A group opposing an offshore wind farm being built south of Martha’s Vineyard has appealed a ruling that dismissed its lawsuit to halt the project, arguing that a “gravely flawed environmental review” failed to consider the dangers the turbines pose to the vulnerable North Atlantic Right Whale population.
Nantucket Residents Against Turbines filed its appeal last week in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, after US District Court Judge Indira Talwani in May dismissed its lawsuit, records show.
The defendants are the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, US Interior Secretary Debra Haaland, US Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo, and wind farm developer Vineyard Wind 1 LLC, according to court records and the group’s lawyer, Thomas Stavola Jr.
At issue is the application of the so-called federal “agency defense doctrine,” Stavola said in a statement.
“While the doctrine creates a presumption that agencies correctly assess the data, that presumption can be refuted by a showing of a failure to examine key information. That is precisely the case here in the context of the North Atlantic Right Whale,” the statement said.
The Nantucket group contends that noise from the construction project, and later noise from the turbines themselves, will drive the endangered whales “into higher danger zones, where they can be injured or killed through vessel strikes,” the statement said. “The noise itself can cause damage through hearing loss. Given the whales’ strong reliance on hearing, a deaf whale is likely a dead whale.”
The roughly $3 billion project consists of 62 turbines, some as tall as 800 feet, and is expected to generate 800 megawatts of electricity, enough to power at least 400,000 homes.
The project is expected to be completed in mid-2024, according to Andrew Doba, a Vineyard Wind spokesperson. The wind farm should start generating electricity by the end of next year, he said previously. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Nantucket group opposing the turbines argued that federal agencies involved with the approval process didn’t follow proper procedures for determining environmental risk.
In court filings, attorneys for the government have said regulators followed the proper steps in approving the project and taking steps to protect the whales and the environment. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management “reasonably relied” on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s experience in drafting a four-volume final environmental impact statement and a separate construction plan for the project, government attorneys wrote in a September filing.
Representatives for the named defendants either declined to comment or didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday.
The project has faced significant resistance. In 2020, Vineyard Wind’s developers withdrew their proposal to build the wind farm as the plan ran into delays under the Trump administration after commercial fishermen raised concerns that the giant turbines would be hazardous to their work.
When Joe Biden became president, the developers asked the bureau to resume its review. In March 2021, the Biden administration announced the completion of the environmental review for the project.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.