PORTSMOUTH, R.I. – An organized group of recreational anglers are opposing a proposal that would bury an export cable from a new offshore wind farm under the Sakonnet River.
The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association has come out against the proposal from offshore wind developer Mayflower Wind, expressing concerns over the impacts to existing fish habitats, and recreational fishing.
“We believe that during cable installation, an industrial operation such as burying a cable that is more than a foot wide will disturb fishing across the entire River,” wrote RISAA president Greg Vespa in a letter sent last month to Mayflower Wind.
The group instead advocates for Mayflower Wind to avoid using the river entirely and proposed that the company run the cable over land in Massachusetts from Westport to Fall River, where land is already developed and disturbance to habitats would be minimal.
RISAA also expressed concern over the impacts to cod stocks. The New England Fishery Management Council has designated the Sakonnet River as an inshore juvenile cod habitat area of particular concern, and cod fishing remains restricted.
Mayflower Wind said it has conducted extensive field surveys to assess seabed conditions across its entire project area, including the proposed cable corridor in the Sakonnet River. The bottom of the river is mostly mud and silt, with areas of crepidula, a kind of colonizing mollusk, according to preliminary data from the company.
Results of the field surveys will be assessed by the appropriate Rhode Island agencies for potential impacts on fish habitats, but the company asserts the impacts to fishing will remain minimal.
“Because of the speed and nature of the cable installation, the construction phase will create minimal interference with vessel traffic, including recreational fishing,” said Daniel Hubbard, Mayflower Wind’s director of external affairs. “During construction the seabed will be disturbed but recovery will occur relatively quickly with minimal long-term disturbance around the installation area.”
Operation and maintenance of the cable will also have minimal impacts, according to Hubbard. Once the cables are buried, the only expected intrusion will be an annual seabed survey on the areas surrounding the cable.
Recreational anglers use the Sakonnet River from March to December, catching black sea bass, summer flounder, blue fish, striped bass and scup, according to RISAA vice president Rich Hittinger.
“Our concern is the Sakonnet River,” said Hittinger. “It’s heavily used for fishing.”
The Mayflower Wind project is a joint venture between the renewable energy arm of Royal Dutch Shell and renewable energy developer Ocean Winds (itself the joint venture of two European multinational utility companies).
Its lease area is roughly 30 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and contains 149 positions for turbines and substations. The wind farm is estimated to generate 2,400 megawatts of energy, enough to power 800,000 homes across New England.
The generated power will be transported along two main export cables: one landing in Falmouth, Mass., and another snaking its way up Rhode Island Sound through the Sakonnet River before it takes a left turn to go overland under the town of Portsmouth and exiting across Mount Hope Bay to a proposed substation site at Brayton Point.
At a meeting last month, Mayflower Wind officials emphasized the project would create 14,000 new jobs between construction and the 30 years the farm will be in operation. The operations and maintenance port in Fall River would create around 400 full-time jobs, 75 percent of which Mayflower Wind has pledged to hire locally.
Rhode Island remains hungry for energy. The state’s Office of Energy resources earlier this week opened the comment period on a request for proposal (RFP) on the new offshore wind procurement act signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Dan McKee. The law provides that Rhode Island procure 600 MW or more of electricity from offshore wind sources.
State lawmakers earlier this year also passed an aggressive 100% renewable energy standard, requiring all electricity sold in Rhode Island by 2033 to be offset with renewable energy projects such as the Mayflower Wind offshore farm.
The push for renewable energy is also coming at a time where the state is feeling the impacts of climate change. Storms over Labor Day weekend dropped 11 inches of rain in Cranston – more rainfall than the state received all summer – across a 24-hour period, overwhelming stormwater management systems on I-95 and collapsing one building in Providence.
But the project still has to work its way through Rhode Island’s regulatory apparatus, the Energy Facility Siting Board. Mayflower Wind gave a brief overview of the project to the board on Aug. 18. Both the towns of Tiverton and Little Compton petitioned the board for intervenor status at the meeting, contending they would be affected by the project.
The EFSB has yet to issue a ruling on the matter.
Mayflower Wind continues to host community outreach events as the project progresses. Concerned recreational fishermen can meet with officials from the company during their monthly Port Hours at Point Judith. The next port hours event is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 9, at 9 a.m.
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