Island residents voice support, some criticism of Deepwater

A community divided, but civilly
Fri, 05/10/2013 - 2:15pm

There was more support than criticism at an on-island public hearing regarding Deepwater Wind’s proposal to construct a five-turbine offshore wind farm three miles off the coast of Block Island.

But at the May 8 meeting, the comments from 37 residents — 25 for, 10 against and two neutral — were peppered with humor and laughter.

About 117 people attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

Island residents voiced their support for the project due to various reasons, such as how the wind farm would reduce on-island electricity rates. Others questioned the effect the turbines would have on marine life and the island’s views.

“This is not going to be the same island having 660-foot turbines hanging over it,” said Maggie Delia.

“We’re used to the black velvet nights,” said Edith Blane, who was one of several residents that said the turbines would create night lighting and noise.

“This project is one small step to reduce greenhouse gases and should be applauded,” said Bill Penn.

Other residents questioned this project’s ability to provide sustainable energy.

“I’m not opposed to alternative energy, I’m just opposed to this project,” said Tom Doyle, who criticized the procedure in which this project was approved by the state government and also said that the island is “getting very little in return” from this project.

“I’m old enough to be past altruism and have embraced fully cynicism,” said Bud Comeau, who spoke against the wind farm. “Follow the money.”

Several residents said that Deepwater is benefiting financially from the project, and questioned the stability of the company’s primary backer, a hedge fund called D.E. Shaw.

Town Councilor Chris Warfel, speaking as a private citizen, said, “instead of taking so much money and granting it to D.E. Shaw, we should use it to develop our own indigenous resources.”

“There are a lot of issues that are going to continue to be identified,” said Town Councilor Sean McGarry, who also spoke as a private citizen. For example, he said that the pile driving in the ocean floor-bed could create vibrations and damage the Mohegan Bluffs.

Others acknowledged that the project is not perfect, but said they support it anyway.

“Are they [Deepwater] going to make mistakes? Of course they are,” said Peter Greenman. “Are they going to be corrected? I expect them to.”

Dorrie Napoleone echoed this statement, “I would encourage all of you that know things wrong with it [Deepwater], to use that information to make it a better project versus stopping the project.”

First Warden Kim Gaffett, who spoke as a private citizen, said she supported the project, but offered three concerns about it. She remained concerned about the project being decommissioned after 20 years, about the island maintaining its energy independence (so if the mainland loses power, the island would not), and about monitoring the ecological effects of the project.

Many residents supported the project due to the fact that it would reduce the island’s electricity costs.

“I am in favor of Deepwater Wind and its enormous economic and environmental benefits,” said Barbara MacMullan. “We can quibble about the number but electricity costs are going to go to down.”

Others, such as Maggie Delia, who opposed the project, said that the island’s high electricity rates provided a “big opening for Deepwater Wind to come to this island.”

“I didn’t know about the electricity rates and the impact that had on everyone,” said Delia. “I will work on having electricity go down on this island. You can count on me for that.”

Deepwater Wind plans to lay an electricity cable from the wind farm to the mainland town of Narragansett. The cable would also make landfall and provide electricity to Block Island.

“If we don’t get this cable, then I really hope every one of you that have fought this project stand up and get us a cable,” said Dick Martin.

Chris Warfel said that the project was approved by the town in part because, “our Town Council was desperate and they grasped at the concept of the cable.” He said that this allowed D.E. Shaw to take advantage of the island.

Kim Gaffett disagreed. “I hope someday people say the Town Council was not desperate but forward thinking.”

“Let us now be leaders, not laggers. Please vote yes to this project,” said Jane Emsbo.

“One thing they [wind turbines] do is they divide the community,” said McGarry, also a Town Councilor. “This community is divided. The damage has already been done.”

“We talked about dividing the community. Well, when that’s all settled, guess what? We can still fight about deer or whether to use organic fertilizer on Heinz Field,” said Fred Leeder, as the audience laughed.