Lawyers representing a host of fishing communities, associations, and businesses, led by scallop industry trade group the Fisheries Survival Fund, argued in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., yesterday against the lease sale of 127 square miles of ocean off the coast of Long Island for wind energy development. A ruling is expected in the coming days.
The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction against the wind farm lease, which the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) preliminarily awarded to Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil for $42.5 million at auction in December, arguing that the site of the project is in the middle of important fishing grounds, particularly for the valuable scallop and squid fisheries. They claim that allowing the lease sale to go through would cause irreparable harm to commercial fishermen and is unlawful.
The plaintiffs argued that the lease sale would have an immediate impact on fishing interests by giving the government and Statoil free rein to conduct a number of harmful actions, including installing a meteorological tower that could damage scallop beds, and performing sonic testing that studies suggest hurts fish populations. The plaintiffs also said that, should the lease proceed, additional investments make it nearly certain that a wind farm will be constructed, permanently restricting fishermen who make their livelihoods in the area.
Lawyers representing BOEM and Statoil countered that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate immediate and irreparable harm to their livelihoods, saying that any impact on fishermen would not happen for years, and that there would be time to address fishing concerns in future environmental assessments.
Federal law requires a balanced process that considers all stakeholders when developing wind energy projects, but the plaintiffs said that fishing concerns have not been properly addressed in the siting of the New York wind energy area.
BOEM estimates the value of fishing grounds in the proposed wind energy area at $90 million, a figure that the plaintiffs argued is too low because the government used less precise vessel trip reports instead of more accurate satellite-based vessel monitoring systems. The defendants argued that the lease siting process was transparent, including meetings with fishermen and multiple requests for information.
The plaintiffs responded that their more accurate information was ignored, the location of the wind farm was chosen in private, and fishermen never had a chance to advocate for alternative sites.
The plaintiffs maintained that their complaint was not against wind energy as a whole, pointing out that Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, Mass., a plaintiff in the case, has been an outspoken proponent of wind energy development. Specifically, they are challenging the use of the unsolicited bid process that allows private entities to claim part of the ocean for wind energy development.
The plaintiffs in the case are the Fisheries Survival Fund, the Garden State Seafood Association, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce, the Fishermen’s Dock Cooperative, the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance, the City of New Bedford, Mass., the Borough of Barnegat Light, N.J., the Town of Narragansett, R.I., SeaFreeze Shoreside, Sea Fresh USA, and the Town Dock. The case was heard by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.
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