URI/BOEM visit Block Island

To discuss wind farm
Fri, 08/11/2017 - 9:30am

“We want to make sure the indicators are real, and grounded in truth,” Jen McCann, Director of Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, said during a recent visit to the island about a research study being conducted examining the effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on recreation and tourism in the Ocean State. McCann and her CRC team were contracted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to conduct the study, which is titled “Identifying Indicators of Offshore Wind Benefits.” BOEM will use indicators gleaned from the research in National Environmental Policy Act analyses to evaluate the effects of proposed offshore wind energy facility development.

“We want to make sure that BOEM can use these indicators,” said McCann, who was instrumental in developing the Ocean Special Area Management Plan that was used in siting the Block Island Wind Farm. “Our job is to create the indicators. We have learned that this study is going to be harder than we thought. There is the perception versus the reality, or the science.”

McCann told The Block Island Times that the goal of the study is to help inform BOEM, for practical use by local, regional and national interests, developers, stakeholders, etc. with the development of offshore wind energy facilities. “We want to help people make good decisions on science versus the perception.”

McCann was joined on the island by fellow CRC team members, Amelia Moore, Tiffany Smythe, Hollie Smith, and Sarah Matherson, along with two officials from BOEM: Industrial Economist Amy Stillings, and Dr. John Primo, a Senior Social Scientist and anthropologist. McCann’s CRC team began its research in September of 2016 and the study will be concluded in the fall of 2018. “We will present the results from the study on Block Island,” she said.

Moore, who has an anthropology background and is an Assistant Professor of Marine Affairs, said she felt that part of their job has been to observe while visiting the island. “There are very different ideas of how the wind farm works, the politics that are behind it, and if it’s functional, or not,” she said. “That’s been interesting to see. It’s good hearing a variety of opinions.”

Smythe said the purpose of the visit was to provide BOEM with an “experiential” up-close look at Block Island, its economy, recreation, and the wind farm. The group took a sightseeing tour of the island aboard McAloon’s taxi, driven by former Town Councilor Terry Mooney, who showed them the view of the wind farm from the Second Bluffs outlook, and visited Rodman’s Hollow and the North Lighthouse, to name a few.

“We usually come out individually or in small groups, typically accompanied by undergraduate or graduate students working for us, to observe tourist/recreation activity related to the wind farm,” said Smythe, who co-authored the OceanSAMP plan. “We’re doing the same thing on some mainland locations within view of the wind farm.”

“A lot of what we’re doing with this study is experiential,” noted Smythe. “Being here (on the island) is a way of bringing (BOEM) into that process.”

“This is an opportunity to see the wind farm up close,” said McCann. “And it’s an opportunity for John [Primo] and Amy [Stillings] to come to Block Island and be at ground zero.”

McCann said her CRC team will be hosting a two-day science forum in the fall. “The purpose is to communicate the ongoing science about the offshore wind farms to the public.”

After the visit, Smythe told The Times that the CRC team “had a really productive visit to the island. Even those of us who have been coming here for decades are learning new things about Block Island residents and visitors, and the island itself, through this research project. Our team hopes that what we’ll learn through this project, which is funded by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, will help Block Island and other communities navigate the future of offshore wind.”