Fishermen’s Advisory Board Members Resign, to Protest Offshore Wind Process
September 1, 2023
In a strongly worded letter calling the process “political theater,” the nine members of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Advisory Board (FAB) resigned en masse on Friday, refusing to work any longer with the state’s coastal regulating agency considering offshore wind projects.
In the letter, addressed to Jeff Willis, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council, the FAB, which advises the CRMC on the impacts of offshore wind on the state’s fisheries, wrote, “It has become abundantly clear that the Rhode Island CRMC has made deference to offshore wind developers its top priority regardless of the requirements of the Ocean SAMP.” The SAMP is the state’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan, a coastal management and regulatory plan adopted by CRMC.
CRMC, the FAB’s letter said, does not consider “the cost to the environment, or the impacts to Rhode Island’s fishing industry,” when deciding whether to approve offshore wind projects. “In staff’s own words, the purpose of the FAB/CRMC review process of offshore wind projects is to move the permits forward,” the letter said.
“The CRMC is disappointed to learn of the resignation of the FAB members. The FAB has provided valuable information and insight to the CRMC for its federal consistency reviews of offshore wind energy projects,” the state agency said in a statement Friday. “While unfortunate, these resignations do not affect the CRMC’s review scope, obligations and timelines … 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.”
In addition to the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm, CRMC has approved four other offshore wind projects: Revolution Wind, which proposes to build 65 turbines on the outer continental shelf about 15 miles southeast of Point Judith; the 84-turbine Vineyard Wind and the 12-turbine South Fork Wind Farm, which are under construction; and the 84-turbine Sunrise Wind, which was approved by CRMC last week. CRMC’s board members are almost all appointed by the governor’s office and approved by the Senate.
Fishermen at the recent Sunrise Wind hearing raised some of the same objections lobbed against Revolution Wind, including: loss of fishing income; dangers to fishermen working in and around the wind facility; problems with radar; the need for more onboard manpower for safety; and claims that CRMC is getting out ahead of yet-unpublished federal studies. They also claimed CRMC was flouting its own oversight regulations.
The Revolution Wind project gained approval from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in August, clearing the way for construction to begin in 2024. That approval was met with laudatory comments by Gov. Dan McKee.
“This significant federal decision reflects a thorough review and assessment of the project’s impacts by BOEM. Now, we may proceed with the project’s construction, heading into 2024 with the goal of being commercially operational in 2025,” McKee said in a press release announcing BOEM’s approval.
The project, a joint effort by Eversource and the Danish company Ørsted, is expected to deliver 704 megawatts (MW) of power, including 400 MW delivered to Rhode Island and 304 MW to Connecticut.
Rhode Island commercial and recreational fishers fought the project strenuously at almost every stage of the planning process over a period of years, claiming it threatens the health of fisheries and their livelihoods. In particular, fishermen are incensed that the project, on a tract in a federally approved wind-energy area, is partly on Cox Ledge, a rich fishing ground and a habitat and spawning area for cod. Other opponents of the project have expressed concern about its possible impact on whales, other marine mammals, birds, plankton, currents, and pollution.
Before CRMC’s final approval of the Revolution Wind project in May, the council added a condition that would require Ørsted to move wind turbines and some electric cables off Cox Ledge.
That didn’t go far enough, according to FAB. “We as members of the FAB thought that the purpose of FAB/CRMC review was to ensure that offshore wind projects conformed to the requirements and restrictions of the Ocean SAMP. We were wrong,” the letter states. “The Ocean SAMP process has been reduced to mere political theater, to which we refuse to lend any further credence by our presence.”
According to BOEM, the final approval of the Revolution Wind project includes “an extensive range of measures aimed at avoiding, minimizing and mitigating the potential impacts that may result from the construction and operation of the project.”
Ørsted has promised to set up a fund of $12.9 million to compensate fishers for losses during the project’s construction. That amount could rise by $5 million if losses turn out to be larger than estimated. The $12.9 million includes $300,000 for a Coastal Community Fund, $333,333 for a voucher program to provide radar systems, and $300,000 for a project effects study.
Richard Hittinger, first vice president of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, which represents recreational anglers and for-hire charter boats, has previously said the payments and mitigation measures offered by Ørsted have “done nothing at all for recreational fishing.”
Hittinger, a member of the FAB who sent a separate letter announcing his resignation, said, “With approval of development of Cox Ledge by the South Fork Wind and Revolution Wind projects on Cox Ledge and the most recent approval of Sunrise Wind in a very active area for recreational tuna fishing, much of the existing and long-standing use of these areas by recreational fishing interests will be changed dramatically.”
In his letter, Hittinger added, “Instead of viewing the commercial and recreational fishing communities as stakeholders who should be consulted and considered during development of marine resources CRMC seems to view us as a hurdle that projects must jump over during permitting. This makes the existence of the FAB unnecessary.”
The FAB letter reiterated that point. FAB members “have collectively invested and sacrificed thousands of hours of our own time, at our own expense, and provided CRMC with expertise, data, science, research, and experience. But we will no longer waste our time,” according to the letter.
“Rhode Island is supposed to be the Ocean State, not the Windmill State.”
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