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NOAA Sets Rules for Ørsted to Protect Marine Mammals

A humpback whale washed up on the beach of Strathmere Dec. 10.
File Photo
A humpback whale washed up on the beach in Strathmere Dec. 10, 2022.

By Vince Conti

OCEAN CITY – Just days after six individuals were arrested in Ocean City for obstructing Ørsted’s testing of its transmission cable route, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an authorization to the Danish wind farm developer that set final rules for the safety of marine mammals.

These rules were promulgated even though three different federal agencies have asserted that there is no evidence connecting a recent spate of marine mammal fatalities to preconstruction activities associated with the New Jersey offshore wind initiative. The establishment of rules for the protection of marine mammals during construction is required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

In Cape May County this year, there have been two whales and 19 dolphins or porpoises that have washed ashore on county beaches, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. Approximately 62 sea mammals have been stranded along the Atlantic coast.

The letter of authorization is in force from Oct. 13, 2023, through Oct. 12, 2028. The rules govern the construction of the Ocean Wind I lease area and the two sea-to-shore routes for planned transmission cables from the wind farm to an onshore link to the electric grid.

The above map shows the location of the Ocean Wind I project and the two transmission cable routes. Courtesy NOAA

The rules for Ocean Wind I as published in the Federal Register state that the wind farm developer is authorized for the “take” of marine mammals by level A or level B harassment with no authorization for the take of marine mammals by mortality or serious injury.

Harassment in this context is defined as an intentional act that disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering. Level A harassment allows an act of pursuit, torment or annoyance that has the potential to injure mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild. Level B harassment refers to acts that have the potential to disturb (but not injure) a marine mammal in the wild by disrupting behavioral patterns, including migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering. These are definitions provided by NOAA Fisheries. There are numerical limits on the taking.

The rule also establishes seasonal moratoriums on impact pile driving, along with a requirement to implement certain sound field practices, including soft-starts during impact pile driving.

The rule states that the federal government can withdraw its letter of authorization if the practices in the final rule are not followed.

A schedule embedded in the final rule starts with high-resolution geophysical surveys beginning in the third quarter of 2023.

Munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) and unexploded ordnances (UXO) are a problem in offshore wind development. The schedule has detonation of such devices beginning in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Given the announcement by Ørsted that Ocean Wind I would not be fully operational until 2026, it is not surprising that the schedule shows wind turbine generation (WTG) and offshore substations (OSS) commissioned by the first quarter of 2026.

The final rule is long and detailed. The online version had 317 page views, as of 10:15 a.m. Sept. 15.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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