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    NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Issues Public Comment on Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Notice


    November 22, 2021 - Targeted News Service

     

      WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 -- Michael Pentony, regional administrator of the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Gloucester, Massachusetts, has issued a public comment on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management notice entitled "Environmental Impact Statements; Availability, etc.: Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind Projects Offshore New Jersey". The comment was written on Oct. 29, 2021, and posted on Nov. 17, 2021:

      * * *

      We have reviewed the September 30, 2021, Federal Register Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Atlantic Shores, LLC 's (Atlantic Shores), proposed wind energy facilities off the coast of New Jersey within the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Renewable Energy Lease Area OCS-A 0499. This letter responds to your request for information from us, as both a cooperating agency on this project with legal jurisdiction and special expertise over marine trust resources, and as a consulting agency under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We are also an action agency for this project to the extent NOAA may provide Incidental Take Authorizations (ITAs) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). If deemed sufficient to do so, we will rely on and adopt your Final EIS to satisfy our independent legal obligations to prepare an adequate and sufficient analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the regulations published by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ regulations (2020)) in support of our proposal to issue the MMPA ITA for the proposed project. We understand that Atlantic Shores intends to apply for an Incidental Take Regulation/Letters of Authorization (ITR/LOAs) pursuant to section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA. Our needs for sufficiency to support adoption are discussed in more detail in Attachment A to this letter.

      As we understand the NOI, BOEM intends to prepare an EIS to consider whether to approve, approve with modifications, or disapprove a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) submitted by Atlantic Shores; the EIS will analyze the proposed construction and operation of two wind energy projects (Project 1 and Project 2) collectively known as the "Projects". The two distinct offshore wind energy Projects are located in the Wind Turbine Area (WTA) on the outer continental shelf (OCS) approximately 8.7 miles off of New Jersey. The proposed Projects would include the construction, operation, and eventual decommissioning of up to 200 wind turbine generators (WTGs), with between 105-136 WTGs for Project 1 and 64-95 WTGs for Project 2. The Projects would include up to ten offshore substations (OSS) with up to five in each project. Each project would be connected to land by two separate export cables. The Atlantic Export Cable Corridor (ECC) would extend from the western tip of the WTA, making landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Monmouth ECC would extend from the eastern corner of the WTA, making landfall in Sea Girt, New Jersey. The proposed facilities would be connected to shore by up to eight submarine export cables of a total of 441.2 miles in length (99.4 miles to the Atlantic Landfall Site and 341.8 miles to the Monmouth Landfall Site). The onshore electrical portions would connect to the electrical grid at the Cardiff Substation in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey and/or the Larrabee Substation in Howell, New Jersey.

      They are connected by a network of 547 miles of inter-array cables and up to ten small OSSs, five medium OSSs, or four large offshore OSSs. The Projects may use several existing port facilities including, but not limited to, locations in New Jersey, New York, or elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Some components, materials, and vessels may come from the U.S. Gulf Coast or international ports, but no final determination has been made on those port locations. The Projects would be located in water depths ranging from approximately 19 to 37 meters. The Projects would also include up to one permanent meteorological (met) tower and up to four temporary met oceanographic buoys (three for Project 1 and one for Project 2). According to information provided in the COP, the proposed Projects would involve WTGs spaced approximately 0.7 miles (0.6 nautical miles) in east-northeast to west-southwest rows, with rows 1.15 miles (1.0 nautical mile) apart.

      The NOI commences the public scoping process for identifying issues and potential alternatives for consideration in the Atlantic Shores COP EIS. Through the NOI, you are requesting information on significant resources and issues, impact-producing factors, reasonable alternatives (e.g., size, geographic, seasonal, or other restrictions on construction and siting of facilities and activities), and potential mitigation measures to be analyzed in the EIS. We offer comments and technical assistance related to significant issues, information, and analysis needs for the EIS related to resources in the project area over which we have special expertise or legal jurisdiction, including associated consultation and authorization requirements. Data related to the occurrence and status of these resources, evaluation of effects to them, and development of responsive mitigation are critical elements of the NEPA process, which require early identification of such issues in the scoping process and full evaluation throughout the NEPA process.

      The high number of projects moving through the NEPA process between now and 2024 makes it very difficult for us to provide the detailed level of review and interagency cooperation we have provided in the past. The extensive interagency cooperation we have invested with you to improve the NEPA documents for previous wind energy projects is no longer feasible, and we will be required to take a more limited cooperating agency role in the process going forward. Nonetheless, with respect to the Atlantic Shores NOI, we offer the following comments, as well as attached technical comments, on specific issues of concern (see Attachment A).

      General Comments

      Construction and Operations Plan (COP) Updates

      We rely on the information in the Atlantic Shores COP to help inform the comments and technical assistance provided during the scoping process. The mostly recently updated COP was only made available to us through the BOEM website with the publication of the NOI, so our comments related to the updated COP are limited. Furthermore, it is our understanding that Volume II of the COP has not yet been updated to reflect the most recent project changes and you do not anticipate those updates to occur until December. As a result, we may need to provide additional comments and technical assistance upon review of any updated information, including potentially developing additional alternatives to minimize and mitigate impacts of the Projects on marine and estuarine resources. This is a recurring issue, as BOEM continues to publish NOIs without all of the relevant information for the regulatory process, which puts a substantial strain on our ability to review these projects as efficiently as possible. We look forward to continuing to work with you on this issue so we can most effectively inform you of issues and concerns related to NOAA trust resources.

      We understand that during the NEPA process, applicants are permitted to make modifications and updates to their COPs, as is the case in this instance. We request, however, that if and when the COP is updated or changed at any time during the regulatory process, you notify the agencies immediately and make the most updated COP available to the agencies and the public. In addition, it is critical that you specify which sections and information in the COP have been updated so we may focus our efforts and provide an efficient review. This updated summary should describe in detail any changes to the proposed action and other information that may affect consultation with our agency. Please note that updates to the COP that occur after initiation of consultation with our agency may affect our consultation timelines. To reduce the potential need for multiple reviews, supplemental consultation and comment, and project delays, it is essential that you ensure that project information is complete before initiating a project or continuing to advance the process for existing projects. Should unexpected revisions to the Projects occur, it is critical that you coordinate with us as soon as possible to prevent inefficiencies and confusion that can result from multiple reviews, as well as delays that may affect the Projects' timelines and consultation initiation and conclusion.

      Projects and Schedule

      BOEM is planning to expedite the review of the COP through a two-year timeline to complete the NEPA process and consultations. While the FAST-41 dashboard has been populated with targeted milestone dates related to our consultations and authorization, we expect these targeted dates to change. The schedule also includes milestones for issuance of a requested MMPA Incidental Take Authorization (ITA) to the developer. Currently these milestone dates assume an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) application, but we anticipate the developer will submit an Incidental Take Regulation/Letters of Authorization (ITR/LOAs) application. Therefore, milestones and timelines will need to be updated. We will work with you and the developer to accurately modify these targeted dates for the permitting dashboard.

      Our ability to initiate consultation and meet our milestone dates is contingent upon us making the determination that we have received complete and adequate consultation documents (Biological Assessment (BA) and EFH assessment) that contain all necessary information to consult on the project. Our Biological Opinion under the ESA will be comprehensive and must consider all proposed actions associated with the Projects, including the proposed issuance of an LOA, as well as any planned survey or monitoring activities. The MMPA timeline is contingent upon NMFS' receipt of an adequate and complete MMPA ITR/LOA application by the agreed upon date, currently targeted for August 2022. To meet this deadline and avoid schedule delays, NMFS strongly recommends the applicant submit a draft application to our Office of Protected Resources approximately six months in advance of the August 2022 adequate and complete milestone date (i.e., no later than early February 2022). If we do not receive the necessary information to initiate our consultations and start processing the ITR/LOA application by the dates outlined in an updated permitting timeline, it will result in delays in the overall project schedule. Note that delays to the MMPA permitting timeline will have consequences for the ESA consultation timeline. We encourage Atlantic Shores to reach out to our Office of Protected Resources early in the process with any questions or concerns related to the ITA.

      Projects' Design Envelope

      As described in BOEM's project design envelope (PDE) guidance, a "PDE approach is a permitting approach that allows a project proponent the option to submit a reasonable range of design parameters within its permit application." While we understand and support the PDE approach, we note that it is critical to ensure that the range of design parameters are reasonable. A PDE that is too broad would impact your ability to provide a meaningful effects analysis in both the NEPA document and your consultation documents (BA and EFH Assessment). A maximum impact scenario based on an overly broad PDE may grossly overestimate the effects of the action on protected species and habitat, which would likely result in very conservative mitigation measures. The proposed action (e.g., number, type, and size of turbine foundations; schedule) in the environmental review documents (e.g., EIS, EFH assessment, BA, ITA application) should be consistent, comprehensive, and reflect a realistic build out scenario.

      The Federal Register notice refers to a "preliminary proposed action" described as including up to 200 total turbines (between 105-136 for Project 1, and between 64-95 for Project 2). Atlantic Shores expects to use monopile, suction bucket, or gravity based foundations, or a combination of styles, for the WTGs and OSSs. The WTGs are described as having a rotor diameter of 280 meters. Jacket pile foundations are planned for the ten substations. This description notes that the Projects will include up to ten offshore substations, up to five in each Project, and up to eight transmission cables making landfall at up to two locations in New Jersey. Additionally, more than five types of scour protection, potentially impacting 5,000 acres or more of seafloor, are being considered for the projects. Based on the description in the COP and NOI, the proposed Projects appear to have an overly broad PDE, which will lead to inefficiencies and potential delays in the regulatory process.

      It is unclear if the proposed action is expected to be further modified during the NEPA process and at what point in the process any modifications may occur. As we noted above, we must have all necessary information, including an adequate and complete BA and EFH assessment, to initiate these consultations. Modifications to the proposed action after consultation has been initiated is likely to lead to delays in the Projects' timelines, as these changes may affect our analysis in any consultations that are underway, including potential changes to EFH conservation recommendations and/or terms and conditions for reasonable and prudent measures being considered in the ESA consultation. The NEPA document should evaluate a reasonable PDE, with a proposed action that is consistent between the NEPA document, the ITA application, and the consultation documents.

      NOAA Trust Resources

      To be successful in meeting the Administration's goal for responsible offshore development, we must identify, understand, and fully consider the effects of large-scale development of the OCS on our ocean resources, and work to avoid and minimize adverse effects. In Attachment A, we provide detailed scoping comments related to NOAA trust resources in the project area and alternatives and mitigation measures to consider for evaluation as you develop the EIS for this project. Of particular concern are effects to North Atlantic right whales. Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales occur in the Atlantic Shores lease area, along the proposed cable corridor, and along many of the anticipated vessel transit routes. The status of this species is extremely poor and distribution in this region is not particularly well known. The proposed construction, operation, and decommissioning of the Atlantic Shores project may have adverse effects on North Atlantic right whales. This issue warrants special consideration throughout the environmental review process, especially in regard to the potential adverse effects of the proposed project to migratory right whales and their migrating, newly-born calves. As you develop the EIS, it will be critical to fully consider both project and cumulative effects of offshore development on all species listed under the ESA, including North Atlantic right whales, and evaluate ways to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to these species and their habitats. We strongly encourage you and the developer to consider all available options to minimize risk to these species and their habitats as a result of project development.

      Conclusion

      Thank you for considering our comments during this important scoping process. We provide our technical scoping comments for the Atlantic Shores Projects in Attachment A. We will continue to support the Administration's efforts to advance offshore renewable energy through our participation in the offshore wind development regulatory and planning processes. We are committed to implementing our national strategic goals to maximize fishing opportunities while ensuring the sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities. In addition, we strive to recover and conserve protected species while supporting responsible resource development. To the extent possible, we will continue working with you to provide the necessary expertise, advice, and scientific information to avoid areas of important fishing activity and sensitive habitats; minimize impacts to fisheries and protected species; and support the conservation and sustainable management of our marine trust resources. To ensure we can continue to meet our collective objectives and ambitious timelines, it is imperative that we capitalize and build upon our collaboration on recent projects and integrate lessons learned into future project development and review. This will improve the quality of the NEPA document for this and future projects, expedite our reviews, avoid delays, and result in more efficiencies in the process. We appreciate your willingness to work with us to address these challenges and recognize the collaborative work among our agencies to help gain efficiencies in the regulatory process. We look forward to continuing to work with you in this regard.

      Should you have any questions regarding these comments, please contact Sue Tuxbury in our Habitat and Ecosystem Services Division at (978) 281-9176 or mailto:susan.tuxbury@noaa.gov">susan.tuxbury@noaa.gov. For questions regarding the EFH consultation, please contact Keith Hanson in our Habitat and Ecosystem Services Division at mailto:keith.hanson@noaa.gov">keith.hanson@noaa.gov. For questions regarding ESA and section 7 comments, please contact Julie Crocker in our Protected Resources Division at (978) 282-8480 or mailto:julie.crocker@noaa.gov">julie.crocker@noaa.gov. For questions regarding MMPA Incidental Take Authorizations, please contact Jaclyn Daly in the Office of Protected Resources at (301) 427-8438 or mailto:jaclyn.daly@noaa.gov">jaclyn.daly@noaa.gov.

      View attachment at https://downloads.regulations.gov/BOEM-2021-0057-0234/attachment_1.pdf">... Pentony

      Regional Administrator

      cc: Brian Hooker, BOEM

      Brandi Sangunett, BOEM

      Brian Krevor, BOEM

      Kimberly Sullivan, BOEM

      Tom Nies, NEFMC

      Chris Moore, MAFMC

      Lisa Havel, ASMFC

      Lingard Knutson, EPA

      Tim Timmerman, EPA

      Naomi Handell, USACE NAD

      Steve Ryba, USACE NAN

      Todd Schaible, USACE NAP

      Andrew Raddant, USFWS

      Eric Schrading, USFWS

      Greg Lampman, NYSERDA

      James Gilmore, NYSDEC

      Megan Brunatti, NJDEP

      Colleen Brust, NJDEP

      Jon Hare, NEFSC

      Greg Power, NMFS APSD

      Candace Nachman, NMFS Policy

      Cristi Reid, NMFS NEPA

      * * *

      The notice can be viewed at: https://www.regulations.gov/document/BOEM-2021-0057-0001">https://www.re... NEWS SERVICE (founded 2004) features non-partisan 'edited journalism' news briefs and information for news organizations, public policy groups and individuals; as well as 'gathered' public policy information, including news releases, reports, speeches. For more information contact MYRON STRUCK, editor, mailto:editor@targetednews.com">editor@targetednews.com, Springfield, Virginia; 703/304-1897; https://targetednews.com">https://targetednews.com

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