Chilmark selectmen won’t endorse Bay State Wind project

Board approves 16 articles for special town meeting, including nearly a half-million in Menemsha repairs.

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Former Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson, in the foreground, at the Chilmark selectmen's meeting on Tuesday, where he represented Bay State Wind. Chilmark's director for the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative Rob Hannemann, right, and Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren, left, also attended. —Rich Saltzberg

On Tuesday night Chilmark selectmen refused to pen a letter of support for Bay State Wind’s bid to construct a wind farm approximately 12 miles south of Nomans Land, the uninhabited Island off Aquinnah technically belonging to Chilmark.

Bay State Wind agent and former Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson came before the selectmen to follow up on an Oct. 30 letter he sent the board, seeking the town’s support. Bay State Wind is a Dong Energy/Eversource wind farm project

“The letter is part of the bidding process the utility companies have asked all three bidders to provide from various agencies, the Wampanoag Tribe, the six municipalities on the Vineyard and New Bedford, as well as elected representatives in state and federal government,” he wrote. “Bay State Wind, Vineyard Wind, and Deepwater LLC will all be seeking these letters of support. I do hope that Bill [Rossi], Jim [Malkin], and Warren [Doty] favor the project, as it will be an economic resource for the Vineyard and ultimately help the New England community become ‘greener’ in its ever-growing need for energy.”

Mr. Doty described the proposed wind farm as an “industrial plant” on the ocean composed of “skyscraper-size turbines — biggest turbines in the world,” and expressed displeasure that the electricity the turbines would generate would travel to Somerset instead of the Vineyard, and that the construction headquarters for the turbines would be in New Bedford.

“Yes, a lot of the benefit will go to the South Coast of Massachusetts, especially during the construction phase,” Mr. Wilson said. “Ultimately there may be an O&M [operations and maintenance] facility established here on the Island.” Community benefit from the project would “probably” come from a type of endowment fund financed by Bay State Wind that would dole out Island-based grants, Mr. Wilson said. Language to that effect is part of the Bay State Wind bid package, he said.

Mr. Doty was unimpressed by the notion of an endowment, arguing that it was an ill-defined concept, and he keyed in on the word “probably.”

“If Bay State Wind within the next few months established an electrician’s training program at the Martha’s Vineyard [Regional] High School in our vocational department, where they spend some real money helping kids get trained to work on these turbines, then maybe I could be convinced,” he said.

Mr. Wilson said in response that Vineyard Wind is exploring training and continuing-education options. He also noted that DONG — Danish Oil and Natural Gas — has changed its name to Orsted because the company now only targets renewable energy.

Mr. Doty described it as “an honorable company,” and the only one of the three bidders flush enough to self-finance construction. He said it was also good about communicating with fishermen about survey activities. However, Mr. Doty warned turbine construction and laying sea cable will stir up a lot of sediment in the water column.

“As it resettles, it could do real damage to the environment where our shellfish and lobsters live, and the lobstermen in Menemsha don’t feel that has been adequately addressed,” he said.

Mr. Wilson said in response that the stakeholders and other involved parties are cognizant of the issue, and “will be right on top of that once the permitting does go forward,” he said.

“Not that I agree with Warren, but I support him,” harbormaster Dennis Jason said. “I think he’s on the right track.” Mr. Jason acknowledged the lobster issue, but argued that “mobile gear fishing” will be “forever impacted” by the wind farm. He pointed out Rhode Island yellowtail fishermen, among others, aren’t happy with the projects, and that “draggers will be kept out” of the wind turbine area.

Rob Hanneman, Chilmark’s director for the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, and a Tufts engineering professor, said that it appears to be a “glossed-over” fact that three entities are competing for long-term contracts from the commonwealth and that “it’s not entirely clear” that all three projects will go forward.

“It turns out that one of the concerns I have with the DONG Energy proposal,” he said, “is that DONG is actually owned to a considerable degree by Eversource, and while the legal structure that they put together to be able to bid on this is no doubt legal, it doesn’t feel necessarily appropriate that our friends at Eversource are going into the generation business,” he said. Mr Hannemann noted with skepticism that Eversource claims there is a wall separating the part of Eversource that sends out electric bills and the part of Eversource that aims to set up the marine wind farm. He asked the selectmen to consider this when weighing the decision to support the project.

In response to Mr Doty’s previous concern about the power generated from the wind farms going to the mainland or even Long Island, as opposed to the Vineyard, depending on the bidder, Mr. Hanneman said the need to curb carbon emissions in the region outweighed the value of a direct power link to the Island. He said the deleterious effects of not greening power generation will be evident in Chilmark in the near future. “We’ll be wondering why in fact the Squibnocket project needs to be done over again 10 years from now,” he said.

Mr. Rossi told Mr. Wilson that while he supports renewable energy, what he heard so far had raised further questions. He also acknowledged that fishermen have concerns with turbine construction process.

“So my recommendation, depending on how Warren feels, is to just take no action and really not send any letter, and just wish you all luck,” he said.

The selectmen agreed to take no action on the Bay State Wind letter request.

Menemsha expenditures

The selectmen discussed a written estimate for a new electrical service and accompanying wiring and fixtures, such as lighthouse marine pedestals, provided by Powers Electric, Inc., the electrical design and construction company owned by Chilmark inspector of wires Cole Powers. Mr. Powers’ estimate came in at $243,050; the largest portion that sum — $140,000 — was assigned to excavation costs. Mr. Rossi pointed out that Mr. Doty walked the dock and bulkhead area where the work is intended with Mr. Jason and town executive secretary Tim Carroll, and therefore has a decent handle on the scope of the work, in selectman Jim Malkin’s absence. Mr. Doty noted that a great deal of asphalt and concrete needs to be pulled up as part of the installation, and that a leg of that excavation involves a cabling trench that will loop around the Menemsha Texaco. The cable to be buried will pass beneath the fuel lines feeding the station’s gas pumps, he said. Mr. Cole’s estimate noted that it does not account for fees Eversource may charge as part of the work.

“Does this have to go to bid?” Mr Rossi asked.

“Certainly,” Mr. Carroll said. He added that the figure was an initial step in getting an appropriation onto the warrant for the special town meeting scheduled Nov. 27.

“I’m not quite sure Cole’s plan is complete,” Mr. Jason said. He said “detail regarding what we call the miners cable” — a wire extended out and back from the transient dock — isn’t evident in the quote.

Chilmark struggled with electricity leaks in Menemsha over the course of the past season that resulted in several people receiving “tickles” and shocks when they came in contact with the water. In addition to the general electrical infrastructure improvements the installation will provide, the town hopes the work will nix the stray voltage from harbor waters.

The selectmen returned to the electrical work in Menemsha when discussing warrant articles for the upcoming special town meeting. Article 7 seeks $126,000 to replace 42 pilings in Menemsha Harbor at $3,000 each, and Article 6 seeks $350,000 for electrical work in Menemsha Harbor.

Mr. Doty balked at the sum, pointing out that it greatly exceeded Mr. Cole’s estimate.

Mr. Carroll called Mr. Cole’s estimate a “starting point,” with “many other options” not yet fleshed out.

Mr. Rossi urged keeping the article at $350,000. “If we don’t spend it, we don’t spend it,” he said.

“The two harbor articles here add up to half a million dollars,” Mr. Doty said. “That’s an extraordinary sum. And I think they both could be amended down. Having a special town meeting where we spend a half a million dollars is a very significant, special town meeting.” Mr. Doty added that he could not recall ever attending a special town meeting where such large sums were on the warrant.

“I’m uncomfortable reducing it right now,” Mr. Rossi said. “We want to make sure it’s done right, especially after the experience we had.”

Gaining Squibby

The selectmen briefly discussed Article 1, which would authorize the town to accept ownership of Squibnocket Beach — waterfront Chilmark now leases from Squibnocket Farm, Inc., and to also provide a permanent access easement to Squibnocket Farm, Vineyard Open Land Foundation, and other parties that have property south of the beach. No fees are included in the article. Mr. Doty described the wording of the article as “complex.” Mr. Rossi said he hoped town counsel Ron Rappaport would further explain the article.

In total, the selectmen approved 16 warrant articles.

In other business, the selectmen voted unanimously to approve a common victualler license for Josh Aronie’s Menemsha Food Truck from Nov. 6 to May 15. They also agreed to hire John Keene Excavation to patch potholes on Boathouse Road, much of which runs through Aquinnah.