Windfarm plans for Atlantic coast hit fishermen hard and threaten US food supply

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GE’s new Haliade-X offshore wind turbine is enormous—each blade is longer than a football field. It’s nearly three football fields in height. Its imprint on the seabed is likewise gigantic, and not merely because of the concrete base that anchors it. Miles and miles of transmission lines must be buried then covered over in debris.

So when ground was broken last month on Vineyard Wind 1 in the waters off of Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, local families involved in the fishing industry for generations wondered how the planned 62 (for now) wind turbines would affect the fishing grounds, their ability to navigate those waters—and the nation’s food supply.

Tom Williams, a lifelong fisherman whose sons now captain the family’s two boats, doesn’t scare easily—not after the storms, regulations and economic ups and downs he’s weathered. But the wind farms planned for much of the nation’s Atlantic coastline do scare him. His own extended family began fishing in Rhode Island in 1922.

“What’s going to be left for my grandchildren?” he asks. “It’s a way of life, and this is the biggest threat we’ve faced.”

Tom Williams, lifelong fisherman

That’s why the Texas Public Policy Foundation filed suit this week to block the Vineyard Wind project. We represent Tom’s family, and other commercial fishing families as well. 

The basis of the lawsuit is the fact that in its urgency to get offshore wind projects approved, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management failed to conduct the proper environmental impact studies; the states jumping on board with this project failed to get input from the fishing industry regarding environmental and economic impacts; and reasonable alternatives to the sites chosen for the turbines were not considered.

One of Tom Williams’ sons  fishing in the waters off Massachusetts

More specifically, a Department of the Interior program called “Smart from the Start,” intended to speed up projects, was used to improperly grant permissions allowing foreign-owned energy companies to move forward despite the harms to our domestic industries and environment. Vineyard Wind will also directly threaten endangered species, including the North Atlantic right whale, which migrate through this area each year.

The project’s final environmental impact statement acknowledges that the turbines will increase danger to humans through collisions, but failed to address other dangers—such as interference with the instruments used in search-and-rescue missions. Nor did it address the vulnerability of the larger-than-planned Haliade-X turbines to hurricane-force winds—which occur regularly along the Atlantic seaboard.

One of the Williams’ family’s fishing boats

The Vineyard Wind project must be stopped in its tracks and restarted from the beginning. No approval granted through the “Smart from the Start” project should be considered legitimate.

Meghan Lapp is General Manager of  Seafreeze Shoreside Ltd., a Rhode Island squid processor. They have one boat themselves, and their dockside facility serves about 30 others. It goes beyond just calamari (though New York City has a ravenous appetite for that); squid is also an important bait fish, meaning other fisheries depend on Seafreeze’s efforts.

She points to the only existing offshore wind project on the Atlantic coast, the nearby Block Island wind farm. At the moment, only one of its five turbines is spinning (the developer said in August this was due to “routine summer maintenance,” but as of November, they were still motionless).

“What do you think happens to those when they’re at the end of their useful lives?” she asks. “They get cut down. But not the concrete base. Not the transmission lines. They stay, and they’re there for good.”

In other words, wind farms don’t last forever. But the damage they cause to the environment, to endangered species, to human lives and livelihoods, does.

The lawsuit, styled Seafreeze Shoreside Ltd. v. U.S. Department of the Interior, is filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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