By Lisa Cavanaugh
These animals are pumping 50 gallons of water a day,” says Yarmouth aquaculture farmer Ed Janiunas of his oysters in Lewis Bay, the harbor that straddles Yarmouth and Barnstable and is the maritime gateway to Hyannis. “So anything upsetting the habitat and creating a whole lot of silt in the water could kill every oyster out there.”
This disturbance of the natural environment in and around his three-acre grant, located off a little isthmus near Great Island, is what concerns Janiunas when he contemplates the impact of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind turbine project. Vineyard Wind has leased a 160,000-acre area south of Martha’s Vineyard, a site chosen through an extensive inter-governmental process.
In order to transmit the collected wind power, submarine cables making their way to a substation on land need to be installed at least six feet below the sea floor, so Vineyard Wind has been reaching out to Cape Cod commercial fishermen to address their worries about how the project might affect their livelihoods.
Janiunas was of several shellfishermen, both grant holders and wild harvesters, who attended an informational meeting with Vineyard Wind representatives and Yamouth officials earlier this month. Janiunas, who began oyster farming two years ago after a career on Wall Street, invested a fair amount of time and money into his new business, and has faced some natural adversity already.
“We had an unusually destructive winter last year,” he says, “astronomical tides mixed with an extended deep freeze.” Typically his oysters, on floating gear which he has the ability to sink, would remain unscathed beneath surface ice, but the tides and thick ice floe crushed everything.
“I thought they would be all gone, “ he says, “but I went out there and started pulling all the bags out of destroyed gear and somehow the oysters survived! I looked at them and said, ‘You guys are beautiful.’ They are resilient little suckers.” Janiunas bought new gear, reset his oysters and went back to work.
After meeting with the Vineyard Wind contingent, shellfishermen learned that Lewis Bay is one of the company’s final options as the landing point for the cable that will be routed to the Eversource sub-station in Independence Park in Hyannis, either via Covell’s Beach in Barnstable or New Hampshire Ave in West Yarmouth.
According to Janiunas, the main thing all the grant holders brought up at the Vineyard Wind meeting was silt. “How is Vineyard Wind going to remediate some of the silt getting to the oyster itself?” he asks. “Or because there is so much new silt, and silt moves around, maybe these ones won’t die but maybe next year’s will? We’ve put a lot of money into this, and I sense that they understand that.”
The fisheries liaison team at Vineyard Wind, that includes Nate Mayo and Crista Bank, are cognizant of the worries that oyster farmers have.
“These folks rely on the bay for their livelihood, and we can never forget that,” says Mayo, a native Cape Codder and Provincetown resident, who has both an environmental background and generations of fishermen in his family. “More than just a source of income – it’s part of our heritage on the Cape.
“There is a lot of evaluation going on, as we look at the two potential landing spots. The final decision will hinge most heavily on minimizing environmental concerns, but either way Vineyard Wind will be working closely with local fishermen to perform the work in a way that doesn’t impact their businesses.”
Vineyard Wind’s schedule has the Lewis Bay cable laying taking place in the fall of 2019, and since the beginning of this year both Mayo and Bank have been working with area fishermen and fishermen’s associations, including the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, to alleviate concerns, provide data and partner on solutions. Bank is managing the entire structure of fishing industry coordination while Mayo is focusing on Lewis Bay fisheries, which include bay scalloping, oysters and quahogs.
“We’ve learned a lot about the long-term concerns in the Bay over the previous decades,” says Mayo, “wastewater problems, increased boat traffic, dredging, loss of eel grass and so on.” Vineyard Wind has worked on mitigation impacts and environmental calculations.
“With quahogs, and the bay scallop fishery, which is precious and a rarity on the Cape these days, there’s an opportunity to enhance those resources through supports to the town’s reseeding efforts. Those kinds of investments are a challenge in tight local budgets, but if we do it right, we can be a partner through our work in the bay.”
It is useful to look to European countries like Denmark, a pioneer in wind power which produces nearly 40% of their domestic electricity from wind, to find mitigation models, especially for the Lewis Bay and sediment dispersion. But Mayo recognizes that America’s unique governmental structure adds layers to any approval process:
“Here we have local natural resources committees, town selectmen, planning boards, tribal interests, the Cape Cod Commission, state government, and of course a robust regulatory structure at the federal level.”
But Mayo feels this process is how you get to good projects.
”All the challenges, options and reviews finally get us to the best possible solution,” he says.
As an aide to former state Senator Rob O’Leary, Mayo worked for several years on the opposite side of the windpower fence, opposing the controversial and ultimately unsuccessful Cape Wind project. “The Vineyard Wind approach is dramatically different,” he says.
Erich Stephens, Vineyard Wind’s Chief Development Officer, values lessons learned by that previous attempt, and says that Vineyard Wind’s collaborative approach is informed by those lessons. “Communities must have a strong voice in the process, and we’ve been working actively with residents, advocates and stakeholders from the beginning,” he says.
Bank, who recently ended a tenure as a Fisheries Research Technician at the
School for Marine Science and Technology, UMass Dartmouth, agrees.
“Fishermen are used to having all sorts of factors impede and affect their livelihoods: climate, regulations, governance,” she says. “This is a new challenge that is facing them, and everyone has concerns, but as long as everybody involved is willing to keep these open lines of communication, we can work through the challenges together.”
For Janiunas there are questions he would like to explore such as some kind of contingency, or escrow fund, in case his oysters die. But he recognizes that Vineyard Wind is trying to respond to commercial fishermen.
“I see them really working with the people, and going out of their way to address our issues,” he says.
He also sees offshore wind as the inevitable future.
“One way or another it will happen. So let’s work together and get through this,” he smiles, offering an adage that could easily have applied to his experiences this winter as well:
“You plan for the worst, but hope for the best. Just like life.”