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BOEM Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement on Ocean Wind I

An aerial snapshot of the five turbines that make up Ørsted's Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island. Ørsted is the Danish company behind the Ocean Wind 1 project. 
Provided by Ørsted/File Photo

An aerial snapshot of the five turbines that make up Ørsted’s Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island. Ørsted is the Danish company behind the Ocean Wind 1 project. 

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) June 17, 2022.
A round of comments from critics, and even some supporters, of the offshore wind initiative focused, in part, on the dense 1,400-page report and the lack of a more accessible document for the general public.
BOEM published, May 26, the availability of the final EIS, at 2,324 pages, with all the drawbacks of the draft report as a public document. 
The report states that the draft and final EIS have an estimated cost for development of $2,136,326. An argument could be made that none of that money was spent to create a summary document that might give the public access to the report’s major findings.
The final EIS is one of the last steps on the road to federal approval of the Ocean Wind 1 project. Its purpose is to assess the “reasonably foreseeable impact on physical, biological, socioeconomic and cultural resources that could result from the construction, operations and maintenance, and conceptual decommissioning of Ocean Wind 1.”
The report reminds the reader of the public comment period that accompanied the draft report and states that 1,389 submissions were received by BOEM. It also asserts that all the submissions were reviewed, and responses are part of the final EIS.
BOEM is clear that the next step in their process is expected this summer as a Record of Decision (ROD) on whether the project may move forward.
There was nothing in the report that suggests the decision will be anything but a green light to proceed with a series of potential mitigating steps that were outlined across each alternative and each issue. Issues included the impact on marine mammals, tourism, fisheries, and a dozen other categories of potential harm.  
To recap, this final EIS is for Ocean Wind 1 in the area of renewable energy lease number OCS-A-0498. Ocean Wind 1 is a 1.1-gigawatt offshore wind farm project approximately 13 nautical miles off the coast of Atlantic City and Ocean City. 
Plans call for the wind farm to begin generating power by late 2024, with a ramp up to full capacity in 2025. The wind farm calls for 98 turbine generators, three offshore substations, and two transmission corridors for carrying power to land-based grid connections.
The format of the report was to compare six alternatives across a series of issues and potential impacts from construction and operation of the wind farm. 
Impacts were measured on a scale from negligible to minor, moderate and finally major. The report also listed some mitigating strategies and reassessed the impacts with those mitigation strategies in place. There was never a statement guaranteeing that the mitigating strategies would be in the final decision plan.
Aside from the inaccessible nature of the report, the methodology for measuring impact left more questions than it answered. Issues like vessel navigation and radar system impacts were listed as minor (radar systems) or moderate impacts (vessel navigation). Yet the full support for those assessments appeared less than definitive.
With respect to sea mammals, potential mitigation actions like a passive acoustic monitoring plan, a pile driving monitoring plan, and vessel speed reductions were stated without a clear understanding for the reader of why a pile driving monitoring plan would ameliorate the dangers to sea mammals.
In fact, sea mammal harm and the negative impact on commercial fisheries remained high even with the assessment of mitigating strategies. Mitigation for commercial fisheries involved things like business compensation for revenue exposure and reduced catch. The mitigation was not aimed at reducing the impact of the wind farm as much as paying for it.
A great deal of the impact evaluation for recreation and tourism had to do with visible turbines and lighting at sea. The statement was “BOEM has determined” that the impact on recreation and tourism for the presence of structures would be moderate. 
The report states that its purpose is to balance the needs and interests of everyone who may be affected by the development of the wind farm. An area the report does not engage in is the cumulative impact of Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2. How one can measure the socioeconomic impact of Ocean Wind 1, for example, without factoring in the added impact of Ocean Wind 2, is never addressed.
The final EIS was made available May 22 through BOEM’s website and was advertised in the Federal Registry May 26. Yet groups were already praising the 2,300-plus page report May 23.
American Clean Power released a statement one day after the mammoth report was issued, stating, “This final Environmental Impact Statement is the result of rigorous review and extensive public input from key stakeholders, demonstrating BOEM’s commitment to building clean power in a way that protects the environment and incorporates community feedback.”
Those wishing to wade into the report will find it on BOEM’s website in its entirety.  
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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