A public hearing for Vineyard Wind’s proposed undersea cables that would run through Edgartown waters was cut off abruptly after several heated exchanges at a Martha’s Vineyard Commission meeting Thursday night.
Vineyard Wind plans to build an 84-turbine, 800-megawatt wind farm 14 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, but representatives from Vineyard Wind and Richard Andre, president of Vineyard Power, a Vineyard green energy company affiliated with Vineyard Wind, went before the commission seeking approval to place two undersea cables approximately 1.2 miles from the Edgartown shoreline, east of Chappaquiddick. Discussion and planning for the project, which would mark the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, has been extensive, but Thursday’s public hearing was held specifically to discuss the undersea cables that would send electricity from the wind turbines to a power station in Barnstable.
While discussion was supposed to be held strictly to cable talk, presenters and members of the public touched on climate change, Island housing, the benefits of wind turbines, and infrasound.
During Andre’s introduction of the project, he spoke about the environmental need for the commission to approve the cable project. “The planet is warming up at a rapid, rapid pace, and we as an Island community have a lot to lose, let alone the effects on mankind,” Andre said.
The only part of the Vineyard Wind project under the commission’s review is the cable, which would be 12.4 to 13.4 miles in length, running north to south. Vineyard Wind is permitting a 2,600- to 3,300-foot corridor in the water. There are two routes the cable may go.
The two 220-kilowatt export cables are tri-core, made of aluminum or copper. A highly engineered solid plastic insulation is used in lieu of fluid, to minimize chances of a leak. The cable will be buried under the seafloor.
“If it breaks, what happens underwater? Is it like throwing a toaster in a bathtub?” commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes asked.
Vineyard Wind vice president of permitting affairs Rachel Pachter said every inch of the project is closely monitored, and it all gets shut down if a part of the cable is inactive. The project calls for two cables in case one needs to be shut down.
The installation of the cables will begin with a survey and grappling hook run to make sure the path is clear of fishing gear and consistent with Vineyard Wind’s studies of the area.
Kate McEneaney, a senior consultant with Epsilon Associates working with Vineyard Wind, said a sled supported by a barge will be plowing a one-meter-wide trench to lay the cables and then bury them. The cable installation is done slowly. The barge moves at less than 1 knot. The process will take two to three weeks to traverse the portion along Edgartown waters.
Once the cable is installed, a survey will determine if the entire length is buried. Each cable should take two weeks to install, and it’s projected be done in the spring of 2021.
One of the primary concerns about the project is its effects on the North Atlantic right whale, an endangered species. Vineyard Wind is using technology to monitor and listen for whale activity, and will halt installation if whales are detected nearby.
While several members of the public gave their support for the project — echoing sentiments from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hearing last week — Helen Parker, a clinical psychologist, was the lone dissenter. Parker said she is an international expert on the human health impact of infrasound coming from large wind turbines.
Before Parker began her presentation, commissioner Richard Toole, who led the hearing and is a member of Vineyard Power, told her she had seven minutes to present her information and that information should be submitted beforehand. Toole reiterated that the hearing was strictly about the cables — not the wind farm.
Parker said wind turbines can emit Infrasound, which is sound below the level of human hearing, and that it can be hazardous to humans. “Infrasound is real. Its impact on human health has been known and documented, and then hidden for over 30 years,” Parker said.
Several commissioners were unperturbed by Parker, and said she was veering off-topic. “The Martha’s Vineyard Commission doesn’t have jurisdiction over the wind farm; that’s up to the federal government,” Toole said.
“Richard, you have jurisdiction over the cable … please give me seven minutes,” Parker said.
“You’re not talking about the cable,” Toole responded. “I’ve heard you talk about the noise from the wind turbines, which you say is going to be a problem.”
Arguments ensued between Parker and Toole.
“This is inappropriate. This [public hearing] is not about the wind farm, it’s about the cable,” Toole said.
Toole ignored Parker, and as she continued speaking about the turbines, asked if someone else from the public wanted to speak.
Parker asked for Barnes and commissioner Christina Brown to help her continue her presentation, but she was cut off by another person.
Ron Dagostino, a director at Vineyard Power, spoke over Parker, and voiced his support for the project. “I very much support this project. I hope you will too,” he said.
“Richard, can I ask my Chilmark person to stand up for me and allow me to speak?” Parker said, interrupting Dagostino.
Chairman Douglas Sederholm asked Parker to submit her testimony and graphics to the commission so they could be on record.
Parker called the auctioned-off square miles where the turbines are proposed to be built “ground zero,” and continued to speak before Toole hit the gavel and said the hearing was over.
Commissioners continued the hearing to March 21.
In other business, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) also had a public hearing about its three-phase master plan for its Oak Bluffs campus off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.
Commissioners opened the hearing at their last meeting in January, but continued it so South Mountain Co. architects could incorporate the commission’s suggestions into their design plan. South Mountain has also been in communication with Island Elderly Housing (IEH).
Some of the key changes were to traffic mitigation. South Mountain will make a one-way exit on a curb closest to Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, add stop signs at exits, 20 mph signs on the road, and a list of other additions. They also removed a few parking spaces, and an egress South Mountain was able to get under the commission’s nitrogen-loading limit.
Despite these changes, IEH wants a traffic study done by the commission on Village Road.
Sederholm said he didn’t think a traffic study was necessarily the answer, but felt the public hearing needed to continue so South Mountain, IEH, and MVC staff could work to address more of the design’s traffic issues. “I want to get this thing on the road, but this is not ready,” Sederholm said.
The hearing was continued to March 7, but may be pushed to March 21.
The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) got the green light to move ahead with its plans to install solar canopies at its homebase in the Airport Business Park. The canopies will cover existing parking spots for VTA buses and regular staff parking, with the aim of using solar energy to charge their electric buses.
Currently, the VTA has six fully electric buses running routes, and plans to convert its entire 32-bus fleet to electric in the next five years.
The commission closed out the evening by going into a rare executive session. The executive session was to “discuss possible litigation by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission against the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) regarding a development located in Aquinnah, Massachusetts. Specifically the tribe’s plan and activities to build a Class II gaming facility,” according to Sederholm.
Aquinnah selectmen sent the commission a letter last month asking the regional planning agency to review the tribe’s plans to build a gaming facility. Aquinnah believes the commission has jurisdiction over the property — the tribe says it does not.
At their last meeting, commissioners said they received the letter, but Aquinnah would have to submit a formal request.