State's Ocean plan gets Vineyard hearing
Vineyarders will have an opportunity to weigh in on the particulars of a comprehensive ocean management plan that would allow for small wind farms of 10 or fewer turbines off the immediate Vineyard coast and larger wind farms to be developed south and west of Nomans Land and west of Cuttyhunk.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) will hold a public hearing at 5 pm Wednesday in the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven. The hearing is one of five being held in coastal communities across the state to take comment on the draft Ocean Management Plan (www.mass.gov/eea/ mop), which was unveiled by the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick on July 1.
The draft plan would allow for small wind farms of 10 or fewer turbines off the immediate Vineyard coast and larger wind farms to be developed south and west of Nomans Land and west of Cuttyhunk.
The ocean management plan is part of an effort to regulate and offer guidance to offshore developments, including wind turbines, cables and pipelines, and sand mining projects. Up to now, development in state waters has been handled on an ad hoc basis.
Six regional planning agencies would be charged with helping to review wind projects of up to 10 turbines in each coastal zone.
The prospect of a commercial wind farm within sight of the Vineyard has some Island officials concerned, most notably the Chilmark board of selectmen.
Other Island boards of selectmen have not yet taken a position. The All Island Board of Selectmen was expected to discuss the issue at a meeting last night.
The Dukes County commission sent a letter dated September 10 to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) that seeks to create a District of Critical Planning Concern for all Island waters out to the three-mile limit.
The Commission wrote, "... it appears that the Ocean Act along with the Ocean Plan will usurp and forgo any local input or control. These waters are immediately off of our island, and any development there will undoubtedly have a direct impact on our community."
A DCPC designation would allow Martha's Vineyard's powerful regional permitting authority to enact regulations, subject to voter approval, for all activities on Island waters including wind turbines.
On Monday the Chilmark planning board followed suit and voted to send a letter to the Martha's Vineyard Commission formally requesting a DCPC designation. Some Island officials are pushing for a DCPC designation that would encompass all Island land and waters.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission is expected to discuss the Ocean Act tonight.
Jo-Ann Taylor, the Martha's Vineyard Commission's coastal planner, has closely watched the legislation and been involved with the planning effort. In a telephone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times Tuesday she said that the MVC has only heard from a few people. She said it would be difficult to characterize the Vineyard's position as a whole.
Ms. Taylor said that Martha's Vineyard Commission's authority over projects extends to the limits of state waters, three miles. But the current legislation does not specify the MVC's review parameters. That leeway could allow the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board to supersede MVC decisions with regard to wind turbine projects.
One way to bolster the Martha's Vineyard Commission's authority would be to press for more specifics in the draft Ocean Plan, Ms. Taylor said. But that position also exposes Martha's Vineyard to outside forces that may be beyond the MVC's regulatory control.
"We really have a lot of work to do to get what we want out of this comment period," Ms. Taylor said, adding that the best way to have changes accepted during the comment period would be to speak with a unified Vineyard voice.
Cause for concern
In an email to the Martha's Vineyard Commission last week from the Chilmark board of selectmen, selectman J.B. Riggs Parker said the commission's enabling legislation provides the MVC with the authority "to address the vistas, avian flyways, wildlife sanctuaries, and commercial fishing industries around the Vineyard, all of which are essential to the economy of the Island."
On behalf of his board Mr. Parker asked the commission to exercise its power to create districts of critical planning concerns "and whatever else is required to protect our waters for existing and proposed commercial fishing and the vistas and airways over both land and sea so essential to our tourist economy from the development of commercial industrial wind farms inconsistent with these essential economic assets."
In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Parker, who has been critical of the ways in which the Martha's Vineyard Commission has exercised its regulatory authority in the past, most recently over the Middle Line Road affordable housing project in Chilmark, distinguished between then and now. He said he has been critical of the MVC as it is operating today, but is not critical of the original commission. He said this issue provided an opportunity for the commission to get back to its roots and protect Martha's Vineyard.
Speaking Monday at the Edgartown selectmen's meeting, veteran selectman Arthur Smadbeck asked his fellow board members to support the regulatory powers of the towns and the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"The Martha's Vineyard Commission is unique," Mr. Smadbeck said. "It's pretty much the only agency in Massachusetts that has total control and oversight over the well-being of the natural resources on Martha's Vineyard. The state, up to this point, has respected that. Any change in that would be terrible for Martha's Vineyard."
Although he has been critical of the Martha's Vineyard Commission in the past, Mr. Smadbeck said, "We can have our own internecine squabbles and we can have our own disagreements, but when it comes time for the state coming down here and doing something to this body that protects us, I think we can all pull together."
Island Plan wind
The Ocean Management Plan hearing follows the release last month of the draft Island Plan (www.islandplan.org), the Martha's Vineyard Commission's multi-year planning effort intended to provide guideposts and recommendations for the future.
Under the heading "Energy and waste," the Island plan sets out a goal of ensuring that the Vineyard community obtain "as much of its energy as possible from sources that are renewable and, increasingly, local."
The plan includes a target to produce or offset energy by relying on community-owned, offshore wind turbines and references fifty 500-foot high turbines.
Against the backdrop of the Island Plan, in a September 11 memo titled Ocean Management Plan Martha's Vineyard Commission staff comments, Mark London, MVC executive director, outlined concerns and provided eight recommendations.
These include more consideration for projects in federal waters, more consideration of scenic values and their related economic impacts and more specific language stating that "all developments in the ocean, including commercial wind, are subject to the normal review and permitting procedures of towns and regional planning agencies with regulatory authority."
In his memo, Mr. London also questioned the methodology used to designate the state's only two Wind Energy Areas and place both in Dukes County. He said there is an "impression on the part of some public officials on Martha's Vineyard that the choice was more political than scientific."
Mr. London said it appears "that these wind farms have been located as far from the majority of the Massachusetts population and as close to the Rhode Island border as possible, and that they have been placed in three towns with populations too small to be able to protest effectively." He added, "It has been suggested that the people of the Vineyard are prepared to bear their share of the load associated with developing more renewable energy along with everyone else; but that doesn't seem to be what is happening."
In an email to The Martha's Vineyard Times on Tuesday, Mr. London said recent comments contained in a staff memo do not contradict the Island Plan's focus on wind power. "The draft Island Plan outlines how the Vineyard could produce all its own energy by increasing efficiency and with renewable energy production near the Vineyard, not specifying whether this would be in state or federal waters," he wrote. "The current discussion about wind energy production over the next month or two will provide timely feedback as to what the implications of this are, and how the community feels about this. This will presumably be reflected in the final version of the Island Plan at the end of the year."