...to preserve, protect, develop, and restore coastal resources for all Rhode Islanders
RI Coastal Program, CRMC take unique approach to wind farm review
WAKEFIELD – The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is again leading the nation in its unique approach to evaluating the barrage of offshore wind projects coming through the agency – utilizing the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) and its federal consistency review authority through the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) for projects occurring outside of the CRMC’s 3-mile state jurisdiction.
The CZMA encourages states to take a leading role in managing their coastal regions, and as an incentive for state participation in the federal program, Section 307 requires that certain federal activities that are “reasonably likely” to affect any land or water use or natural resource of the coastal zone be consistent with a state’s coastal management program. With the adoption of the RI Coastal Resources Management Program (RICRMP) in 1978 into the federal coastal management program established by the CZMA, federal activities affecting any Rhode Island coastal use or resources became subject to the provisions of Section 307.
CRMC is currently evaluating two separate offshore wind development projects in 2023 – South Coast Wind and New England Wind – and has already issued federal consistency determinations for four others, South Fork Wind, Vineyard Wind, Revolution Wind, and Sunrise Wind. Though each project is different and is evaluated on its own merit, the CRMC has adopted an approach to reviewing each that makes the most of the authorities granted to the State of Rhode Island through the CZMA, as well as the two Geographic Location Description (GLDs) areas, which extend the reach of the CRMC’s federal consistency review authority into federal waters.
CRMC’s Ocean SAMP recognizes that some activities in the SAMP area and GLDs, including offshore wind development, could potentially displace commercial and/or recreational fishing activities or have other adverse impacts to these industries. Through the Ocean SAMP process, the Council appointed a standing Fisheries Advisory Board (FAB) that provides advice to the Council and CRMC staff on issues relating to wind farm projects and their potential impacts on the fishing industry. The CRMC facilitates regular meetings between the FAB and the developer for each project. Under the SAMP, the Council requires that the potential adverse impacts of offshore developments (including wind) on commercial or recreational fisheries be “evaluated, considered, and mitigated.”
For each applicable project within the SAMP area or GLDs, the CRMC works with the applicant, with the advice of the FAB, to make whole those fisheries user groups that are adversely impacted by the projects within these areas. Mitigation measures may include but are not limited to, “compensation, effort reduction, habitat preservation, restoration and construction, marketing, and infrastructure improvements.” Where potential impacts associated with proposed projects exist, the need for mitigation is assumed, and mitigation is negotiated between CRMC staff, the FAB, the project developer/applicant, and approved by the Council. This policy applies to all large-scale offshore developments, underwater cables, and other projects as determined by the Council.
“The Council recognizes that finfish, shellfish, and crustacean resources and related fishing activities are managed by a host of different agencies and regulatory bodies which have jurisdiction over different species and/or different parts of the SAMP area.
The Council recognizes the jurisdiction of these organizations in fishery management and will work with these entities to protect priority habitat areas.”
— Ocean SAMP
Through the Ocean SAMP and the recognition of the importance of fisheries, the CRMC also coordinates with other state and federal agencies with different jurisdictions including the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, RI Marine Fisheries Council, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, New England Marine Fishery Council, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The CRMC recognizes the jurisdictions of each of these entities and works with them to protect fisheries resources and priority habitat areas.
Though it might seem like excess bureaucracy, it is vital that the CRMC utilize its federal consistency review authority to the greatest extent possible and work with developers and other interested parties to avoid critical habitat areas and minimize impacts to the offshore environment and negotiate the best mitigation package possible for impacted RI fisheries and fishers via the Ocean SAMP. All of this must also happen during the six-month timeframe laid out by the federal consistency review process.
If the CRMC misses the deadline for providing a federal consistency determination, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proceeds with its own federal permitting schedule and assumes concurrence from the State of Rhode Island and its coastal program automatically. This means CRMC cannot negotiate with the developer on placement of turbines, number of turbines, spacing, and other related issues, and it means no mitigation for the Rhode Island fishing industry, and no public process for Rhode Islanders
It's a laborious and swiftly moving process, combined with the federal government’s aggressive goal of 80 percent renewable energy by 2030. BOEM requires projects be reviewed in the given timeframe regardless of how many wind applications might be before the CRMC or other coastal states, and each project is different and complex. The CRMC is reviewing two wind projects simultaneously in 2023, has at times reviewed up to four wind projects at a time, and will see two more before year’s end. The four projects already reviewed by CRMC have resulted in thousands of hours of staff time, and equal commitment from the members of the FAB and developer.
Another limiting factor under the BOEM process is that CRMC staff must evaluate projects that are continuing to be vetted and refined by the federal agency. For example, important information regarding project impacts to the marine environment and ocean users is developed at the federal level through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process via a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS is generally not available to the CRMC, or the public, until months after the CRMC’s federal consistency review period has begun. This delay in time and information results in multiple stay agreements for each project review. Additional design, engineering, operation, and decommissioning decisions also occur at the federal level outside of CRMC’s consistency review authority and after a federal consistency decision has been issued. The Council and staff are not privy to these conversations and cannot consider this information during its review. Similarly, CRMC is not privy to consultations between BOEM and other federal agencies, like NOAA NMFS, regarding project impacts to marine resources. This federal process means staff must make judgements based on available information and refined project information which comes to CRMC in a fragmented manner.
Rhode Island and its coastal program are also limited in what they can do when operating outside state jurisdiction. The CRMC’s consistency determination is not a regulatory action, and the Council cannot require a developer or applicant to take specific action because this would amount to a state regulating an activity outside of its jurisdiction. Rather, the CRMC uses its federal consistency authority and its enforceable policies to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts so that the proposed activity will be in agreement with the state policies. This requires CRMC to work closely and cooperatively with project developers and pertinent stakeholders.
The Ocean SAMP document was designed as a regulatory tool for projects proposed in State waters, with a limited influence outside of that via the Geographic Location Description (GLD) areas. Outside of that purview, the CRMC can only utilize federal consistency and its enforceable policies (portions of the Ocean SAMP).
For more information on the Ocean SAMP, as well as the ongoing and previously-permitted wind projects, go to http://www.crmc.ri.gov/windenergy.html and for information on the federal consistency process, go to http://www.crmc.ri.gov/regulations/Fed_Consistency.pdf.