December 24, 2021
Massachusetts, Rhode Island

R.I. commercial fishers join anti-Vineyard Wind lawsuit

By Mary Serreze, Reporter | Providence Business Journal | Dec 23, 2021 |

Lawyers for a Texas-based libertarian think tank, joined by members of the Rhode Island commercial fishing industry, have filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to stop the Vineyard Wind project from moving forward.

An 85-page complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claims that federal regulators improperly permitted Vineyard Wind I, the offshore wind project that would place 62 turbines 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard while powering 400,000 Massachusetts homes.

Some commercial fishing interests in the Northeast have been trying to stop the project. In the latest round, a handful of plaintiffs across three states are represented by lawyers with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its Center for the American Future. The foundation bills itself as a non-profit with a mission “to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation.”

The Rhode Island plaintiffs include Seafreeze Shoreside Inc. – a Port Judith fish dealer and portside service provider – and two small fishing companies owned by Thomas E. Williams of Westerly. The Northeast Fisheries Sector XIII – a Massachusetts-based coalition of fisheries permit holders – and New York’s Long Island Commercial Fishing Association area also parties to the lawsuit.

Lead attorney Theodore Hadzi-Antich claims that his clients, who fish in the project area, would be irreparably harmed were the offshore wind farm to be constructed. He alleges that federal regulators knew that Vineyard Wind I would end commercial fishing in the 75,614-acre lease area, but approved the project anyway.

The lawsuit accuses a half-dozen federal agencies of violating environmental laws in moving the offshore energy project forward. Defendants include the Interior Department, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Commerce Department, the Defense Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s not clear how the Texas Public Policy Foundation got involved, but the organization has published a blog post that describes how Williams and his sons are “fighting for a way of life” in Rhode Island. The foundation also posted a movie trailer to YouTube to promote their legal efforts in the Ocean State.

While Vineyard Wind is not named as a plaintiff, the lawsuit seeks to stop construction of the project.

It’s the third anti-Vineyard Wind federal lawsuit in recent months. In August, Nantucket resident Vallorie Oliver and ACK Residents Against Turbines filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts seeking to halt the project. A month later, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) challenged the project’s construction permit as awarded July 15 by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. That lawsuit is pending before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tensions between commercial fishers and the offshore wind sector are not new. In late 2019, fisheries advocates pushed back after five energy companies announced that they would install their Northeast turbines in a mile-spaced grid to create navigation corridors for fishing vessels. RODA, an advocacy group, said the plan would not work and remarked that New Bedford scallopers were particularly concerned.

On its website, Vineyard Wind states that its turbines would be “the farthest apart of any wind farm in the world.” The company says that any fishing or shoreside business that loses income as a direct result of the wind farm will be compensated. A spokesperson for Vineyard Wind did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

It’s been a long road for Vineyard Wind. The company in 2018 won a public bidding process to deliver 800 megawatts of clean electricity to the Massachusetts grid. The project was dealt a blow in 2020 when the Trump administration put permitting on hold, saying more review was needed. In May of this year under the Biden administration the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the project with a 100-page Record of Decision. A ground-breaking was held in November at the Port of New Bedford, and Haaland attended the ceremony.

Vineyard Wind 1 would be the nation’s first commercial scale offshore wind farm. Proponents hope to have the project up and running by 2023.

Vineyard Wind is a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc. (NYSE: AGR), and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP).

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