Stonington fishermen say wind farm developer not responding to their concerns

Stonington — Local fishermen say they've been waiting for months for Ørsted to respond to a host of concerns they've presented  about a proposed 75-turbine wind farm about a dozen miles southwest of Martha's Vineyard.

Joe Gilbert, who has a fleet of four commercial boats based at the Stonington Town Dock, said he met with John O'Keefe, head of marine operations for Ørsted, in March to discuss the "vast" concerns that he and other fishermen have ranging from potential environmental impacts to spacing in between turbines. The meeting, which lasted several hours, was productive with O'Keefe taking copious notes, Gilbert said.

"I thought it was the beginning of an open dialogue between the wind developer and the fishermen," Gilbert said. "I understand we have to try and coexist, and these folks came down wanting to know what our issues were to hopefully work with us so we would all be good neighbors."

Gilbert said he never heard back from O'Keefe about how Ørsted plans to address the issues, even after following up multiple times with him and other company officials. Eventually, he and a group of Stonington fishermen were offered a meeting in September with Matthew Morrissey, Ørsted's head of New England markets.

They reiterated their concerns, including those that required more immediate attention, such as a close call earlier in the year between a survey vessel and a fishing vessel in the waters south of Martha's Vineyard. Gilbert said the fishing vessel tried to communicate with the survey vessel to determine right of way, but the operators on the bridge of the survey vessel, which operates under the Marshall Islands flag, did not speak English.

Morrissey "promised a two-day response" to address their concerns, Gilbert said, but he and the others still haven't heard back.

"What started out from the fishermen's perspective as an open dialogue toward coexistence became nothing but stalls and delays," Gilbert said, and that's resulted in a loss of trust among fishermen.

Lauren Burm, head of public affairs for Ørsted, in an emailed statement to The Day, did not directly address the company's alleged lack of response to the fishermen, but said "sharing marine resources is critical not only to the success of offshore wind but for larger efforts to create a sustainable energy source."

"We understand the challenges that can come with co-existence in the ocean, including Connecticut's deeply-rooted fishing industry," Burm said.

Burm said in response to feedback from fishermen and community members, Ørsted revised its turbine layout pattern to "accommodate historical fishing patterns and ease transiting."

In addition to the wind farm south of Martha's Vineyard, which will provide a combined 700 megawatts of power to Connecticut and Rhode Island, Ørsted and its partner, Eversource, last month submitted to state regulators several proposals to provide more offshore wind power to Connecticut.

Ørsted is the first in the industry to partner with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies with an interest in improving the compatibility of new offshore development with their businesses, and recently participated in a meeting with regulators, developers and commercial fishermen to discuss ways to co-exist as we develop the offshore wind industry here in the U.S, Burm said.

"It is a work in progress, but we will continue to work with Connecticut fishermen and fishermen up and down the East Coast and listen to their questions and concerns," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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