Visiting Humpback Whale Delays Wind Farm Work

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

After setbacks with safety and equipment issues, the Block Island Wind Farm project appears to be back on track. The latest delay, however, wasn’t manmade, but rather a visit from a humpback whale.

The whale recently held up the five-turbine project when it entered the construction zone off Block Island and lingered for seven hours, according to Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grabowski.

It may not seem like much time, but workers were driving the last steel piles into the sea floor as they neared a Nov. 1 deadline. According to the construction agreement, pile-driving can only be done during the day and isn’t permitted between Nov. 1 and May 1, so that marine animals such as whales, dolphins and sea turtles can migrate through the area. Noise from pile-driving can injure sea mammals or displace them from their habitat and migration routes. Humpback, right and fin whales are known to visit the area off Block Island.

At least two certified protected species spotters are stationed aboard observation vessels and onboard structures near where the piling-driving is being done.

The whale wasn’t the only inconvenience. On Oct. 20, a transport barge containing three platforms, called decks that sit atop the foundations, broke from its mooring and came close to shore. A tug nearby noticed the mooring break right away and secured it within minutes. The barge was then towed to the Port of Quonset Point by tug.   

In August, ABC Group, an independent monitor of the project, described safety problems with barges and equipment endangering workers. In September, it reported unused equipment and improper construction practices.

“It’s in much better shape and things are being done according to process,” Theodore Hofbauer, a director at ABS Group, said during an Oct. 27 presentation to the Coastal Resources Management Council.

Hofbauer said recommendations for training and oversight have been enacted and a stabilized crane has been brought in to help with rough seas.

Work is expected to continue until early December and start again in April. Now that the five turbine foundations are in place, workers will spend the next month and a half installing the decks. Painting, grouting and other finish work also will be done.

The foundations and turbines are designed to withstand a modeled 1,000-year storm, which includes Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The turbines and foundations are built to handle sustained winds of 112 mph and gusts of 147 mph.

Construction began July 26. Installation of 32 miles of cable is scheduled to begin in May 2016. The five, 600-foot-high turbines are expected to be erected in late summer of next year. And the project is scheduled to go on-line next fall.