County sponsored, but value of fishermen’s Cape Wind deal is secret

— File photo by Nelson Sigelman

In June, the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association (MVDCFA) announced that it had ended its federal lawsuit and entered into a settlement agreement with Cape Wind Associates for a still undisclosed amount of money.

Now, the Island-based association is laying the framework for the next step. In papers filed July 23 with the Office of the Secretary of State, the Menemsha Fishermen’s Preservation Trust Inc. was renamed the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, Inc. (MVFPT).

Warren Doty of Chilmark, who has spearheaded the creation of the fishermen’s association and the associated preservation trust, said the newly created and renamed nonprofit corporation would administer a permit bank designed to enable fishermen to buy into permit fisheries closed to new entries.

Mr. Doty, a Chilmark selectman, said the details of how best to navigate the maze of state and federal permit requirements and species quotas must still be worked out.

End of lawsuit

The Cape Wind facility would occupy a 25-square-mile section of Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound and generate a maximum electric output of 468 megawatts with an average anticipated output of 182 megawatts, according to federal documents.

In June 2010, MVDCFA filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the fishermen’s association and individually on behalf of association member Jonathan Mayhew to stop the Cape Wind project on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

The defendants were Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOE).

Mr. Mayhew is a longtime commercial fisherman and Chilmark selectman. He was a party to the settlement.

In a 16-page complaint, attorneys David Frulla and Shaun Gehan of Kelley Drye and Warren said the Cape Wind energy project would effectively end all commercial fishing on Horseshoe Shoal — prime, historic fishing grounds for Vineyard fishermen.

“Island fishermen are under a tremendous amount of regulatory pressure and are already struggling to make a living,” Mr. Frulla said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “There are other solutions and alternatives that could better safeguard both the environment and the only way of life for many local residents.”

Six weeks ago, on June 28, Mr. Doty and Mark Rodgers, communications director for Cape Wind Associates, announced that the lawsuit had been dropped and described the outlines of the settlement deal.

In formal remarks, the two representatives of Cape Wind and the Fishermen’s Association said they had agreed to work together “to establish a Martha’s Vineyard Permit Bank that will enable the purchase of commercial fishing permits for local commercial fishermen’s use and the promotion of ‘Vineyard wild-caught’ seafood.”

During a question and answer period that followed, Mr. Doty said that the association’s seven directors made the decision to settle. He said the Dukes County commissioners agreed, in executive session, to support the terms of the settlement.

Asked by The Times to describe the specifics of the financial settlement, Mr. Doty said, “We signed a confidentiality agreement that we would not disclose any financial terms of this settlement, so we are bound by this confidentiality agreement not to talk about any money involved.”

County is content

According to the county website, the county created the Fishermen’s Association on February 25, 2009.

The goals included representing Martha’s Vineyard on fishery issues, championing methods to make fishing sustainable and consistent with sensible environmental goals, and maintaining employment in the fishery industry.

On June 13, four of the seven county commissioners and acting county manager and county treasurer Noreen Mavor Flanders met in executive session with Mr. Doty and Wesley Brighton of Chilmark, a fisherman and MVDCFA board member.

According to recently released minutes, Mr. Doty told the commissioners that his group’s law firm had worked out a settlement deal with Cape Wind that would soon be made public.

Mr. Doty said the Association had agreed to end its lawsuit and work with Cape Wind “to establish safe fishing in the development area and to support the clean energy project.”

There was discussion about the role of Dukes County in the settlement by county commissioners Melinda Loberg, Carlene Gatting, Tristan Israel, and Lenny Jason. The minutes reflect that the commissioners voted to ask the county’s lawyer, Marcia Cini, to “clarify” whether the county needed to participate in the signing of the settlement agreement.

Although the Fishermen’s Association operates under the umbrella of Dukes County government, the commissioners signed off on the agreement without any request that Mr. Doty reveal the settlement amount.

Ms. Loberg, chairman of the commission, told The Times in a conversation following the public announcement of a deal that the commissioners agreed with the settlement. She said the county has provided the MVDCFA with administrative support and helped to administer grant money.

Asked why the commissioners had signed off without knowing the settlement figure, Ms. Loberg cited the confidentiality agreement Mr. Doty signed. Ms. Loberg said it was her sense of the meeting that the commissioners would rather not know. “I am not concerned as a commissioner,” she said.

Board members

According to Mr. Doty, the current MVDCFA board includes him, commercial fisherman and fellow selectman Jonathan Mayhew of Chilmark, Mr. Brighton, charter fisherman William “Buddy” Vanderhoop of Aquinnah, fisherman Steve Norberg of Edgartown, fisherman Billy Alwardt of Oak Bluffs, and Michelle Jones of Oak Bluffs.

The newly created MVFPT was created as a separate nonprofit, Mr. Doty said. That board is comprised of Mr. Doty, president; fisheries researcher Shelley Edmundson; treasurer, Katie Carroll of Chilmark, clerk; and contractor John Keene of Chilmark.

Mr. Doty said the MVFPT would act as a permit bank. He said he has been in discussions with state fisheries officials about how the bank might operate. “It is complicated,” Mr. Doty said, “because the permit banks that exist in Massachusetts are operating much more as quota banks, getting additional quota for people who already have permits, and one of our purposes is to get new people permits.”

In Massachusetts waters, permits are assigned to an individual, not a boat. In fisheries closed to new permits, existing permits can sell for thousands of dollars on the open market.

Mr. Doty said one option would be to assist individuals to buy permits “and then have some type of contractual agreement that the permit is never sold at a speculative profit and it continues to be fished out of Martha’s Vineyard and we have control over it so that it remains permanently in our pool, similar to affordable housing programs — but that’s very much under discussion. We haven’t taken any action yet.”

The Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha’s Vineyard would control the settlement money in a directed fund, Mr. Doty said. “The trust would have to apply to the Endowment for funding,” Mr. Doty said.

Asked again to name the settlement amount, Mr. Doty declined. “We signed a confidentiality agreement, so that’s a confidential amount,” he said.

Asked how, if he was acting under the auspices of the county umbrella, the amount could remain cloaked in secrecy, Mr. Doty said, “I don’t have an answer for that. I just know at this time we are keeping it confidential. You could discuss that with our attorney, but that’s where we are at this time.”

Ms. Cini could not be reached for comment.

Sell-out claimed

Tom Turner, a longtime Edgartown commercial pot fisherman, said not all fishermen supported the settlement with Cape Wind. Mr. Turner said the association represents a minority.

“Those of us that are out working on Horseshoe Shoal or adjacent to it, we don’t want any part of that,” he said.

Mr. Turner thinks that despite the assurances the association provided to pot fishermen that they would not be blocked, “The fact of the matter is once they start that project there is going to be a fence, there is going to be an electronic line and you will not be able to cross that line.”

Mr. Turner said that in his view, the DCFA succumbed to the enormous pressure Cape Wind was able to bring to bear on anyone who opposed it, and that includes the Division of Marine Fisheries and Mass Audubon.

“They (DCFA) were bought out,” Mr. Turner said. “It’s plain. The Wampanoags were asked to settle for a million dollars and declined.” He said the fact that the DCFA has so far refused to disclose the settlement amount is “all pretty cozy.”

Asked why he is not a member of the association he so freely criticizes, Mr. Turner said he spent a great deal of time and effort assisting the opponents of Cape Wind. He said that after participating in an Island fishermen’s co-op, an earlier short-lived version of the association, he decided to steer clear of the association.

“All of it has left a bad taste in my mouth, so I have sworn off, I can’t do it,” he said. “I poured a lot of effort into Cape Wind and I think I compromised my intestinal health.”

Not alone

Mr. Turner is not alone in his criticism of the association. In a statement issued days after the announcement of a settlement, the MA Fishermen’s Partnership, which claims to be the largest commercial fishing organization in the state, said it remains strongly opposed to Cape Wind.

“The fact that the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen have dropped their lawsuit against Cape Wind in exchange for monetary compensation does not change the fact that Cape Wind will devastate essential fish habitat in Nantucket Sound and put the livelihoods of many commercial fishermen at risk,” the Partnership said. “It is deplorable in such tough economic times that Cape Wind would stoop so low as to push fishermen to accept an arrangement that would harm the industry for generations to come.”

Where were you?

“Lawsuits take forever and rack up very large legal bills,” Mr. Doty said in response to the criticism. “We were in this lawsuit by ourselves, no one came to our assistance. The Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership one time gave us a $100, but it is thousands and thousands of dollars to keep a lawsuit going.”

The firm of Kelley Drye and Warren donated 75 percent of the cost of the legal action. That left the association with a legal bill of $25,000.

“We had a law firm that was willing to act pro bono up to $75,000,” he said. “We passed that amount and we anticipated that the lawsuit could go on for another 12 to 18 months, and we could not afford $400 an hour.”