 feet at the hub from the ocean. The wind farm is located about 40 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. This report, along with a Coast Guard report released late last month, represent additional measures required after the Coast Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Environmental Protection Agency requested additional reports on the cumulative impacts on navigation, marine industry and the environment for the 1 million acres of ocean off Massachusetts and Rhode Island set aside for wind turbines.
The bureau’s report, a supplement to its original Environmental Impact Statement, looked at both local impacts and cumulative effects of offshore wind along the Atlantic seaboard. Environmental impacts were rated negligible, and deemed minor to moderate for marine mammals, birds, turtles, fish and marine and coastal habitats. The bureau found wind power would have a negligible to minor impact on local employment and economics, but would be beneficial when considering the wider Atlantic coast area.
The bureau also concluded there would be negligible to moderate impacts on navigation and vessel safety, and gave a moderate rating for the wind farm’s effects on local commercial fishing. The report did note the potential for major problems in both categories as wind farms proliferate elsewhere.
Those two areas did pass muster with the Coast Guard in its report last month. That review backed a plan by offshore leaseholders, including Vineyard Wind, to standardize the layout of wind turbines spaced 1.2 miles apart with rows oriented in the same direction across the seven leasehold areas totaling 1,400 square miles.
The notice of availability of the report opens up a 45-day window for public comment and there will be five live virtual meetings to take comment beginning June 26. A vote on whether to approve the impact statement is set for December. If approved, Vineyard Wind would submit plans and then begin construction.
“We’re pleased that BOEM has published the draft SEIS (supplemental environmental impact statement) and look forward to engaging with the agency and the many different stakeholders as we continue to make our way through this important public process,” a Vineyard Wind spokesman wrote in an email.
Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which represents commercial fishermen and some of the fishing industry, wrote in an email that they were still reviewing the report.
“We … appreciate the SEIS’s acknowledgement that the proposed New England wind energy projects will have ‘major’ cumulative fisheries impacts, and remain gravely concerned about the effects to the region’s sustainable seafood production if the proposed action is approved,” Hawkins wrote in an email.
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