Offshore wind energy developers have momentum building for them in East Coast waters. But other maritime industries want to ease up on the throttle.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently held another round of public meetings in New Jersey and New York, gathering information for what could be a future round of lease offerings in the New York Bight. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has promised to help fast track future permitting.

Already Statoil has plan for its Empire Wind turbine array, tucked into a 79,350-acre federal lease near the apex of ship traffic separation lanes near the entrance to New York Harbor. That could mean a lot of new maritime jobs, along with a new kind of navigational risk.

The Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey supports renewable energy, said Edward Kelly, the association’s executive director, at a May 9 meeting BOEM hosted in Newark, N.J.

A chart on the simulator deck shows the location of the proposed Statoil wind array off New York. Kirk Moore photo.

A simulator chart shows the location of the proposed Statoil wind array off New York. Kirk Moore photo.

“Our ultimate goal is safety,” Kelly stressed. The port gets more than 10,000 deep draft vessels calling every year, he said, and handles the largest volume of petroleum products of U.S. ports.

For separating turbines from ship traffic, “we feel the setbacks are absolutely essential…we would like them to be at least one nautical mile,” said Kelly.

Others have argued there needs to be much more space now, with the arrival of 1,200’x140’ ultra-large containerships that need more like 2.5 miles to stop.

Those final decisions are up to BOEM. The Coast Guard is busy in an advisory role to the agency, while also starting work toward what could be a new East Coast routing system that would create shipping safety fairways.

“Each wind farm is different, each port is different,” said Chris Scraba, deputy waterways chief with the Coast Guard Fifth District headquartered in Virginia. That will affect how wind farm buffers and setbacks are established, he said.

State governments in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are promoting big plans for offshore wind energy, even as they oppose the Trump administration’s wishes to open Atlantic waters to oil and gas drilling. But wind turbines in the wrong place could pose their own danger of a spill.

“If we have one accident, one spill, that potentially could have generational impact,” said Scraba. “It’s critical we get this right.”

Commercial fishermen have a case in federal court over the Statoil lease, and litigation seems certain to reignite. The arrival of foreign-flagged survey vessels in New Bedford, Mass., to explore sites leased by European wind developers energized fishermen opponents.

“We have the Magnuson Act (federal fisheries law) because we want to have American fishing grounds for American fishermen,” said Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for fishing company Seafreeze Ltd., North Kingstown, R.I. “BOEM is plowing ahead regardless. They have not slowed down.”

Skeptics may be getting some traction. A day after BOEM’s meeting there, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a strong proponent of wind energy himself, asked the agency for a six-month extension of its information-gathering stage to absorb concerns of the fishing industry.

In lengthy comment letters April 30, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries weighed in, pointing out shortcomings in BOEM’s environmental analysis so far and providing laundry lists for new research.

“It’s going to take more than a one-year NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis,” said Lapp. “You can’t fast-track the analysis of something that’s never been done before.”

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.