Feds comment on Ocean Plan
Plan lacks details on protected species
With less than one month before Massachusetts environmental officials are expected to sign off on the draft Ocean Management Plan, Vineyard critics were buoyed recently by a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to the state. FWS said the plan lacks an analysis of alternative wind energy areas in federal waters and does not fully address the risks to protected migratory bird species.
Thomas R. Chapman, FWS New England Field Office supervisor, included the criticism in a seven-page letter, dated Nov. 23, to Deering Babb-Brott, assistant secretary for oceans and coastal zone management in the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA).
"Overall, we find the concept of the Plan to be valuable and timely," FWS said. "The Plan is essentially a zoning map for the offshore waters under the state's jurisdiction."
But FWS found the plan lacking in detail, particularly with respect to laws and federal requirements in place to protect migratory birds.
The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled the draft Ocean Management Plan on July 1 as part of an effort to regulate and offer guidance to offshore developers of wind turbine installations, cables and pipelines, and sand mining projects.
It 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.
"In developing and implementing this Plan, Massachusetts needs to take all steps necessary to avoid or minimize impacts to migratory birds," FWS said.
FWS said the state had failed to adequately describe how the presence of protected bird species had influenced the designation of potential uses of the ocean areas.
"In particular, energy development is of great concern, as a commercial wind facility is possible off Nomans Land Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and smaller-scale wind facilities could be constructed off Monomoy and Nantucket NWRs," FWS said. "The performance indicators which are part of the evaluation measures for the Plan, including the suggested environmental indicators, are insufficient to determine actual impacts to wildlife that spend some or all of their life cycle in, on or over the open water ... While we are not in principle opposed to the designation of the area off Nomans Land Island NWR as a potential wind energy area, we emphatically state that considerably more detailed information about migratory birds, including their flight patterns and use of the waters and food sources located within potential wind facility areas, will be required before the Service can support any specific project proposal."
FWS asked EOEA to work closely with the FWS, conservation organizations, and municipalities on Martha's Vineyard to collect more baseline data.
FWS was also critical of the data used in the plan and gaps in data.
"This creates a sense of uneasiness about the quality of the data used throughout the Plan," FWS said.
"Additionally, not only does data need to be current and accurate, but data must be presented at the appropriate scale for management needs. Much of the data presented appear to be coarse scale data. Additional, fine-tuned data tied to a specific area will need to be collected to enable sound, accurate, unbiased decisions about the feasibility of proposed uses of the state's waters."
Ian Bowles, Secretary of the Massachusetts EOEA, had no comment on the Department of the Interior letter.
"All comment letters received during the public comment period, which ended Nov. 30, are under review by EOEA as we advance toward the Dec. 31 deadline for completion of the Ocean Management Plan," Lisa Capone, press spokesman said in an email to The Times. "In the meantime, we are not commenting on individual letters/comments at this time."
Andy Goldman of Chilmark, a leader of "Let Islanders Decide," a citizens group created to oppose the wind farm designations, had plenty to say about the FWS letter. Noting that he had served in various governmental capacities throughout his professional life, Mr. Goldman said, "I've never seen such a devastating comment by a governmental agency about the work of another governmental agency."
Mr. Goldman said the points FWS addressed make it clear that EOEA could not possibly comply by the end of the year. "This plan, insofar as it relates to Nomans and the waters of Martha's Vineyard is fatally flawed," Mr. Goldman said.
Mr. Goldman said the letter also highlights the lack of analysis that went into the designation of the commercial wind farm areas and did not fully consider alternatives in federal waters.
Mr. Goldman said the objections of FWS could not be dismissed lightly. "This group is not hostile to wind power," he said. "This is President Obama's Department of the Interior commenting on the plan of his friend Gov. Deval Patrick. We think it is a knockout."
Mr. Goldman and his wife Susan Heilborn are not resting on the FWS. The couple and their opposition group have hired the Washington law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal to underpin their objections.
The law firm sent a five-page letter dated December 10 to Mr. Bowles on behalf of Let Vineyarders Decide that emphasizes the requirement to comply with all federal regulations and urges EOEA to consider alternative locations.
The letter said, "The Plan should avoid making any suggestion that the state has pre-selected a particular site as the appropriate location for offshore wind power development, as a wind power facility would necessarily need to comply with federal environmental laws."
Vineyard objections to the Ocean Plan's designation of two areas south and west of Nomans Land and west of Cuttyhunk where wind farms could be developed have been the subject of recent coverage in Boston's two daily newspapers.
Readers who commented on the web have not been sympathetic and generally fallen back on the familiar characterization of the Vineyard as an Island of wealthy liberals.
In a story published December 7 in the Boston Herald, "Vineyard resists winds of change," reporter Laurel J. Sweet described the objections of a group of Islanders operating under the banner of "Let Vineyarders decide."
"Blazing a trail for renewable energy, Gov. Deval Patrick is alienating Martha's Vineyard's liberal rich and famous by pushing a plan to lease state waters for 166 450-foot-high wind turbines between the pristine vacation spots of Gay Head cliffs and Cuttyhunk Island," the story began.
The story featured a photo of Mr. Goldman and his wife Susan Heilborn in their Menemsha waterfront home, and described the couple as former New Yorkers and "generals of the grassroots uprising."
It also reported that, "James Feiner, a Vineyard real estate broker, claims he lost a $2-million-plus home sale on Gay Head this fall when his client - an environmentalist, no less - got wind of Patrick's plan and bolted."
The story attracted 177 web comments. One of the most highly rated, posted by a commenter identified as "RememberFan," said, "The liberal rich and famous are green unless it affects their back yard or million dollar view. They are all green if it doesn't bother them."
The residents of Cuttyhunk are generally more supportive of the wind farm designation off their shores than Vineyarders.
In a story published Dec. 11, "On Cuttyhunk Island, it's yes in my backyard," David Abel of the Boston Globe described the views of Nina Brodeur and other Cuttyhunk residents
"Unlike other seaside homeowners, including a vocal group of protesters about 8 miles to the east on Martha's Vineyard, Brodeur and her neighbors have decided they are willing to give up some of their serenity at the state's behest," Mr. Abel reported. "They say they can live with a wind farm."
The story said the wind farm proposal has created a rift between residents of the Vineyard and Cuttyhunk and called into question the authority of the Martha's Vineyard Commission to veto projects in the waters off the Elizabeth Islands.
Mark London, MVC executive director, said he is seeking clarification. Officials on Cuttyhunk said they do not want Vineyard officials to make the decision for them.
The Globe said the different positions may reflect the different cultures of the islands. It described Cuttyhunk as more working class and less welcoming of tourism than the Vineyard.
Asa Lombard IV, a 39-year-old carpenter and caretaker, told the Globe, "We just don't want the Vineyard telling us what to do. They have their Island; we have our island. They shouldn't control our waters.''
Interviewed by the Globe, Ian Bowles said, "The fact that the smallest community in the Commonwealth is responding, and their message is that they recognize their responsibility to address climate change, I find that very commendable.''
Of the 96 comments, the one most recommended by readers took the Vineyard to task. LeftTaxachusetts wrote, "I applaud Cuttyhunk. The whine of the NIMBY's elsewhere is so sickening. They come up with zero practical alternatives yet cry the most when the light doesn't come on when they flip the switch. It is quite refreshing to read this story."
Russ24 seconded that popular view: "Martha's Vineyard is populated by New York investment bankers and hedge fund operators. Cuttyhunk's residents are people who make an honest living. We should not be surprised that Vineyard people adopt the selfish, entitled, NIMBY attitude while Cuttyhunkers take the longer, more enlightened view."