A group of Nantucket residents has appealed the dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Vineyard Wind offshore wind energy project, which is currently under construction in the waters southwest of the island.
The group ACK For Whales - formerly known as Nantucket Residents Against Turbines - filed the appeal Saturday with the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and is seeking to overturn the May 2023 decision of U.S. District Court judge Indira Talwani, who dismissed the original complaint.
ACK For Whales believes that the federal agencies involved in permitting the Vineyard Wind project - including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service - failed to properly consider the impacts Vineyard Wind could have on endangered North Atlantic right whales.
Those agencies “failed to utilize the best scientific and commercial data available, and failed to adequately consider a number of important, significant risks to the North Atlantic Right Whales induced by the Project, and incorrectly found that the suite of mitigation measures would adequately obviate North Atlantic Right Whale injury and death,” the group said in its appellant brief.
The failure, ACK For Whales asserted, constitutes a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Vineyard Wind did not immediately return a request for comment on Sunday. The company, owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables (a subsidiary of the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola), stated earlier this year when the original complaint was dismissed that the review by the federal agencies had been “rigorous and thorough.”
Vineyard Wind, which will include 62 turbines spaced one nautical mile apart, is currently under construction in federal waters approximately 15 miles southwest of Nantucket. The components of the first of the 853-foot turbines left New Bedford harbor earlier this month. The company believes the wind farm will generate 800 megawatts of electricity annually and power over 400,000 homes.
Despite the project’s current status, ACK For Whales - which was founded by island resident Val Oliver and includes board members DiSibio, Ellen Mayo, and Veronica Bonnet - believes the appeal was warranted.
“Of course, we are extremely disappointed that Vineyard Wind has been allowed to begin building,” DiSibio said. “With all of the evidence pointing to the damaging disruption that survey work, construction, and operations that offshore power plants inflict upon the environment, it is a shame that the decision-makers are turning a blind eye. We are appealing because we have faith in our case. We were very disappointed with the initial decision and feel strongly that our case is strong. These offshore power plants are terrible for our ocean and marine life. Destruction is not ‘saving’ the planet.”
The questions and concerns over whether the survey work and now construction of offshore wind farms are impacting North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals have grown louder over the past year as Vineyard Wind has put steel in the water.
Critics of offshore wind development have cited ongoing whale mortality events involving North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales, leading to a growing backlash against President Joe Biden's administration's push for offshore wind energy. DiSibio and some of Nantucket’s charter fishing boat fleet have been circulating the recent documentary “Thrown To The Wind” by writer Michael Shellenberger’s non-profit group Environmental Progress, which claims new boat traffic related to the offshore wind energy sector and high-decibel sonar is harming whales off the East Coast.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has remained unconvinced there is a connection between the development of offshore wind and the ongoing whale mortality events.
“ At this point, there is no scientific evidence that noise resulting from offshore wind site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales,” NOAA states. “There are no known links between recent large whale mortalities and ongoing offshore wind surveys.”
Nantucket captain Blair Perkins, a former eco-tour operator and member of the Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket, has long argued in favor of offshore wind energy and that it will ultimately be a boon to marine life.
“I have seen no evidence that the turbine installations are detrimental to marine mammals over time,” Perkins said. “I have made a career of protecting them. No one denies that there are some impacts but the sonar used for mapping is not much different than the sonar and chirp frequencies used for navigation in all vessels. The sonic blasting used by the oil and gas industries is not used for turbine installations. Some impacts to the benthic community are noted but they are temporary. Studies have been done throughout the highly successful wind farms of Europe showing there can be temporary displacement of fauna during construction but the affected species return with no ill effects after construction. It is my belief these turbines will actually create a sanctuary for species like the North Atlantic right whales because large fast-moving ships - one of the leading causes of mortality - will not be in the area.”
Disibio and ACK For Whales’ appeal takes aim at those assertions by NOAA and offshore wind supporters like Perkins. NOAA’s statement, Disibio said, is “a very misleading answer. There is no evidence because there have been very few tests conducted and no results supplied…offshore wind survey work and whale deaths correlate perfectly.”
ACK For Whales sees the appeal as its last resort in halting or stalling Vineyard Wind’s progress.
“Absent an order from this Court reversing the District Court summary judgment denial, the Project, which is now in the inchoate stages of construction, will be permitted to continue, sending the already highly endangered North Atlantic right whale careening further down the road toward extinction,” the appeal states.