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RI fishermen’s board resigns en masse over Biden admin–backed offshore wind farm: ‘Wholesale ocean destruction’
A plan backed by the Biden administration to OK a string of wind farms off Rhode Island has prompted every member of a fishing regulatory board in the state to resign.
The entire Rhode Island Fisherman’s Advisory Board quit en masse Friday to protest the 84-turbine Sunrise Wind project after the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council approved the third offshore wind farm in two years off the Ocean State’s waters.
The project falls under President Biden‘s executive order authorizing his Interior Department to double US offshore wind capacity by 2030. With the project’s approval, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is on track to finish reviews for 16 wind farms by 2025.
But foes including the fishing board say the Sunrise plan ignores environmental regulations and anglers’ concerns
In a letter addressed to CRMC Executive Director Jeff Willis, the nine-member fishermen’s panel said its regulatory role had been reduced to “political theater,” as the state continues to defer to developers such as the Danish wind giant Orsted.
“We will not allow our names to be connected in any way to Council approvals now amounting to wholesale ocean destruction,” wrote board members Lanny Dellinger, Christopher Brown, Michael Marchetti, Greg Mataronas, Chris Lee, Brian Thibeault, Meghan Lapp, Richard Hittinger and Rick Bellavance.
“Rhode Island is supposed to be the Ocean State, not the Windmill State.”
The board said it was drawing specific attention to the project’s violations of state environmental protection requirements, as well as warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about its effects on Atlantic cod.
A letter addressed two days earlier to Willis from another board member, who also chairs the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, raised concerns about the affects on recreational tuna fishing in the region.
“Our members are shocked at the scale of the current development now occurring on their fishing grounds but are being told that permitting is complete and there is no way for them to have input at this late date,” Hittinger said.
He added that the “one-sided push by developers” ensures that environmental considerations will continue to be ignored, calling the decision, “effectively a rubber stamp of the political desires of Washington, DC,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Post.
CRMC officials responded by saying the board members had “provided valuable information and insight” but that their resignations would not deter the project from meeting its federal mandates under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.
“The CRMC remains hopeful that the Rhode Island fishing community will continue to participate in the public process for reviewing offshore wind energy projects, as well as any other projects affecting the fishery resources of the State,” a rep said in a statement.
Rhode Island approved Sunrise Wind just weeks after the Biden administration gave final approval to the 65-turbine Revolution Wind project after a permit from the CRMC. In April, the administration also approved the 12-turbine South Fork Wind project after the CRMC gave a thumbs-up to that project, too.
All three projects are joint enterprises between Orsted, one of the world’s largest offshore wind developer, which is headquartered in Denmark, and the New England utility Eversource.
The approval pace has alarmed fishermen as well as local environmental groups, who say the renewable energy initiatives will eventually build around 1,000 turbines in the waters south of Rhode Island covering roughly 1,400 square miles – larger than the Ocean State itself.
The projects will cause major disruptions to commercial and recreational fishing, says one of those groups, Green Oceans, while pointing to one of the BOEM’s own assessments.
The agency’s draft environmental impact statement for the Revolution Wind project stated that there would be “no measurable influence on climate change” either.
The first offshore wind farms in the US were built off Rhode Island’s Block Island in 2016 and have also been correlated with a surge in whale deaths.
Through increased boat traffic because of construction, as well as high-decibel sonar mapping, whales are apparently being struck and killed by vessels or else disoriented and driven away from feeding grounds.
Other groups such as the Save Right Whales Coalition have noted donations from Orsted to some state environmental groups and other institutions.
In 2020, Orsted and the Revolution Wind project donated $1,250,000 to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut to fund pro-offshore wind exhibits, the group noted in a report.
Between Dec. 1, 2022, and Aug. 25, 2023, at least 60 whale species have been found dead on the East Coast.
In 2017, the NOAA declared an “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales but has not attributed any of the deaths to wind-farm construction.
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