Feds outline New York offshore wind energy zone

A long-anticipated wind energy development zone off New York’s Long Island was announced Wednesday by the Department of Interior – just a day after the Obama administration scotched potential oil and gas leasing farther south off the East Coast.

In development since 2011, the New York Wind Energy Area outlined by the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management comprises 81,000 acres of sea floor, 11 miles south of Long Beach, N.Y. The 26-mile long, wedge-shaped area is tucked between traffic separation zones for inbound and outbound shipping at the busy port of New York and New Jersey.

The plan immediately drew fire from the Fisheries Survival Fund, in a precursor to what will be hard-eyed scrutiny of a new industry proposed for one of the world’s most crowded seaways.

Offshore wind has plenty of skeptics in the fishing industry, The New York area has taken long to prepare – notably because New York State officials asked for a delay, prompted by concerns on Long Island including the commercial and recreational fishing industries. Captains with the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association say they worry construction and operation of wind arrays will alter the environment and currents, disrupting fish and making navigation difficult.

Now the prosperous and well-organized sea scallop fleet is weighing in, contending the BOEM plan “amounts to an adverse possession of ocean lands.” To bolster its claim, the Fisheries Survival Fund generated a chart showing the overlap of scallop fishing reports as recorded by the Vessel Monitoring System of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Fisheries Survival Fund represents scallop permit holders in New Bedford, Mass., and other East Coast ports. Theirs is one of the nation’s richest fisheries, worth more than $400 million in 2014 with New Bedford as the nation’s top port in value. Industry advocates say the BOEM process, with an initial environmental assessment of sites before lease offerings, is insufficient.

“Only far later, after costly site selection and physical suitability analyses have occurred, does the agency even request information from the public,” according to a statement from the fisheries group. “Then, that information is merely presented in environmental impact statements, with no guidelines for how much conflict is too much to proceed. This process makes the burden of showing that a wind farm is not appropriate in a given area almost impossible, and it amounts to adverse possession of ocean lands.”

The apex of the New York wind area is close to fishing grounds known locally as the Mudhole and Cholera Bank, long used by commercial trawlers and for-hire recreational fishing captains.

Origins of the plan go back to 2009, when the New York Power Authority began looking to tap offshore wind for Long Island customers. A 2011 lease application submitted to BOEM by the power authority proposed building turbines capable of 350 megawatts to 700 megawatts of generation.

03.16.16 NYWindEnergyArea BOEMA BOEM map shows the proposed New York Wind Energy Area.Along with New England waters, the mid-Atlantic’s New York Bight is one of the most reliable wind fields available to turbine developers. In November the agency held a lease sale that netted a combined $1.08 million from US Wind Inc. and RES Americas Developments Inc. for options to develop up to 344,000 acres for wind power off New Jersey.

The New York area has taken longer to prepare – notably because New York State officials asked for a delay, prompted by concerns on Long Island including the commercial and recreational fishing industries. Captains with the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association say they worry construction and operation of wind arrays will alter the environment and currents, disrupting fish and making navigation difficult.

With the BOEM announcement, the process will move into the next stage, with a notice of lease sale possible in late 2016, according to the agency. Now the clock will start ticking for an environmental assessment of the site and public comment before a sale is scheduled.

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Ashley Herriman

Ashley Herriman is WorkBoat's online editor.

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