Here at The Public’s Radio, we’ve been closely following the offshore wind industry and its potential impact on New England commercial fishermen and the environment. This week, we got a question about offshore wind from one of our listeners. South Coast Reporter Nadine Sebai has been extensively covering the issue and is here to talk with us.
Our first offshore wind question is from Samual Freeman: Why are offshore wind developers allowed to destroy commercial fishing gear and not be responsible for the cost to find and replace this?
So, there’s a lot going on in this question. Fishermen are worried that wind farms are going to bull-doze their way into their territory and destroy their livelihoods. But here’s what we know: if a fisherman can prove that gear is damaged as the result of a wind farm, the wind developer will be responsible for compensating the fisherman for the cost of the gear and any potential lost income.
Every developer has a slightly different process in how they handle these claims. But in the end, if a fisherman’s claim is found to be valid, the developer must pay for the damage. It’s the law.
What else are wind developers doing to compensate fishermen for any potential lost or damaged gear?
So, Vineyard Wind -- which is expected to build the country’s first large scale offshore wind farm -- has setup a compensation plan for Rhode Island and Massachusetts fishermen which includes a trust fund to pay them for any unexpected expenses like damaged fishing gear.
Fishermen say the fund doesn’t have enough money in it to truly compensate fishermen in the event of an accident. But Vineyard Wind has told me there will be no financial limits on valid loss gear claims...even if it exceeds the trust fund amount.
What is the likelihood that a fisherman’s gear will get damaged within a wind farm?
Short answer is, we don’t know. Large scale offshore wind farms are new in the country. So the industry, alongside regulators and wind developers have been working to provide an educated guess on how likely it is that a fisherman will have their gear damaged because, for example, it gets caught in a cable. Then, developers and regulators try to mitigate those problems. But even if a handful of accidents happened, it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and lost income.
And the offshore wind industry is growing all across the Northeast, right?
Yes, the federal government currently has fifteen active leases for offshore wind projects in the works from Massachusetts to North Carolina. So, whatever happens with Vineyard Wind -- if lets say fishermen keep getting their gear damaged within a wind farm -- will affect the future of other offshore wind projects. And that’s why fisherman are saying getting it right the first time, with the Vineyard Wind project, matters.
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