Islanders want a say and the benefits from nearshore wind
A standing room only crowd packed the Katharine Cornell Memorial Theatre at a public hearing September 23 about the state's draft Ocean Management Plan (OMP). Had the energy from testimony during the three-hour hearing been harnessed to a wind turbine, the blade would have been spun usefully.
"We would like to say to the governor, yes we can, but it's 'we' - you have to come and talk to us," Dukes County manager Russell Smith said at last week's hearing.
Although the public hearing was the fifth and last in the comment phase on potential wind turbine development in state waters, state officials said they would plan to come back for further less formal discussions with Islanders. The public comment period for the draft plan ends November 23. The plan will be finalized by December 31.
A 17-member Ocean Advisory Commission (OAC) advised the Secretary of Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) in developing the ocean plan. Jo-Ann Taylor, the Martha's Vineyard Commission's (MVC) Coastal Planner and District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) Coordinator, served as the commission's OAC representative.
"From what I saw last night, I think Islanders, and more particularly their leadership, are committed to really working this out and getting what we want into the plan before it's finalized," she said in a phone call last Thursday morning.
This week, Ms. Taylor said she has been in contact with state officials about trying to schedule dates for further discussions with Islanders. An all-Island selectmen's meeting might provide a possible venue, she said.
Island leaders turned out in full force for the public hearing. The audience of about 100 included selectmen, Dukes County commissioners, Martha's Vineyard Commission staff, and community members. State Senator Robert O'Leary, who serves as a legislative member on the Ocean Advisory Commission, and state Representative Tim Madden also attended.
Deerin Babb-Brott, assistant secretary for Oceans and Coastal Zone Management in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), chaired the public hearing. Ocean services manager John Webber of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, who coordinated the plan's production, accompanied him.
Mr. Babb-Brott began with a brief overview of the draft OMP. As he explained, the plan would allow for small wind farms of 10 or fewer turbines off the immediate Vineyard coast and larger wind farms south and west of Nomans Land and west of Cuttyhunk.
The draft plan allows regional planning agencies such as the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) to allocate each coastal region's 10 wind turbines. The commercial-scale wind energy development areas could support up to 166 wind turbines capable of generating 3.6 megawatts each, roughly 600 megawatts in total, or enough to power up to 200,000 homes.
In addition to describing the nuts and bolts of the draft plan, Mr. Babb-Brott discussed concerns raised about the lack of consideration for scenic values and the choice of areas for commercial wind farm development, both near Martha's Vineyard.
Mr. Babb-Brott said that although the Oceans Act of 2008 does not specifically address the scenic impact of offshore wind developments, the issue has been raised often during the public hearing process. "It's a passionate issue," he said. "We understand that and respect that."
After establishing criteria for special, sensitive, or unique areas, the draft OMP identified only two wind energy management areas, both in Dukes County near Martha's Vineyard, Mr. Babb-Brott said.
Three other coastal areas considered as possibilities were eliminated because of factors such as water depth, a rocky ocean floor unsuitable for pilings, and recreational use. The area of the south coast of Martha's Vineyard also was taken off the list.
Mr. Babb-Brott also acknowledged many people's concern that the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) will override the authority local planning agencies such as the MVC in approving wind farm projects. He said the Oceans Act does not grant the EFSB any new authority. "Whatever goes forward will be the result of the public process," Mr. Babb-Brott said.
Before calling on people who signed up to speak, he requested that comments be kept to three minutes. Mr. Babb-Brott suggested speakers submit detailed written comments for the record. Many, however, read statements that were several typewritten pages in length.
A parade of public officials repeated the same themes, as did members of the public.
The visual impact of nearshore industrial-scale wind turbines was the most common concern. Island officials and community members alike also said they want the Vineyard to derive some benefit from having wind turbines in the "backyard." Although several participants also asked questions in their statements, Mr. Babb-Brott and Mr. Webber listened solemnly but did not respond.
"I have not heard from one individual opposed to wind farms," Representative Madden said. "But I think the people of Martha's Vineyard feel they need to have a say-so about what's going on."
Mr. Madden said he would like to see more local involvement in the decision-making process, particularly by the MVC, and local benefit to Islanders with lower energy rates. The impact on the Wampanoag Tribe should be considered as well, he added.
"The Tribe is not against wind power," said Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Bettina Washington. "Our issue is where it's placed."
Ms. Washington said wind turbines in the vicinity of Aquinnah would impact scenic ocean views and in turn, Wampanoag culture. "There is no other place like this for us. This is the Grand Canyon for us," she added.
A few speakers questioned the accuracy of data used in the draft plan. Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel complained that based on mapping depicting migratory bird flight patterns, "It looks like birds are teleported onto Nomans and Nantucket."
Town leaders were united in the opinion that the MVC should continue to maintain local control over energy projects in Vineyard waters and near its shores, and that the MVC's decisions on such proposals should trump the authority of the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board (ESFB).
The irony of the selectmen's "regional" stance was not lost on Oak Bluffs selectman Greg Coogan. "To see all of us unite so quickly on one issue is remarkable," he said. "I think the turnout would be bigger tonight if people didn't know they have the MVC to protect them."
Several MVC commissioners also gave statements. "We want to emphasize this is a community that is passionately committed to renewable energy," Linda Sibley of West Tisbury said. The draft plan's allotment of 10 wind turbines might not be enough for the Island community, she added.
After remarking on how heartening the outpouring of support for the MVC was, Chilmark commissioner Doug Sederholm questioned why it would make sense to have the EFSB in Boston make final decisions for the Vineyard.
"As of now, only people in Dukes County will be impacted, and we need community benefit," Mr. Sederholm said. He suggested royalties of at least 50 percent should go to Martha's Vineyard and Cuttyhunk, as the communities most impacted.
MVC executive director Mark London recommended more consideration for projects in federal waters, more consideration of scenic values and their related economic impacts, and better definition of the authority of local boards and regional planning agencies. He also expressed concerns about management of special and unique ocean areas and emphasized the importance of involving the Wampanoag Tribe.
Chuck Digate, an offshore wind project developer, said for an offshore wind project to be economically viable, it has to be of scale, which translates to dozens and dozens of turbines. "I think most of the offshore projects will be in federal waters," he said, adding it would be important to have a federal and state task force on wind energy projects.
To submit comment on the draft plan and for transcripts and videos of public hearings, visit the website commpres.env.state.ma.us/mop/.