Updated Feb. 14
A team from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) came to the Vineyard Tuesday night to gather public comment on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for Vineyard Wind’s proposed wind farm some 15 miles south of Aquinnah, and got a earful of enthusiastic support.
After a brief presentation on the EIS process, audience members in the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center took a seat facing BOEM officials Christine Davis, Bill Brown, and Brian Krevor.
Bill Lake, director of Vineyard Power, a Vineyard green energy company affiliated with Vineyard Wind, said the project would be impactful in the quest to combat climate change.
“I think my principal point is in considering the environmental impact statements of the project, it’s very important to keep them in perspective,” he said. “Any project of this size will have some local impacts. The draft impact statement identifies those impacts and the steps that are possible to minimize them. But the far greater impact of this project will be the positive contribution it will make to meeting the existential threat posed by climate change. The speed at which our climate is changing and the effects, both those we’re feeling now and those that are predicted, are just staggering. Few things could be as important as reducing carbon emissions by moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and this project will be a huge step in that direction.”
Greer Thornton, co-owner of Atria in Edgartown, said she spoke on behalf of her family in support of the Vineyard Wind project.
“As a year-round resident and business owner on Martha’s Vineyard for 20 years, I would like to express my total support for the Vineyard Wind project,” she said. “This project is so needed at this critical time, a time when we may be able to repair, may be able to repair, the severe damage we’ve made to our planet through irresponsible use and production of fossil fuels. In addition to creating much-needed year-round jobs for this Island and its residents, this project could catapult us to compete with the global initiative to be more sustainable and economically viable. If we do not do this now, we will lose on all fronts.”
Nicola Blake, an environmental scientist at the University of California, said the project was particularly right for the commonwealth. “In terms of mitigating climate change, as you know the scientific consensus is that the ocean-atmosphere-terrestrial climate system has already absorbed dangerously large amounts of extra heat, energy, and CO2, which is an acid, a weak acid, because of fossil fuel emissions such that it’s probably at a tipping point in terms of extreme weather, sea level rise, ocean health, et cetera,” she said. “So also I want to lend my voice to the fact that we cannot afford to wait longer for the transition to renewable offshore wind energy — wind energy is our best option for Massachusetts, given its abundance.”
Rob Hannemann, chairman of Chilmark’s energy and finance committees and a former Tufts engineering professor, said the project was an important step in reducing dependency on fossil fuels. “It’s very clear we will need to cut our fossil fuel usage by 50 percent by the year 2030 from where we sit today,” he said. “That is not going to happen without many projects such as the Vineyard Wind project.”
Speaking on behalf of Tisbury’s board of selectmen, selectman Melinda Loberg said the town was pleased to welcome Vineyard Wind’s yet-to-be-built operation and maintenance facility to the Packer marine terminal on Beach Road, and emphasized the “positive economic impact of jobs, of training our young people,” the facility would bring.
“We are enthusiastic. We can’t wait for this to happen,” she said of the facility and the overall wind farm project.
Loberg described Tisbury as “the gateway town to the Island,” and said it’s especially susceptible to climate change.
“We feel the effects of climate change early in our harbor,” she said. “We’re very vulnerable to storm[s] and sea level rise. As a matter of fact, I think we should all pay attention to the roadway through which all visitors who arrive to the Island on the ferry and material that comes to Packer’s wharf has to travel. This is a roadway that takes people to our hospital and to our neighboring town, and it’s already being undermined by high tides and rainstorms.”
Hunter Moorman, a West Tisbury resident and member of the Massachusetts Chapter of Elders Climate Action, said two recent news items are omens of climate change and underscore the urgency of tackling it.
“Polar bears driven south by the premature breakup of polar ice are now marauding in Russian islands in the Arctic,” he said, disrupting community life, threatening children on their way to school, and and even mauling two residents to death. This phenomenon is the result of the melting polar ice cap, which contributed to the steady rise in global sea levels and also to the diminished ability of the ice sheet to reflect the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere.”
He went on to say the world insect population is in peril, based on reports of “a more than 40 percent decline in the world insect population that ‘threatens the collapse of nature,’ and signals unmistakably the launch of the sixth great extinction.”
Moorman said Vineyard Wind could offer some regional and global relief. “Vineyard Wind addresses one of the chief causes of such calamities, global warming caused in large part by greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere,” he said. “This project, this Vineyard Wind project, will achieve over 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide reductions. That’s the equivalent of taking 325,000 cars off the road, along with sizable reductions in nitrous and sulphur dioxides.”
There were a few words of caution, however. Megan Ottens-Sargent of Aquinnah and Wes Brighton of Chilmark both warned that wind farm construction could be perilous for the critically endangered right whale.
Brighton, a commercial fisherman and board member of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, said pile-driving for monopiles could negatively impact both right whales and recently rebounded haddock stocks. He said the project lease area is a type of haddock nursery.
“That exact area is called the Old Haddock Grounds. If you talk to old-timers, that was where a lot of great fishing occurred, and it’s a reproductive area for them.” Brighton advocated for the use of bubble shields or walls as a way to mitigate the acoustic shock generated by pile-driving.
Ottens-Sargent asked if there was a way to put the brakes on the project should some critical flaw be discovered late in the process. While BOEM officials generally kept silent during the commentary period, Krevor said BOEM has the authority to halt construction if something dire is unearthed after the EIS is finalized.
Alice Berlow expressed her support for the project, but said also, “BOEM, B-O-E-M, you guys and Vineyard Wind, we’re watching you. We want you to do this right and we will continue to watch you — hold you accountable to our communities … So I support you, but I want to say that we’re not stopping here, OK?”
Updated to correct the spelling of two names. -Ed.