A coalition of groups opposing the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project was in a Washington, D.C. federal court this week, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop construction work in May. 

Conservative activist groups the Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), and the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) sued Dominion Energy and the Biden administration over federal permits for the planned 2.6 gigawatt project of 176 turbines.

The plaintiffs claim the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other federal agencies “have not done the legally required research to determine the project won’t harm the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale,” according to a Heartland Institute statement.

U.S. District Court Judge Loren AliKhan called on lawyers for Dominion, the government and plaintiffs to file more papers and responses by May 9, before she rules on the groups’ request for a preliminary injunction. 

In their statement Wednesday the groups asserted the action “delayed the start of ‘pile driving’ construction for a massive wind project off the Atlantic Coast by Dominion Energy.” Within hours the power company fired back with a tart reply, saying “any reports that the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project has been delayed are false and grossly misrepresent the facts.”

Opponents of the ongoing Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts recently saw their similar arguments related to right whale threats rejected by the U.S. First District Court of Appeals, Dominion officials said.

“Dominion Energy strongly believes that the project's biological opinion is compliant with all legal requirements and expects to prevail against the request for a construction delay,” the company said. “Consistent with the construction schedule, installation of monopiles by the DEME-operated vessel Orion is expected to commence between May 6 and May 8.”

The extremely endangered North Atlantic right whale population, now estimated at only around 350 animals, is motivating offshore wind opposition groups whose members believe offshore survey and construction work is a factor in whale strandings and deaths.

The Rhode Island-based group Green Oceans raised those endangered species concerns in a separate federal lawsuit filed in January. The group filed an April 24 motion with the court to stay all approvals and authorizations for the Revolution Wind offshore project construction on Coxes Ledge off the coast of Rhode Island.

The activists learned that the Biological Opinion for the project was deemed “inadequate” by the National Marine Fisheries Service, requiring more protections for endangered sei and fin whales and for two species of endangered turtles.

NMFS and BOEM agreed to reinitiate the Biological Opinion under the Endangered Species Act. Green Oceans co-founder Bill Thompson told National Fisherman he believed NMFS wanted to get the revised Biological Opinion in place by April 30: “They want it ready for when pile driving season opens on May 1.”

The new Biological Opinion was indeed announced April 30. NMFS officials said they “concluded the proposed action is likely to adversely affect, but is not likely to jeopardize, the continued existence of any species of ESA listed whales, sea turtles, or fish. It is not anticipated to destroy or adversely modify any designated critical habitat. NOAA Fisheries does not anticipate serious injuries to or mortalities of any ESA listed whale including the North Atlantic right whale. 

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.