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LI commercial fishing group, others sue to block wind farm auction

A commercial fishing boat is dwarfed by a

A commercial fishing boat is dwarfed by a turbine in Deepwater Wind's Block Island wind farm, the first offshore wind array in the United States, summer 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

Commercial fishing groups have sued the federal government seeking to block a Long Island offshore wind-farm energy auction that is scheduled to take place next week.

The groups, including the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, seek a preliminary injunction to block the auction for a wind-energy area around 11 miles off the coast of Jones Beach. The groups say the auction and eventual construction of the wind farm would severely hamper fishing in the area.

Newsday has reported on the fishing groups’ long opposition to the offshore wind energy area, which they fear would limit access to historic fishing grounds and damage ecosystems. The proposed site is in commercial fishing grounds known as the New York Bight, where scallops, squid and other species are caught in large numbers.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is among 14 parties deemed eligible to bid for the right to erect a wind farm in 79,350 acres of water off Long Island’s southern shore. NYSERDA this year took on a project begun by LIPA in 2008, and plans to bid on the area next week, officials have said. NYSERDA recently completed a three-year study of offshore wildlife in the area.

Robert Vanasse, a spokesman for the fishing groups, said their representatives had attempted as recently as last week to work out a compromise on the areas designated for the wind-energy area, to no avail.

“It became obvious the administration had no interest in working cooperatively,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is overseeing the planned auction on Dec. 15, declined to comment on the suit, citing agency policy.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court for the District of Columbia, charges that the federal agency “never considered whether an alternative site would better protect pre-existing users of the New York wind-energy area and the benthic resources on which they rely.”

The suit, which names the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as defendants, charges that the bureau’s process for siting the wind farm “occurred in advance of public input and without consideration of alternative sites, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

The suit says developers seek to build a 127-square-mile wind farm of 194 turbines “on top of historic offshore fishing grounds that comprise important habitat for a wide range of fish species, as well as protected right whales and sea turtles, in an area that is sandwiched precariously between the shipping lanes into and out of New York Harbor.”

Longtime offshore wind proponent Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, expressed doubt that the “irreparable harm” claim in requesting an injunction could be met, given that a wind farm could be up to seven years from construction. He’s betting on a compromise.

“We obviously need commercial fishing but we also need to harvest offshore energy resources as well,” he said. “We need to find a way for both to take place.”

Bidding for the wind-energy area is scheduled to take place online on Dec. 15, with the opening bid of $158,700, said BOEM spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty.


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