Portsmouth: Mayflower should explore alternative routes

Meanwhile, Little Compton and Middletown battle for right to intervene in proceedings

By Jim McGaw
Posted 8/25/22

PORTSMOUTH — Mayflower Wind should explore alternate routes before running a cable up the Sakonnet River and over land in Portsmouth, an attorney for the Town of Portsmouth told the R.I. Energy …

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Portsmouth: Mayflower should explore alternative routes

Meanwhile, Little Compton and Middletown battle for right to intervene in proceedings


PORTSMOUTH — Mayflower Wind should explore alternate routes before running a cable up the Sakonnet River and over land in Portsmouth, an attorney for the Town of Portsmouth told the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) during a three-plus-hour hearing on Aug. 18.

EFSB is considering Mayflower’s application to construct the transmission facilities necessary to connect its offshore wind turbines located 30 miles south of Nantucket to the regional transmission system at Brayton Point in Somerset.

RELATED NEWS: Portsmouth Town Council delays vote on resolution opposing Mayflower cable

The proposed cables would run undersea in the Sakonnet River and make landfall in Portsmouth at Island Park Beach, follow Boyds Lane underground to Anthony Road, and then take one of three as-yet-undetermined routes before transitioning back to offshore in Mt. Hope Bay. The cables would eventually make it to the regional transmission system in Somerset.

The project area in Rhode Island consists of about 139 acres — more than 135 of which are offshore, undersea land, and about 3.5 acres of onshore land. Mayflower Wind is not seeking EFSB approval for the construction of the offshore wind turbines or the facilities at Brayton Point, as they are located outside of the board’s jurisdiction.

The Aug. 18 preliminary hearing was not open to public comment, although comment will be allowed at later hearings. Its main purpose was to determine the issues to be considered by the board in evaluating the application, to designate those agencies which will act at the direction of the board for the purpose of rendering advisory opinions, and to identify those licenses required by the facility which are under the direct control of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). Mayflower Wind also made a presentation to the board of its plans, similar to those it had already made before the Town Council on Aug. 9 and at a community forum on Aug. 16.

At last week’s EFSB hearing Terrence Tierney, an attorney representing the Town of Portsmouth along with Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin, questioned the proposed cable route, saying Mayflower should still consider other courses that were previously considered.

“The routes that were considered and discussed include a landfall at a Little Compton town beach and one at Sakonnet Point and running up through the town,” said Tierney, adding that a route through Middletown was also considered at one point. 

Another potential route avoids the Sakonnet River altogether by landing at Horseneck Beach in Westport, running up Route 88 and Route 6 before crossing over to Brayton Point, he said.

EFSB Chairman Ron Gerwatowski asked the attorney whether he anticipates Portsmouth will argue not to have the route go through its town.

“We’ll wait and see. We recognize there are tax revenues at play, but we are also hearing concerns from the Town Council, frankly, about the chosen route,” Tierney said, adding that some members of the public believe the Westport alternative was preferable and Rhode Island gets very little benefit under the current plan. “It remains to be seen where we stand on the preferred route.”

As to whether he expects the Town of Portsmouth to argue the route should go through Little Compton or Middletown, Tierney said, “No, but we’d like to have that option open. We certainly want the option or kick the tires on why the onshore Westport route is not preferable since it would not involve any underwater construction and would not involve any Rhode Island waters at all.”

Christian F. Capizzo, an attorney representing Mayflower, said alternate routes were examined but were deemed “impractical and dismissed from consideration.” The only plan before the board is the one that proposes an intermediate landfall in Portsmouth, he said.

Little Compton, Middletown

The Aug. 18 hearing also featured some sharp exchanges between Gerwatowski and Marisa Desautel, an attorney representing the towns of Little Compton and Middletown, which have both made motions to formally intervene in the proceedings. 

Desautel argued that under the law, those towns should be allowed to intervene because state agencies such as DEM and CRMC do not “address town concerns, such as the impact to the local community.” There’s also a second standard for intervention: “Any other interest of such nature that petitioners’ participation may be in the public interest. This is not a high bar,” she said.

“This project is coming right up the Sakonnet River. How is the public interest not invoked? And how are the towns’ involvement not appropriate?” Desautel added.

The attorney listed a number of businesses and activities that could be adversely impacted by the cable construction, as well as its future decommissioning or any potential emergencies that may arise. They include recreational fishing and shellfishing, mooring fields, paddle boards and kayak rentals, restaurants, wildlife refuges, bird sanctuaries, private and public beaches and more. All of them, she argued, contribute to the local economy for both towns.

For example, Desautel said, both towns derive commercial fees from both year-round and transient mooring holders. “There is concern that boaters will be discouraged from going up the Sakonnet River and eventually arriving at Little Compton or Middletown. Maybe they’ll go elsewhere. Maybe they’ll go to Buzzards Bay, Long Island. That is a valid concern for the towns,” she said.

Gerwatowski repeatedly expressed skepticism over Desaultel’s claim that the cable construction would directly impact the local economy of both towns, and they sparred over this point several times. At best, he said, they are “indirect impacts” only.

Mayflower has opposed both motions of intervention from Little Compton and Middletown. “We still fail to see what evidence there is of a direct effect to both Middletown and Little Compton,” said Capizzo. “You’ve got an undersea cable that is going to go up the center of the Sakonnet, buried underwater at least six feet underground. It’s not making landfall in either Middletown or Little Compton. The body of water that the cable is going to be going in is state waters, which is under the jurisdiction of both (CRMC) and DEM. Most of the concerns raised by both Little Compton and Middletown are generalized concerns” with no specificity of what the direct effects are.

Desautel countered both Capizzo and Gerwatowski by saying that under the Rhode Island case law, the towns need to merely show that certain segments of their economies “may” be impacted.

Portsmouth as the host

Mayflower has not objected to a motion to intervene by Portsmouth, which is considered a host community for the project. Only host communities, as a general rule, “have any direct interest that justifies full participation in the proceeding … which protects the board and the applicant against needless complexity of the proceeding,” Mayflower stated in its letters of objection to both Little Compton’s and Middletown’s motions to intervene.

Tierney said Portsmouth “strenuously disagrees” with any contention that it would adequately represent the interests of those towns. “We are the host community. We definitely do not represent the interests of Little Compton or Middletown and we couldn’t even if we wanted to,” Tierney told the board, adding the Town of Portsmouth shouldn’t incur the expense of representing those interests.

The attorney also said the Town of Portsmouth has no objections to either Little Compton or Middletown intervening in the proceedings, and he rejected the argument that would make the process unworkable, as Mayflower contends.

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