U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is expected to deliver a ruling on a motion for a preliminary injunction against the lease sale of 127 square miles of ocean off the coast of Long Island, New York, for wind energy development.
On Wednesday, 8 February, lawyers representing fishing communities, associations, and businesses, led by scallop industry trade group the Fisheries Survival Fund, argued in the court against the wind farm lease, which the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) awarded to Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil for USD 42.5 million at auction in December, arguing that the site of the project is in the middle of important fishing grounds, particularly for the scallop and squid fisheries.
They claim that allowing the lease sale to go through would cause irreparable harm to commercial fishermen and is unlawful.
The plaintiffs argued that the lease sale would have an immediate impact on fishing interests by giving the government and Statoil free rein to conduct a number of harmful actions, including installing a meteorological tower that could damage scallop beds, and performing sonic testing that studies suggest hurts fish populations.
The plaintiffs also said that, should the lease proceed, additional investments make it nearly certain that a wind farm will be constructed, permanently restricting fishermen who make their livelihoods in the area.
Lawyers representing BOEM and Statoil countered that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate immediate and irreparable harm to their livelihoods, saying that any impact on fishermen would not happen for years, and that there would be time to address fishing concerns in future environmental assessments.
Federal law requires a balanced process that considers all stakeholders when developing wind energy projects, but the plaintiffs said that fishing concerns have not been properly addressed in the siting of the New York wind energy area.
BOEM estimates the value of fishing grounds in the proposed wind energy area at USD 90 million, a figure that the plaintiffs argued is too low because the government used less precise vessel trip reports instead of more accurate satellite-based vessel monitoring systems. The defendants argued that the lease siting process was transparent, including meetings with fishermen and multiple requests for information.
The plaintiffs responded that their more accurate information was ignored, the location of the wind farm was chosen in private, and fishermen never had a chance to advocate for alternative sites.
The case was heard by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.