Voters Defeat Petition To Withdraw From Agreement With Vineyard Wind, But Want A Say In Future Deals With Offshore Wind Developers

Jason Graziadei •

One of the vessels installing Vineyard Wind's turbines southwest of Nantucket. Photo by Kit Noble

Island voters on Thursday rejected a citizen petition seeking to have the town withdraw from the "Good Neighbor Agreement" with Vineyard Wind, which is developing a 62-turbine wind farm southwest of Nantucket. But a separate petition calling on the Select Board to get authorization from Town Meeting before entering into any future agreements with offshore wind energy developers was approved.

Both proposals were brought forward by Val Oliver, the founder and president of ACK For Whales, the Nantucket-based group that is fighting against Vineyard Wind and claiming that it is harmful to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Oliver acknowledged some of the criticisms of her proposal by town officials, who said withdrawing from the Good Neighbor Agreement would not stop the project, but she emphasized that it should have been brought to the public for feedback before it was signed.

"It’s true we don’t have veto power, but we do have leverage to do a lot more," Oliver said. "It (the agreement) should not have been signed in a closed-door meeting without informing the community...Encourage our Select Board to walk away from this agreement and do what's right for Nantucket." 

The Select Board signed the Good Neighbor Agreement in August 2020 in a first-of-its-kind deal for the island to provide $16 million in funding for preservation initiatives, including the $4 million already doled out as an initial mitigation payment last November. That agreement, which was brokered by the town’s special counsel, Cultural Heritage Partners, and made in partnership with the Nantucket Preservation Trust and Maria Mitchell Association, also required Vineyard Wind to paint its turbines a non-reflective shade of white and install a type of aircraft lighting system that only activates when aircraft are close by—in return for the town’s support for the wind farm.

Town officials - including Select Board members Dawn Hill Holdgate and Matt Fee, along with preservation planning Holly Backus - argued that the project was going to move forward with or without Nantucket striking a deal with Vineyard Wind. The agreement, they said, secured benefits for the island and an open communication channel with Vineyard Wind that otherwise would not have materialized.

"The town of Nantucket cannot simply say 'no more wind farms'," Backus said. "Unfortunately this is something that goes through our state and federal governments...If we could have said no wind farms, we would have." 

Much of Thursday night's debate strayed into commentary about climate change, sea level rise, and allegations that the development of offshore wind farms is harming marine life, especially whales. But some tried to refocus the discussion back on the Good Neighbor Agreement, and what obligation, if any, the Select Board had in bringing such deals before Town Meeting voters. Others expressed their anger that the Select Board signed the agreement in the first place.

"I think we’re just asking to have a say," said Select Board candidate Clifford Williams. "You can say no, just fight the good fight. But you took the bribe and now we’re stuck with this mess. We want a say."

Fee encouraged island residents who are upset with Vineyard Wind and the other pending offshore wind farms planned for the areas southwest of Nantucket to contact the federal agencies like the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that are permitting the projects.

"You’re taking it out on us - who had the best intentions and did the best in a bad situation," Fee said. "We did what we could do. To act like we could have stopped it is unrealistic."

The vote on Oliver's petition seeking to have the Select Board withdraw from the Good Neighbor Agreement - Article 77 - was 122 votes in favor and 183 opposed.

Her second petition, Article 78, which requests the Select Board to seek authorization from Town Meeting voters before entering into any new agreements or actions with offshore wind energy developers passed with 201 voters in favor, and 121 opposed. The petition was a non-binding warrant article, meaning it is a sense of the meeting and the Select Board is not legally bound to adhere to it. 

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