Opponents of an offshore wind turbine farm under construction south of Martha’s Vineyard are asking a federal judge to halt the project, and require federal authorities to take another look at the project’s potential impacts on the environment and wildlife.
The nonprofit group Nantucket Residents Against Turbines is trying to put the brakes on Vineyard Wind, which was approved in May 2021 by the Biden administration, and is being built a dozen or so miles off the resort island.
Amy DiSibio, a member of the group’s board, told reporters before a hearing Tuesday in US District Court in Boston that federal endangered species and environmental laws were not “carefully considered” when the project was approved, and deserve much more scrutiny, she said.
“Once the turbines are erected, the damage will be done,” DiSibio said.
The roughly $3 billion project, developed by energy company Avangrid in partnership with Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, consists of 62 turbines, some as tall as 800 feet, and is expected to generate 800 megawatts of electricity, which would be enough to power at least 400,000 homes.
In the Nantucket group’s lawsuit, filed a few months after the project was approved, they argued that federal agencies involved with the approval process did not follow the proper procedures for determining the risk to the environment.
Federal officials also failed to ensure the project would not “jeopardize the survival” of the endangered right whale and other wildlife. They conducted an inadequate analysis of other impacts, including air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, the group said in court papers.
The lawsuit names the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service as defendants, along with Interior Secretary Debra Haaland and Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo.
Representatives of those agencies declined comment Tuesday.
The project is expected to be completed in mid-2024, according to Andrew Doba, a Vineyard Wind spokesperson. The wind farm should start generating electricity by the end of the year, he said. He declined comment on the case.
In a July motion for a summary judgment, the Nantucket group argued that the Vineyard Wind project is located in a foraging area for endangered right whales. That project, along with several other wind farms proposed to be in the vicinity, would threaten the whales.
“By installing multiple industrial-scale wind energy projects in this area, [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] is literally putting right whales and humans on a collision course. And historically, that has not worked out well for the whale,” the group said.
In court filings, attorneys for the government have said that regulators followed the proper steps in approving the project and taking steps to protect the whales and the environment.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management “reasonably relied” on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s experience in drafting a four-volume final environmental impact statement and a separate construction plan for the project, government attorneys wrote in a September filing.
During a two-hour hearing Tuesday, lawyers for the Nantucket group and the government drilled into details of the case, including the federal agencies’ environmental analysis for the project.
David Hubbard, an attorney for the plaintiffs, criticized those plans, including limits on vessel speed during his court remarks.
“There [is] not sufficient protection for whales against vessel strikes,” Hubbard said. “This is a real threat to the whale that has not been taken care of.”
Mark Brown, an attorney with the US Department of Justice, argued that the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other federal agencies that reviewed the project followed environmental regulations, including the Endangered Species Act.
US District Court Judge Indira Talwani did not take action Tuesday on the Nantucket group’s motion for a summary judgment.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.