Block Island Offshore Wind Project
Clean energy goals and the preservation of Block Island’s unique historic character are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the historic preservation movement has been a leader in finding creative ways to address climate change and sea level rise. Communities like Block Island with significant inventories of historic properties connected to historic ocean viewsheds have legal rights under the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act that too often get overlooked. Under these federal statutes, and related state laws, federal agencies have a duty to assess adverse effects on historic and cultural resources and find ways through consultation to avoid, minimize, or mitigate harm. Adverse effects of offshore wind farms include, but are not limited to visual impacts, lighting impacts, and harm to local economies that depend on the preservation and protection of historic ocean landscapes.
Communities and offshore wind developers can and should forge long-term partnerships. Establishing trust, engaging in consultation, and developing creative solutions make it possible to achieve clean energy goals while ensuring that Block Island has ways to offset the development’s harms to heritage tourism, property values, and historic context.
How the Town is Responding
Local governments and property owners have rights to be consulted on projects and policies that affect their interests, including impacts on their cultural and environmental resources. The Town, along with our legal counsel at Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC, have been actively involved in the federal permitting process. In order to represent the best interests of the island to wind developers seeking to build windfarms offshore Block Island, we are:
- Evaluating local environmental, economic, and/or visual impacts
- Determining appropriate project mitigation measures to offset perceived and assessed impacts, including through the Section 106 review process
- Negotiating for tangible community benefits, such as through a Community Benefit Agreement, offshore wind mitigation trust fund, or other economic development arrangements, as are standard in the offshore wind industry for impacted communities
Federal Regulatory Framework
In reviewing permit applications for offshore wind projects, the Bureau of Ocean Energy management (BOEM) is required under federal law to consider the impacts to resources in the Project Area. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is designed to ensure that the public and decision-makers are provided with the information they need to make a considered decision about the best path forward. The statute is also designed to ensure that the agency has carefully and fully contemplated the environmental effects of its proposed action, requiring federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of a proposed action. In addition to considering impacts on the natural environment, NEPA requires federal agencies to consider impacts on historic and cultural resources.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires BOEM to address impacts to historic properties. As part of the federal government’s policy of protecting the nation’s historic heritage and sense of orientation as an American people, Section 106 requires federal agencies to consider the effects on historic properties of projects they carry out, assist, fund, permit, license, or approve throughout the country.
If a federal or federally-assisted project has the potential to affect historic properties listed or determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, a Section 106 review is required. During Section 106 review, once historic properties have been identified in coordination with the applicable State Historic Preservation Officer, the federal agency charged with permitting the proposed project must find ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects to those properties in consultation with parties who have a demonstrated interest in the undertaking. If a community like Block Island has National Historic Landmarks—such as the Southeast Lighthouse National Historic Landmark—that have a potential to experience adverse effects, Section 110(f) of the NHPA requires BOEM to use all possible planning to minimize harm, a heightened legal duty that BOEM often overlooks.
- Elizabeth Klein Named Director of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, available here
- BOEM Announces Proposed Rule to Increase Protection of Marine Archaeological Resources, available here
- BOEM Standardizes Process for Environmental Reviews of Offshore Wind Construction and Operations Plans, available here.
- Vineyard Wind and Nantucket Announce Community Partnership, available here.
- Biden Administration Launches New Federal-State Offshore Wind Partnership to Grow American-Made Clean Energy, available here.
- President Biden Takes Bold Executive Action to Spur Domestic Clean Energy Manufacturing, available here.
- Biden Administration Jumpstarts Offshore Wind Energy Projects to Create Jobs, available here.
- Biden-Harris Administration Advances Offshore Wind Energy Leasing on Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, available here.
- Broekel, T., & Alfken, C. 2015. Gone with the Wind? The Impact of Wind Turbines on Tourism Demand. Energy Policy, 86, 506–519, available here.
- Parsons, G. Firestone, J. 2018. Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Development: Values and Implications for Recreation and Tourism. Sterling (VA): US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. OCS Study BOEM 2018-013. 52 p, available here.
- Sullivan, R. G., Kirchler, L. B., Cothren, J., & Winters, S. L. 2013. Research articles:
Offshore wind turbine visibility and visual impact threshold distances. Environmental Practice, 15(1), 33–49, available here.
- Vissering, J., 2011. A Visual Impact Assessment Process for Wind Energy Projects, available here.
- Warner, R., 2018. Cultural Resources Specialist, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Office of Renewable Energy (Atlantic), An Overview of Visual Impact Analysis for Offshore Wind Energy, available here.