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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Massachusetts Offshore Wind Farm Dodges Lawsuits over Environmental, Fishing Concerns

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

October 16, 2023

Credit: Avangrid

Credit: Avangrid

A U.S. judge has rejected challenges to federal environmental permits and construction approvals for a $4 billion offshore wind farm near Massachusetts, which commercial fishing groups have claimed will harm whales and impair their businesses.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston last Thursday tossed the final two federal district court lawsuits directly challenging the Vineyard Wind project roughly 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, which would be the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the country.

Commercial fishing groups including Seafreeze Shoreside Inc and the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance had challenged federal environment and construction permits for the project in two lawsuits filed in 2021 and 2022. They had claimed construction on the 62-turbine farm would cut fishermen off from valuable fishing areas and destroy the habitat of the North Atlantic right whale.

But Talwani said the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act gives regulators at the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) discretion to balance the economic concerns of fishermen with the need for the development of offshore renewable energy projects, which are key to federal plans to decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.

She found the fishing groups had not adequately shown their fishing business interests could be seriously harmed if whales are injured or harassed during construction, and so cannot sue over those concerns.

Talwani also said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had adequately considered alternative paths for a 23.3-mile dredged corridor to connect turbines and other equipment with cables when issuing a Clean Water Act permit.

Vineyard Wind spokesperson Andrew Doba said in a statement Friday the company was pleased with the decision and remains committed to working with stakeholders to "set the highest possible standards" for the project.

Representatives for the plaintiffs and the Army Corps didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. The Interior Department, which oversees BOEM, declined to comment.

The Vineyard Wind project is owned by Avangrid, a part of Spanish Iberdrola, and Danish green energy investor Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. It will generate 800 megawatts of electricity when complete, enough to power more than 400,000 homes, and has been lauded by the Biden administration as a major step toward combating climate change.

The project is currently under construction and is expected to be fully operational next year.

Talwani rejected two other lawsuits challenging federal approvals earlier this year, finding federal regulators had not violated the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act or the National Environmental Policy Act when reviewing the project.

Those decisions are currently being appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The cases are Seafreeze Shoreside Inc v U.S. Department of the Interior and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance v. U.S. Department of the Interior, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, case Nos. 1:22-cv-11091 and 1:22-cv-11172.

For the Seafreeze fishing group plaintiffs: Ted Hadzi-Antich and Connor Mighell of the Texas Public Policy Foundation

For the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance: Ira Zaleznik of Lawson & Weitzen and Roger Marzulla and Nancie Marzulla of Marzulla Law

For the U.S. Interior Department: Luther Hajek, Mark Brown and Perry Rosen of the U.S. Department of Justice

For the developer: David Buente, Jack Pirozzolo and Peter Whitfield of Sidley Austin

(Reuters - Reporting by Clark Mindock)