11/20/2013 2:00:00 PM Bristol Fishermen Voice Concern About Wind Farm
A crowd gathers around a nautical chart after a Nov. 14 meeting in Bristol about plans for an experimental offshore wind farm. The group includes Bill Benner, the chairman of the Bristol Board of Selectmen (left) and Richard Hall, an engineer with the offshore wind project (center). (Photo courtesy Sherrie Tucker)
By J.W. Oliver
Bristol fishermen have concerns about the impact an underwater cable to connect offshore wind turbines to the Bristol peninsula could have on local fisheries.
The fishermen voiced those concerns to representatives of Maine Aqua Ventus 1 GP LLC and the University of Maine at a Nov. 14 meeting in the Bristol Consolidated School gym.
Troy Benner lives in Bristol and fishes out of New Harbor, one of several ports in the town and a possible entry point for the cable. A lobsterman most of the year, he drags for shrimp during the late-winter season.
The area between South Bristol and Friendship "is one of the most productive in the state for shrimp," Benner said after the meeting. The cable would cut off "at least a half-dozen tows, and there are no jobs for this community at all, no incentive for this town to cut off its own nose."
The cable would come with a ban on mobile gear, including scallop and shrimp trawls, within 50 meters of either side of the cable. The goal is to avoid shrimp-trawling areas as much as possible, a university representative said.
Michael Dawson also opposes the cable. Dawson, like Benner, lives in Bristol, lobsters out of New Harbor and drags for shrimp in season.
"The cable is a big, big issue here," Dawson said. "That's why you see all these fishermen in here."
"We don't want it here," Dawson said. "I think all the fishermen here would agree with me on that."
Bristol resident Bill McLain sometimes fishes with Benner. He also lobsters and traps shrimp out of New Harbor on his own boat.
"It's impossible to run that cable where it won't impact trawlers," McLain said. "It's not even feasible."
The area would not affect the lobster fishery in the same way. Lobstermen can set traps directly on top of the cable, a university representative said. The lobstermen, however, expressed concern about the potential loss of traps that could become ensnared in the cable.
Members of the Bristol Board of Selectmen hinted at the possibility of a town-wide vote on the project, although it was unclear what weight, if any, such a referendum would carry.
"If the people of the town of Bristol do not want this, would you people rescind?" Selectman Paul Yates said.
University of Maine Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development James S. "Jake" Ward IV, the chief spokesman for the project at the meeting, did not give a yes-or-no answer.
Maine Aqua Ventus 1 GP LLC and the University of Maine hosted the meeting to update the community and solicit feedback about plans for a pilot wind farm off Monhegan.
The University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center plans to build a pair of six-megawatt wind turbines and moor the turbines off Monhegan in 2017, according to a university brochure. The turbines would stand on floating concrete platforms.
Maine Aqua Ventus 1 GP LLC, a partnership between the university and several other public and private entities, would operate the $93.6 million farm, New England Aqua Ventus I.
The test site is in the Gulf of Maine, approximately 12 miles from mainland Bristol and three miles south of Monhegan, on the border between state and federal waters.
Ward, Hall and other project representatives fielded questions about a wide variety of topics during the meeting.
The company would build a new distribution line to carry the electricity from the cable, where it reaches shore, to a Central Maine Power Company substation about six miles north of New Harbor.
Some Bristol residents at the meeting objected to the idea of another utility line as a negative impact on the scenery of the area, which fuels the tourism economy.
The project has considered other locations as a landing site for the cable, including Port Clyde, but Port Clyde lacks the infrastructure necessary to handle the electricity from the turbines. "That distribution system is so weak that we can't get the power out of there," Hall said.
"All the alternatives we currently have on the table are in Bristol," Hall said.
The new utility lines and an upgrade to the Bristol substation would be subject to property tax. Project representatives estimated the value at $4 million, which would translate to a $30,800 annual tax bill at the present Bristol property tax rate of $7.70 per $1000.
The loss of income for shrimp trawlers "would more than offset" the potential tax benefits, Benner, one of the lobstermen, said.
Maine Aqua Ventus would map the New Harbor mooring field and route the cable around all moorings, Hall said. It would also bury the cable six feet under the lowest point the harbor can be dredged, a requirement of the Army Corps of Engineers.
A small minority in the crowd expressed enthusiasm about the wind farm as a source of clean energy and a project that could benefit fisheries in the long term by reducing pollution.
"This is an exciting, historical moment," Bristol resident Diane Perry said. "I'm just saddened that no one else is thinking that, and you ought to promote the positive side of this."
The project could benefit Monhegan, as the cable to the mainland and another cable from the turbines to Monhegan could connect the island to the CMP grid. Monhegan currently relies on diesel generators for electricity, and the price of electricity on the island ranks among the most expensive in the country.
The potential positive aspects of the project, however, were outweighed at the meeting by skepticism about the project in general and the fishermen's opposition to the cable in particular.
Maine Sea Grant Director Paul Anderson, a spokesman for the project, said he plans to return to Bristol to continue conversations with fishermen and town officials.