By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Commercial fishermen and sport fishermen are split over the benefits of offshore wind facilities.
Commercial fishermen, primarily from eastern Long Island, N.Y., say the wind-energy projects planned for southern New England, such as the South Fork Wind Farm, are the latest threats to their income after decades of quotas and regulations.
“I don't like the idea of the ocean being taken away from me after I’ve thrown so many big-dollar fish back in the water for the last 30 years, praying I’d get it back in the end,” said Dave Aripotch, owner of a 75-foot trawl-fishing boat based in Montauk, N.Y.
In the summer, Aripotch patrols for squid and weakfish in the area where the 15 South Fork wind turbines and others wind projects are planned. He expects the wind facilities and undersea cables will shrink fishing grounds along the Eastern Seaboard.
“If you put 2,000 wind turbines from the Nantucket Shoals to New York City, I’m losing 50 to 60 percent of my fishing grounds,” Aripotch said during a Nov. 8 public hearing at the Narragansett Community Center.
Dave Monti of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association said the submerged turbine foundations at the Block Island Wind Farm created artificial reefs, boosting fish populations and attracting charter boats like his.
“It’s a very positive thing for recreational fishing,” Monti said. “The Block Island Wind Farm has acted like a fish magnet.”
Offshore wind development also has the support of environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation, which view renewable energy as an answer to climate change.
“Offshore wind power really is the kind of game-changing large-scale solution that we need to see move forward, particularly along along the East Coast,” said Amber Hewett, manager of the Atlantic offshore wind energy campaign for the National Wildlife Federation.
Aripotch and fellow commercial fisherman Donald Fox urged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to study the cumulative effects of the four other wind projects planned for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts wind-energy area. They want to know how catches and quotas will be calculated if fishing nets run through multiple wind facilities.
“God bless you if you figure that one out,” Fox said.
The comments were made at the last of three public hearing held by BOEM for the South Fork Wind Farm’s environmental impact statement (EIS). A 30-day public comment period on the environmental impacts ends Nov. 19. BOEM has held a total of eight public meetings for the South Fork project.
After the current comment period, a second 45-day comment period will follow BOEM’s release of a draft IES. BOEM then has three months to issue a decision, which is expected in early 2020. If approved, construction on the South Fork Wind Farm would begin in 2021. Pending other permits, the wind facility would then be expected to be operating by the end of 2022.
BOEM is reviewing the engineering plans for the wind turbines, an offshore substation, and the 30-mile power cable that will run to East Hampton, N.Y. The federal agency also is reviewing the effects of the transmission line, such as the impacts of electromagnetic fields on sea life.
The substation would be above the water on its own platform or share a platform with a wind turbine. It will have a height of up to 200 feet to support a high-voltage power transformer, reactor, and ventilation and air-conditioning systems. The substation may also include a 400-horse-power diesel generator and a 500-gallon diesel fuel tank.
The designated wind area between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard has already restricted wind-energy development in portions of prime fishing grounds such as Cox Ledge.
Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association called Deepwater Wind “the not ready for primetime players” because of technical problems with the Block Island Wind Farm, such as exposed undersea cables.
Brady noted that Deepwater Wind, now called Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, increased the capacity of the proposed South Fork Wind Farm from 90 to 130 megawatts. Each turbine can have an electricity output of 12 megawatts, or twice the power output of the Block Island turbines. The maximum height of the new turbines is 840 feet. The Block Island turbines are about 580 feet tall.
Brady wants BOEM to study of the effects of the larger turbines and increase the space between each turbine to 2 miles. Deepwater Wind has offered to separate the turbines by a mile. She said studies are needed of the noise and particle pressure from the larger turbines and the impacts of jet plowing and pile driving on fish and shellfish.
Brady is advocating for BOEM and New York regulators to afford fishermen the same protections that Rhode Island fishermen receive, such payment for lost revenue, as defined by the Ocean Special Area Management Plan.
“There needs to be long-term mitigation, long-term compensation at fair values, without signing a nondisclosure agreement,” she said.