The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday announced it is resuming preparation of a final environmental impact statement on the Vineyard Wind offshore energy project, reversing a move to end the permitting process in the final weeks of the Trump administration.
Vineyard Wind officials submitted a Jan. 22 letter to BOEM asking to restart the process, and in a March 3 Federal Register notice the agency said it is moving ahead.
The planned 800-megawatt project off southern Massachusetts was awaiting a final record of decision on a draft EIS when the developers withdrew their construction and operations plan Dec. 1, 2020, saying they needed to “conduct additional technical and logistical reviews” to modify the plan for using larger, more powerful GE Haliade-X turbines.
BOEM came back with a Dec. 16 Federal Register notice that because of Vineyard Wind’s withdrawal it was terminating the environmental impact study. The agency and its parent Department of Interior said the developers would need to start the permitting process over if they wanted to proceed.
Additionally, the department’s top lawyer at the time issued a legal memorandum arguing that Interior officials were under obligation not to approve any ocean industrial development that would impede fishermen’s ability to work in those areas. Fishing advocates saw that as a major victory in their effort to get the industry a bigger say in BOEM’s wind energy siting and permitting processes.
But with the Biden administration strongly committed to developing more renewable energy, the tide is running the opposite way to the dismay of those advocates.
“It would appear that fishing communities are the only ones screaming into a void while public resources are sold to the highest bidder, as BOEM has reversed its decision to terminate a project after receiving a single letter from Vineyard Wind,” the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing groups and communities, said following the BOEM notice.
That decision following Vineyard Wind’s Jan. 22 letter is “a far cry from ‘public’ engagement,” the group said. “This is irreconcilable with the plain language of BOEM’s announcement terminating the project’s review last December.”
The alliance recently submitted comments on another draft environmental impact statement that BOEM released in January on the South Fork Wind Farm project proposed south of Rhode Island. The 65-page document addressed to new BOEM director Amanda Lefton contends the document was issued “at a time of significant confusion and change in the U.S. approach to offshore wind energy planning,” and urged Lefton to “improve the broken federal offshore wind process before consideration of additional projects or lease announcements.”
The alliance offered a list of changes its members want to see, including:
• Establish safe transit areas through the 1,400-square-mile New England lease areas.
• Ensure better federal environmental review analysis and clear identification of scientific unknowns.
• Monitor fisheries impacts for the life of projects and utilize adaptive management.
• Resolve impacts to National Marine Fisheries Service stock assessment surveys.
• Prohibit turbines in sensitive habitat including spawning areas and high-value fishing grounds.
• Improve communications with fishermen in culturally appropriate formats.
• Perform “micro siting” of turbines and cables with fishermen who know the ecosystem.