BOEM reaches out to RODA, acknowledges need to improve communication
Four months after fishing industry leaders wrote a letter to the head of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management about the then-pending decision on the Vineyard Wind project, the federal agency finally responded and agreed to work on improving communications between the two sides.
In a release, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) said it received the five-page letter from BOEM Director Amanda Lefton on Tuesday, 10 August. In that letter, Lefton acknowledged the industry’s “serious concerns” regarding the decision-making process on Vineyard Wind and whether fishing interests were being considered in the agency’s decisions on the permitting of other wind-turbine arrays along the U.S. East Coast.
RODA sent a letter on 6 April, 2021, signed by 1,665 fishing community representatives from across the country. That letter called for a “transparent” planning process for offshore wind projects and requested that the agency’s decisions on offshore wind energy developments incorporate a dozen recommendations to protect fishing interests. The RODA letter also noted that announcements about fast-tracking offshore projects have not included any commitments to resolving conflicts between energy producers and commercial fishermen.
Five weeks later, on 11 May, the U.S. Interior Department announced the record of decision authorizing the Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts. That decision included agreements with Massachusetts and Rhode Island to provide millions of dollars in compensation to fishermen for revenue and gear losses. The undisclosed amount of funding could also be used for helping fishermen “enhance their ability” to work in and around the leased area.
At that time, RODA said it was shocked that the federal agencies, including NOAA Fisheries, would agree to such a decision.
In the response letter, Lefton noted that the government picked an east-west grid layout that was proposed by “a large segment” of commercial fishing stakeholders in the area. Also, BOEM has taken out of consideration several tracts in the northeastern Atlantic because of fishing interests.
Separately from the Vineyard Wind project,Lefton also noted the agency is looking at ways to further engage with commercial fishing stakeholders.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has limited in-person meetings, it has also demonstrated the effectiveness of virtual collaboration,” Lefton wrote. “In collaborations with the fishing industry such as the July and August fishery-specific meetings regarding the New York Bight proposed sale notice – including the discussions we have begun with RODA this year – we will aim to provide meaningful opportunities for dialogue.”
In a statement released Thursday, 12 August, RODA said there was no reason to “relitigate” the technical subject matter, and praised the agency’s acknowledgement of fishing-related objections and issues. But it also said BOEM has thus far offered scant proof its decision-makers have seriously considered alternatives that would significantly reduce the impact wind turbines might have on fisheries.
“RODA greatly appreciates … Lefton’s reply and applauds her efforts to open a door to direct communications with fishing communities that will be impacted by offshore wind energy development. We look forward to more frequent, transparent, communication in the future,” the association said in its statement.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management