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U.S. offshore wind facing backlash: groups in four states seek to stall project

Country's first offshore site to come online this month, but as developers aim to capitalize on momentum, opponents appeal to government for delay



PHOTO: Deepwater Wind

The 15-turbine Deepwater Wind project off the Rhode Island Coast is expected to come online this month, becoming the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm, but new projects are facing fresh opposition. PHOTO: Deepwater Wind

MINEOLA, N.Y.—Commercial fishing companies, trade groups and seaport communities in four states have asked a court to stop the federal government from auctioning off the rights to develop a huge offshore windfarm in the Atlantic Ocean between New York and New Jersey.

The petition, filed Dec. 8 in federal court in Washington, D.C., said the plan to build as many as 194 turbines in a 127-square-mile section would hurt fishermen who now cruise the area looking for scallops and squid and others who harvest fish species including summer flounder, mackerel, black sea bass and monkfish.

The groups want to delay the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s plans to conduct a Dec. 15 lease sale.

“BOEM must carry out the proper analysis prior to officially leasing out areas to companies for construction, due to the importance of this fishery area,” said James Gutowski, president of the Fisheries Survival Fund, which is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

A BOEM spokeswoman declined to comment.

Others seeking a delay include groups representing scallop and squid fishermen, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts. The U.S. still has no offshore wind projects online, though BOEM has awarded 11 commercial offshore wind leases for sites in the Atlantic. Political opposition has delayed some major projects.

The country’s first offshore wind farm, a project off Rhode Island with just a few turbines, is expected to debut this month.

The court motion argues that BOEM failed to consider alternative sites and other factors in proceeding with the project. When it announced final plans for the lease sale this fall, BOEM said it had removed about 2.8 square miles from the initial proposal because of environmental concerns.

The plaintiffs referred to that as a “diminutive change” in their motion.

If the lease sale proceeds as scheduled, “the site encompassing historical fishing grounds, as well as fish and protected species habitat, will become irreparably encumbered by … development rights,” the motion argued. “The loss of these grounds to the fishermen, and this habitat for scallops, squid, fish, protected species, and other living marine resources, yields both great and actual harm.”

Other plaintiffs included squid fishing processing companies; the town of Narragansett, Rhode Island; the borough of Barnegat Light, New Jersey; and the Garden State Seafood Association.

A hearing on the motion was expected in coming days.

The proposed wind energy project begins about 11 miles south of Long Island’s popular Jones Beach and crosses an area sandwiched between major shipping lanes, where trawlers harvest at least $3.3 million worth of sea scallops each year, as well as smaller amounts of mackerel, squid and other species, according to a BOEM study.

U.S. officials have been reviewing plans for a wind farm in New York’s coastal waters since 2011. A dozen private companies have registered to bid in the auction, as well as the state of New York’s Energy Research Development Agency.

The agency says if it wins, it will facilitate development studies and analysis and arrange power purchase agreements, steps that are expected to save money for any company that eventually builds and operates the wind farm. The state said Thursday it has already started detailed aerial surveys of wildlife off the Long Island coast.

“The greatest threat to fish and marine life is warming seas,” said Adrienne Esposito, a New York environmentalist who supports the project. “The reality is wind farms are part of the solution to protect fish populations. Building wind farms helps fisheries, fights climate change and advances clean renewable energy.”

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