NEW BEDFORD — The waters off the coast of Massachusetts have been a popular topic of conversation as of late. From the ban of commercial fishing in nearly 5,000 square miles of coastal waters in 2016 to the ripple effect of the restrictions put on the industry following the indictment of “Codfather” Carlos Rafael, the area has procured the interests of the local, state, and federal government.

It's also developed an interest in the offshore wind industry from the government as well as private enterprise, with companies already establishing a foothold in the area. One of those companies, Vineyard Wind, is planning to construct and operate turbines in an area just 14 miles south of Martha's Vineyard, if awarded a state contract.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) along with representatives of Vineyard Wind and the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board kicked off a series of public meetings in New Bedford detailing the project on Monday night.

At the meeting, held at the Waypoint Event Center along the city's waterfront, the public was provided an overview of the plans for the project's development in the federal waters off the coast of the state. Those in attendance also got the opportunity to either submit questions and comments to BOEM privately or speak out to them directly at the meeting.

Environmental Coordinator of BOEM Brian Krevor began the meeting with a presentation of the federal guidelines, laws, and construction operation plan for offshore wind development. Currently, two of the four areas designated for wind farms have been acquired by two companies, Bay State Wind and Vineyard Wind. The remaining two areas are still open for bidding.

Erich Stephens, Vineyard Wind's Chief Development Officer, went into detail about the construction, operational, and financial plans during the project overview. He says that Vineyard Wind expects to solicit 800 megawatts of generated energy, enough to power over 400,000 homes and businesses.

“Global warming aside, New England has an energy crisis. It gets all of its energy right now from somewhere else,” Stephens said. “Offshore wind is really the only opportunity to get energy from a local source, at least to any sort of significant scale.”

Stephens also says that construction on the 116 positions currently being permitted for wind turbines should be completed by the end of 2021, and that construction will primarily be out of New Bedford. When the turbines are up and running, he says that routine maintenance and operations will be based out of Martha's Vineyard with all long term maintenance to equipment to be located in New Bedford.

The turbines are planned to be installed 14 miles south of Martha's Vineyard and roughly .7 nautical miles apart from each other. The rotors will range from 538 feet to 591 feet in size and base of the turbine will feature technology intended to litigate the amount of noise it produces. Two offshore energy processing facilities, used to convert the energy collected by the turbine before it's sent to land, will also be located in each area.

A diagram of the wind turbine planned to be used by Vineyard Wind. Tim Dunn/TSM.
A diagram of the wind turbine planned to be used by Vineyard Wind. Tim Dunn/TSM.

Once converted, the electricity will be sent from the offshore processing facility to an on-shore electric facility in either Barnstable or Yarmouth. The electricity will travel via cable buried five to eight feet underground through up to three cables per corridor.

In response to the various concerns expressed by local fishermen surrounding the construction and long term impacts of the project, Stephens says that Vineyard Wind plans to continue to listen and work with the commercial fishing industry, as well as other local stakeholders.

“We do understand that they've been there for a longtime in the industry. We're just looking to work with them and continue to extract the economic opportunity off of our waters offshore” Stephens said. “We're certainly listening and certainly doing our best to hear all the comments and concerns and trying to work with them as much as we can to either answer questions or address those concerns.”

He also revealed a partnership in which Vineyard Wind will fund research by SMAST of the environmental and marine impacts of offshore wind, and that the data collected will be available to the public.

“The more ways we can figure out how to make things easier for the fishing industry and provide information that's not confidential then I think it's better for all of us,” Stephens continued. “There's a lot of need and this is a great opportunity to really address a need and at the same time create new opportunity, new economic development, new jobs, and really a new industry.”

Krevor fielded the majority of questions comments from area fishermen and longshoremen for over an hour. He addressed concerns ranging from the impact the turbines and cables will have on marine life and commercial fishing to number of jobs the project and its maintenance can produce for the region.

“There's a lot of concerns and we're very glad to get the opportunity to hear them. It's very understandable, this is people's livelihoods,” Krevor said. “They've been fishing here for generations and we're very happy to have been here and had a great turnout to get those comments. We're going to incorporate those comments into our environmental analysis and make sure our decision makers know about these concerns.”

Bruce Carlisle, the state's Director of Office of Coastal Zone Management, began the meeting with a quick review of the policies, procedures, and plans Massachusetts has for offshore wind. The state plans to hold a public hearing on April 24 in Hyannis and will accept written public comment until May 8.

BOEM continues their hearings on Tuesday in Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Hyannis on Wednesday, and Kingston, Rhode Island on Thursday. The deadline for the public to submit a written public comment to the Bureau is April 30th.

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