Op Ed - Responsible Offshore Development Alliance Statement on Vineyard Wind Federal Review Process

From the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance:

In light of the recent decision by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to perform a cumulative impacts analysis regarding the proposed Vineyard Wind project, and the recently released communications between that agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), RODA would like to clarify certain statements and representations.

The RODA Board of Directors particularly notes the citation of its statement regarding turbine spacing and orientation in BOEM’s response to NMFS’ letter of nonconcurrence. To provide the full context of this statement, which is not readily apparent from BOEM’s letter, it is posted here in its entirety.

RODA has not taken a position to specifically support or oppose any offshore wind energy development. We have repeatedly stated in multiple formats that decisions on any new uses of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that have the potential to affect commercial fishing must be based on a deliberative process and scientific record that fully incorporates the input of diverse fishing communities and avoids and minimizes such impacts to the maximum possible extent; and where impacts cannot be avoided effective mitigation strategies are developed to achieve co-existence.

During the development of the Vineyard Wind Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), RODA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BOEM and NMFS in order to collaborate on the science and process of offshore wind energy development on the Atlantic OCS. We value the relationships and progress we are advancing with both agencies as well as those with developers, including Vineyard Wind, through cooperation on our Joint Industry Task Force and the Responsible Offshore Science Alliance.

The size, pace, and scope of proposed offshore wind energy projects on the Atlantic OCS demand that lawmakers, regulators, developers, and the public all employ due caution to ensure that these developments can coexist with our traditional and historic fisheries. It would be unacceptable to put at stake hundreds of thousands of skilled fishing jobs, healthy and sustainable seafood, important traditional ecological knowledge, and the very fabric of our coastal cultures in a rush to welcome a new industry before the trade-offs are fully considered. In many early natural resource-based industries—including the fishing industry—a race to develop without adequate science and planning has resulted in avoidable resource catastrophes. We would like to avoid those outcomes, and taking time to understand the cumulative impacts of multiple imminent industrial projects is critical to doing so.

BOEM holds full authority to issue a decision on the DEIS’ preferred alternative, and the responsibility to ensure that its analyses are sound and complete. Commercial fishermen are extremely grateful to Secretary Bernhardt and his agency for taking the time to review the DEIS with the elevated level of scrutiny that such a monumental decision deserves. His reputation for a tireless work ethic, steady leadership, and concern for working Americans and coastal fishing communities is proving to be exceedingly genuine.

So too, are our members greatly appreciative of NMFS’ cooperation with BOEM in reviewing and assisting with the fisheries-related analysis in the document. Its leadership and staff have overcome short timelines to provide expert feedback on the spatial, ecological, and economic needs of our fishing communities as well as those of our shared marine ecosystems. We hope that NMFS will acquire full funding to help it keep up with the process and construct the collaborative science necessary to eliminate uncertainty for both industries.

Despite the importance of our relationships, RODA has repeatedly expressed concern regarding several elements of the proposed Vineyard Wind project. Primarily we are concerned with its potential for setting a negative precedent if it proceeds in a way that does not fully minimize harm to sustainable commercial fishing practices. These concerns were raised early and often by RODA, our individual members, NMFS, and others.

To cite some examples:

  • Fishing businesses provided their own proprietary data to project developers and BOEM as early as 2017 to support their requests for turbine spacing and orientation that would maximally accommodate fishing.
  • Dozens of fishermen and others engaged in exhaustive meetings and provided additional confidential information in order to “negotiate” for the designation of transit lanes through the New England wind energy areas.
  • Fishery representatives have consistently asked the collection of even a few seasons’ worth of baseline surveys against which to measure the impacts of an offshore wind energy facility in order to inform the design of future projects (and BOEM’s own guidelines require such surveys to begin two years before construction). These requests were made early and often; in but one example, in 2012 the Fisheries Survival Fund commented on “The need for comprehensive baseline knowledge of the benthic biological environment . . . so that impacts of leasing, site assessment activities, and wind mill installation, maintenance, and decommissioning [for the Vineyard Wind project] can be assessed.” The Vineyard Wind draft studies plan was only submitted on February 25th, 2019, and NMFS was asked to review it within four days. NMFS stated at the time that “the submitted plan lack[ed] sufficient detail and critical information to evaluate its efficacy.”
  • RODA directly requested the developer to engage in an inclusive, transparent process to determine mitigation plans including disruption payments, if necessary.

These, and many other unresolved interactions are absent from the DEIS and current project plans. This input has not been delivered at the “eleventh hour” and all occurred well within BOEM’s permitting timeline during the appropriate comment periods and as soon as the information to inform them was publicly available.

Through the MoU and the federal environmental review process, BOEM has been attentive to our concerns and a willing partner in working toward better long-term approaches to coexistence. That said, the mere citation of RODA’s concerns does not amount to the full evidence-based analysis that should be the basis of important federal decisions. The fishing industry remains resolute that the spacing and orientation of turbines within a project area is one of the primary factors in determining what fisheries impacts will be, and thus demands the utmost diligence in consideration and analysis.

It is furthermore unclear how Secretary Bernhardt could issue a decision on the DEIS, when critical impact categories such as fishing vessel transit, disruption payments, baseline ecological information, radar interference and others are yet to be settled. How could one possibly know that the project is designed to maximize coexistence with fishing without knowing these project elements, especially when what is known—the proposed project layout—is not consistent with the best available information?

As one of the first U.S. large infrastructure projects to be reviewed under the new “One Federal Decision” directive, and the first large-scale offshore wind energy proposal on the OCS, we do not envy the challenges this project and its regulators face. However, the decisions made can either be a model for public-private, interagency, and cross-sector coordination, or result in the perpetuation of conflict between fishing communities and developers and—worse—unnecessary damage to hard-working American citizens and our world-class marine resources. We urge everyone to do their due diligence and get it right.


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