MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Commercial fishing companies, trade groups and three fishing-based municipalities are seeking to delay the lease sale of an Atlantic Ocean site between New York and New Jersey that federal officials envision as the home of a massive offshore wind energy project.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of a 45-page motion ahead of its filing Thursday in federal court in Washington, D.C. It seeks a temporary restraining order halting the Dec. 15 lease sale. Those seeking a delay include groups representing scallop and squid fishermen, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The motion seeks to delay the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's plans for developers to build a 127-square-mile, 194-turbine offshore wind farm. The United States still has no offshore wind projects online, though BOEM has awarded 11 commercial offshore wind leases for sites in the Atlantic. Some major projects have been delayed by political opposition.
A BOEM spokeswoman said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The country's first offshore wind farm, a tiny project off Rhode Island with just a few turbines, is expected to debut this month.
The court motion argues that BOEM failed to consider alternative sites and contends that besides negative impacts on scallop and squid fishing, others who harvest fish species including summer flounder, mackerel, black sea bass and monkfish also would be negatively affected. When it announced final plans for the lease sale earlier this fall, BOEM said it had removed about 1,780 acres from the initial proposal because of environmental concerns.
The plaintiffs referred to that as a "diminutive change" in their motion. The fishing groups said they aren't opposed to wind farms. But they argue that site alternatives weren't considered and that conducting site analysis after a lease sale is completed will be too late.
"BOEM must carry out the proper analysis prior to officially leasing out areas to companies for construction, due to the importance of this fishery area," said James Gutowski, president of the Fisheries Survival Fund, who is a scallop fisherman from Barnegat Light, New Jersey; the group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
"It must adequately and accurately characterize the potential impacts to the industry from construction on this site," Gutowski said.
If the lease sale proceeds as scheduled, "the site encompassing historical fishing grounds, as well as fish and protected species habitat, will become irreparably encumbered by ... development rights," the motion argued. "The loss of these grounds to the fishermen, and this habitat for scallops, squid, fish, protected species, and other living marine resources, yields both great and actual harm."
Other plaintiffs in the motion included squid fishing processing companies; the town of Narragansett, Rhode Island; the borough of Barnegat Light, New Jersey; and the Garden State Seafood Association.
A hearing on the motion was expected in coming days.
The proposed wind energy project begins about 11 miles south of Long Island's popular Jones Beach and spreads out across an area sandwiched between major shipping lanes, where trawlers harvest at least $3.3 million worth of sea scallops each year, as well as smaller amounts of mackerel, squid and other species, according to a BOEM study.
U.S. officials have been reviewing plans for a wind farm in New York's coastal waters since 2011. A dozen private companies have registered to bid in the auction, as well as the state of New York's Energy Research Development Agency.
The agency says if it wins, it will facilitate development studies and analysis and arrange power purchase agreements, steps that are expected to save money for any company that eventually builds and operates the wind farm.