The federal government for the first time last week formalized areas of the Atlantic Ocean off Hampton Bays and Westhampton as possible zones for future offshore wind farm development – though the agency said that the ocean bottoms there would not be leased in the near future.
After two years of analysis and discussion with stakeholders, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its map of five new “wind energy areas” in the New York Bight that it will use to site new wind farm leases.
One of the areas identified starts approximately 15 miles south of Shinnecock Bay and extends west to the waters off Westhampton Beach and eastern Moriches Bay.
But in its unveiling of the new regions spotlighted for potential future wind farm development, BOEM officials said that the region, which it has dubbed Fairways North, and another one identified south of Patchogue, called Fairways South, will not be on the table for possible leasing to development companies in the near future.
“The Fairways North and South [wind energy areas] are not being considered for leasing at this time due, in part, to conflict with the proposed tug and tow fairway, maritime traffic concerns, commercial fisheries and commercial viability,” the BOEM announcement reads. “They may, however, be considered for a future sale and remain WEAs to be analyzed in the scope of the Environmental Assessment.”
The bulk of the new wind energy areas that BOEM identified were off the New Jersey coast, south and west of the New York City shipping lanes. To date, BOEM has issued only one lease in the New York Bight.
The new wind energy areas will ultimately be divided further into specific lease areas, which development companies will bid on. The New York Bight has been targeted as a focal point for the burgeoning offshore wind electricity generation industry that will try to meet the goals set out by the states of New York and New Jersey and spurred on by the Biden administration last month to boost reliance on renewable energy and kick start what many hope will be a new industry creating tens of thousands of jobs.
But last week’s announcement and virtual work sessions were marked by a boycott by commercial fishermen, who say their concerns about the rush to erect thousands of wind turbines in the sea off the East Coast has fallen on deaf ears at all levels of government.
Several groups that advocate on behalf of commercial fishermen from Montauk, Shinnecock and ports around the Northeast said they will refuse to engage in the most recent step in the federal march toward leasing out thousands of new acres of seafloor between Long Island and New Jersey.
Commercial fishermen unsuccessfully sued BOEM in 2015 when the first wind lease area was created off Jones Beach, claiming the process of creating and leasing out the ocean sea floor for wind turbine development was robbing fishermen of critical fishing areas. Since then, as BOEM has sold leases on hundreds of square miles of ocean floor between Montauk and Nantucket, fishermen have said the thousands of turbines that will soon be erected there pose a looming threat to fish migrations, endangered whale and bird species and their own safety when navigating near them.
“Everyone is suffering from an incredible burnout over this whole process,” said Bonnie Brady, a commercial fishing advocate whose husband captains a Montauk dragger. “We’ve been fighting this battle for eight years and it doesn’t seem like we’re being listened to at all. They say ‘Oh, the fishermen are being heard,’ but the energy island they are building out there is in the heart of areas so important to fishermen from New York.”
Ms. Brady said that the frantic pace to put up wind turbines is galling because by simply waiting for technology to allow the turbines to be placed further offshore, where the depth of the water is prohibitive to current turbine construction styles, the impacts to the migration routes of many marine species and the fishermen who pursue them could be greatly reduced.
The first wind farms in Europe and Asia that employ floating turbines that can be anchored to the bottom in deep water are just coming online. The turbines that will be used in the wind farms in the planning off the East Coast of the U.S. are limited to about 200 feet of water.
Those limitations have largely guided where BOEM has looked to place wind farms. Surveys of the ocean floor by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency identified five amorphous regions of the New York Bight where the ocean was shallow enough and flat enough to anchor turbine foundations and did not conflict with the major shipping lanes.
In it’s own review process, NYSERDA set aside the Fairways North and South areas because of their proximity to regions fished by the small commercial fishing boats with limited range that sail from Shinnecock Inlet, Montauk and southern New England.
The federal agency used the same general outlines of technically possible zones and overlaid other data points to narrow down the areas it sees as having the best potential for wind farm development.
The federal analysts used what they call a “heat map” that taps data from the location tracking devices on commercial ships and fishing boats to identify areas of the heaviest traffic and carved out the newest proposed wind energy areas in the zones with the least amount of use.
But Ms. Brady and other fishing advocates say they have been dismissed, discounted and sidelined too often by all of those scrambling to create a multi-billion-dollar industry in a matter of a few years, to the detriment of a centuries-old industry that anchors hundreds of small communities on the East Coast.
“Fishermen have shown up for years to ‘engage’ in processes where spatial constraints and, often, the actors themselves are opposed to their livelihood,” the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a consortium of fishing groups, wrote to BOEM last week. “They have urgently advocated for the survival of their family and communities, in a context where all the rules are set (and changed) by newcomers interested only in a large scale ocean acquisition who often don’t even treat them with common courtesy or basic respect. Last week, nearly 1,700 fishing community members representing almost 60,000 employees and members submitted a letter to BOEM suggesting reasonable measures to begin to reduce the impacts to fishing and the ocean environment from offshore wind energy development. They have received no response; instead, BOEM has since announced this Task Force meeting and several other actions to ‘fast track’ offshore wind energy that continue to ignore or marginalize its severe impacts to small businesses and the communities that depend on them.”
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