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Wind turbine spacing plan inadequate for fishing safety

From the perspective of Connecticut’s commercial fishermen who provide over $53 million to our state’s economy, nearly 1,000 jobs and food on the table of countless consumers, I wanted to respond to the Nov. 19 Day article, "New England Wind Turbine Plan Proposed to Allay Concerns."

The four developers advancing offshore wind farms off Connecticut’s coast and competing for Connecticut’s energy contracts – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Orsted/Eversource and Vineyard Wind – released their proposal to the U.S. Coast Guard for how to consistently position turbines across the region in a way that they believe will satisfy safety concerns raised by commercial fishermen and other mariners.

"This uniform layout is consistent with the requests of the region’s fisheries industry and other maritime users," they said in a press release. It "will allow mariners to safely transit from one end of the New England Wind Energy Area (WEA) to the other without unexpected obstacles."

It is unclear to me and other fishermen what industry requests these developers are responding to. This proposal certainly does not reflect the position of the Connecticut mobile gear fishermen, i.e., trawlers and scallopers. In fact, the report that this proposal is based on does not even identify Connecticut’s port in Stonington as having a scallop fishery at all. Nor does it mention or account for the needs of the New London commercial fishing fleet. With such an omission, how can the report address the needs of Connecticut’s fishermen? By the report’s own admission, the data used for this analysis may only account for as little as 40% of the total fishing vessels that may transit or fish in the WEA.

If the wind developers were sincere in listening to the requests of the fishermen, they would have known the industry consensus for years has been for two-nautical-mile spacing between turbines, not one mile as they propose. Mariners have also requested four-mile wide transit lanes that serve fishermen from all affected ports.

It is unclear to us how this unsupported proposal will benefit commercial fisheries or promote fishing vessel navigational safety. The proposed one-nautical-mile spacing between turbines neither allows for safe transit nor viable fishing, at least from the mobile gear fishery’s perspective. Fishermen neither transit nor fish based on an east-west or north-south orientation. We fish on contours based on depth, and we transit on geographic diagonals to and from our fishing grounds. Simply put, we were not consulted on this proposal, have not supported this proposal in the past, and do not support it now.

Critically, this report makes no mention of the likely potential for radar interference that the turbines might cause either for vessels transiting or skirting the lease area. Such dangerous interference (or radar scatter) must be considered when determining safe distances between turbines and the need for safe transit lanes wide enough to accommodate two lanes of vessel traffic with no radar interference. What is perhaps most disturbing to us is the wind developers’ assertion that the fishing industry now does not need transit lanes at all other than the one nautical mile east-west lanes created by their proposed standardized layout.

We have discussed at length with these developers the need for transit lanes at many meetings and workshops held around the region. To anyone who attended these meetings it was evident that the fishing industry needed and requested transit lanes in both east-west directions and diagonally through the wind areas.

Fishing vessels and all mariners operate in different ways throughout WEA and it is true fishermen have different points of view regarding many aspects of wind energy development. Yet, despite these differences, the one position that has absolute agreement amongst the large number of vessel owners is that transit lanes through WEA must be a minimum of four-nautical-miles wide in order to accommodate safe passage.

For the developers to ignore the input they received at these meetings and workshops and say “we are being responsive to fishing industry needs” is extremely disingenuous.

Most importantly, any turbine layout must be supported by evidence that the pattern of turbines minimizes all risks to fishing and scientific survey vessel operators based on analyses of radar interference, insurance limitations, operability of search and rescue operations, and other environmental factors. Such a scientific and comprehensive study is currently underway by the Coast Guard to evaluate navigational safety through the WEA. We suggest the wind turbine developers look to the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study, which may conclude their recommendations as early as January 2020.

Commercial fishermen would rather wait on the results of the scientific study from the Coast Guard before accepting the wind industry's plan.

Joe Gilbert has been a fisherman/shellfish farmer in Connecticut since 1980. Joe and his wife, Nancy Follini, founded Briarpatch Enterprises and Empire Fisheries, a Connecticut aquaculture/fishing company. He is active in legislative and regulatory issues, collaborative ocean science, environmental stewardship, and education.




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