NEW BEDFORD — Late next month, about 480,000 acres of ocean off the coast of New York and New Jersey will go up for auction to be developed in the coming years for offshore wind farms. It is part of the Biden administration’s goal of reaching 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 in an effort to address climate change.

Though the lease areas, which sit in the New York Bight, are many miles from New Bedford, the development of offshore wind farms there has been a concern to Mayor Jon Mitchell and the local scallop industry because it is an area where commercial fishermen harvest sea scallops. After the federal government on Wednesday announced the final wind lease areas, Mitchell said some concerns remain.

The final lease areas reflect some acknowledgement of the port and fishing industry’s concerns. According to a release from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency initially inquired about commercial interest for 1,735,154 acres in the area, but reduced the size significantly for the final areas going to auction.

“Based on the bureau’s review of scientific data, and extensive input from the commercial fishing industry, Tribes, partnering agencies, key stakeholders, and the public, BOEM reduced the acreage by 72% to avoid conflicts with ocean users and minimize environmental impacts,” the agency stated.

The New Bedford Port Authority, Mitchell, local fishermen and industry representatives in 2021 submitted letters and commented during video calls with BOEM and its director, Amanda Lefton, to express concern and request adjustments to the planned lease areas. 

Read the full text of Mayor Mitchell’s statement:

This included requests to remove a 5-mile-wide strip from one of the lease areas to create a buffer for scallop fishing grounds, and remove or reconsider another lease area (called the “Central Bight”), which Mitchell in a 2021 letter said was almost entirely located on a “‘high’ scallop value area.” 

According to BOEM’s final sale notice and its written response to public comments, the agency removed a 2.5-mile-wide area (half of the 5-mile request) from the “Hudson South” section, which contains four lease areas. The agency also reduced the size of the “Central Bight” lease area (OCS-A 0537 on the map) by about 13,000 acres or 15% after the fishing industry requested removal or deferment of the lease area.

“The overarching lesson from yesterday’s announcement is the importance of staying engaged and offering pragmatic solutions that are responsive to the concerns of both wind proponents and fishing interests,” Mitchell said in a statement on Thursday, though characterizing the port’s reaction as “mixed.”

“I appreciate the willingness of Director Lefton and the BOEM team to listen and adjust their approach based on the strength of the case we have made to them,” he said.

Blair Bailey, general counsel for the New Bedford Port Authority, said during a Port Authority meeting Thursday that the 2.5-mile-wide removal was a “big victory” and significant. 

“We are making progress to get at least some of these accommodations for the fishermen in,” he said. 

Still, Mitchell said this does not mean the Port of New Bedford’s concerns are fully addressed. 

“We will continue to call on BOEM to use the wind project permitting process to minimize the economic impact on commercial fishing, and, equally important, to ensure fishermen are compensated for any economic damages caused by wind project development,” he said in the written statement.

According to a 2021 letter from Mitchell to BOEM Director Lefton, one of the wind energy lease areas in the New York Bight accounted for nearly $100 million in scallop landings from 2012 to 2016, with an “overwhelming share” of that having landed in New Bedford. 

Fishermen not only in Massachusetts, but also in New York and New Jersey, have for years been voicing concerns on how the offshore wind farms might affect the species they fish, as well as their ability to fish in the same areas and at the same frequency.

The auction of the six lease areas is scheduled for Feb. 23. According to BOEM’s final sale notice, there are 25 eligible bidders. The list includes Avangrid Renewables LLC, which owns half of Vineyard Wind.

Email Anastasia Lennon at alennon@newbedfordlight.org.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Receive in-depth news stories and arts & culture coverage from around New Bedford in your inbox every weekday.

SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS

Give today to keep The Light shining. As a nonprofit with no paywall we rely on reader donations to fund our high-quality reporting.

New Bedford Light is an IRS-determined 501(c)(3) Public Charity; all gifts are tax-deductible. Our EIN number is 86-2407296.

Thank you to our sponsors

Founding benefactors: Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Mary and Jim Ottaway