DMR asks for lobstermen’s input on offshore wind project

STONINGTON—Officials with the state Department of Marine Resources met with lobstermen on May 12 to talk about ongoing offshore wind development efforts in the Gulf of Maine and to get input on a proposed wind turbine test site.

The state is working on plans for a floating offshore wind research array that would test out wind turbine technology and its effects on the environment and fishing. The idea is to use the array as a smaller sample before moving on to larger commercial projects.

The two groups got together during the Lobster Zone C Management Council’s meeting and the DMR wanted to hear from lobstermen on the potential location, configuration, orientation and navigational spaces around wind turbines as the state pursues the research array. Similar meetings on the topic were held the week before with fishermen from Zones A and B.

“By now it’s no secret that the governor is a big supporter of offshore wind and (has) directed the governor’s energy office to move forward with a research array,” DMR Director Patrick Keliher told the fishermen.

While his department wasn’t advocating for or against the state’s proposal, which is expected to be up to 12 wind turbines over16 square miles of offshore waters in southern Maine, the DMR’s role is to ensure that officials are using the best available information in siting the project, he said.

The state is eyeing a large swath of water between 20 and 40 miles offshore, with the possibility of connecting to land in Yarmouth or Wiscasset. DMR didn’t expect it to come online before 2025.

While many fishermen have come out against offshore wind development in any form, whether it be potential future commercial leases or the ongoing research array plan, DMR officials said it was still important to get their input.

“We understand there is a lot of opposition to this project and to offshore wind generally in the industry, and we want to be respectful of that,” said Meredith Mendelson, a deputy director at DMR. “That said, we also really want your input because lack of information from the fishing industry is not likely to lead us to a better outcome.”

Several fishermen aired grievances about offshore wind development to the DMR officials, saying it could devastate the industry.

Virginia Olsen, a Stonington lobsterman and a leader of the local lobster union, wanted to know if fishermen could have an assurance that future projects would be outside of the lobster management area that runs from Maine to Cape Cod.

“We have a lot of things coming at us at once and I think that would be helpful,” she said.

Olsen also suggested creating a group to help identify areas that would not be ideal for lease sites.

Carol Sanborn, with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said that lobstermen weren’t all against offshore wind “until they realized that they were not being listened to and their considerations were not being taken into account.”

The industry has been “bulldozed in this respect” and she urged the lobstermen to stick together to try and get answers to their questions.

Jacob Thompson, a Vinalhaven lobsterman and the Zone C chairman, didn’t understand why the state was pushing for the research array and felt the money spent on these projects could be better spent on other types of green energy.

“Why do we have to be the guinea pigs?” he asked.

Maine may only have so much influence on future development in the Gulf, as state waters only extend 3 miles offshore. But the research array could be a learning opportunity and give Maine some “sphere of influence” to help inform commercial development, according to Mendelson.

“I think the sense is that it is coming,” she said, “and we can try to do it in a way that’s beneficial to Maine or we can sit and wait for it to come and happen as it would without our input.”

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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