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Lawsuit seeking to stop Vineyard Wind claims NOAA Fisheries opinion was faulty

The Vineyard Wind project, an 800-megawatt offshore wind energy installation slated to be built off the coast of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, is now facing a federal lawsuit.

The suit is challenging the permit for the Vineyard Wind offshore energy. It was filed by a solar energy generation company, but the potential impact on the commercial fishing industry is a cornerstone of the suit’s argument against the project.

The introduction of the complaint, filed on Monday 18 July, 2021, in a U.S. District Court in the state of Massachusetts, notes the 10 May, 2021, record of decision issued by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management stated that the more than 75,000-square-acre area about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard would likely be abandoned by commercial fishing interests because of navigational difficulties. That would mean a USD 14 million (EUR 11.9 million) loss to regional fishermen over the life of the product.

“The government’s conclusion that the fishing industry will need to abandon the wind energy area due to difficulties with navigation shows the tragic consequence of the Vineyard Wind project and also why the Vineyard Wind project cannot be approved under existing law,” Thomas Melone, CEO for Allco Renewable Energy Ltd., told SeafoodSource on Thursday, 22 July, 2021.

Melone, his company, and Allco Finance Ltd., have sued five federal officials and the agencies they represent over the decision and seek to have the final ruling vacated and keep them from issuing a new ruling until “federal defendants take a meaningful hard look at the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts” of the project. That includes NOAA Fisheries and the NOAA Acting Assistant Administrator Paul Doremus. Melone is also the lawyer who filed the suit.

The lawsuit states that NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion from 11 September, 2020, is an “Achilles’ heel” on the entire approval of the project.

“The problem with the biological opinion is that all its conclusions are based upon an unlawful standard created by unlawful changes to regulations in 2019 – changes that the defendants appear poised to concede in other litigation were, in fact, unlawful,” the suit states.

A NOAA Fisheries spokesperson told SeafoodSource the agency is aware of the lawsuit and is carefully reviewing it.

The decision to allow Vineyard Wind to install 84 turbines in a prime fishing area was roundly criticized at the time by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a group of commercial fishing interests that had been trying to work with government officials and developers and have their concerns addressed. RODA representatives did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Melone said he has not been contacted by either RODA or any fishing trade groups regarding the suit.

Vineyard Wind is expected to create up to 3,600 jobs. However, as the chief executive of a solar company, Melone said on-land renewable energy efforts would create more jobs and better protect the environment.

“Allco realizes that the energy sector must decarbonize as quickly as possible,” Melone said. “We can do that by lifting up all people. Ending the livelihoods and way of life of generations of fishermen and women and quickening the extinction of marine species is the wrong and unnecessary path.”

The suit also claims that the turbines may not be able to withstand the force of high winds from severe hurricanes, and if one were to hit the region, it could have tragic consequences for the fishing industry and region, Melone said.

“If all the proposed offshore wind projects are built, there would be nearly 14 million gallons of oil and other contaminants at sea,” Melone said. “We would be one category 4 storm away from an environmental disaster of historic proportions.”

Vineyard Wind Acting Communications Director Andrew Doba told SeafoodSource company officials will not comment on pending litigation.