In anticipation of construction beginning in January 2025, US Wind has submitted an application to the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals during the development of its offshore wind project off of Maryland over the course of five years.
US Wind is one of two companies to have been awarded the rights to develop offshore wind farms off the coast of Maryland and Delaware. The US Wind area is due east of Ocean City, Md. The second company, Ørsted, is developing an area due east of Delaware. Both companies are looking to connect to the power grid through a yet-to-be approved site in Delaware.
According to a public notice issued in late April, US Wind plans to construct the project in three phases, beginning in 2025. Each phase will include impact installation of wind turbine generators and offshore substation foundations, and inter-array and export cable trenching, laying and burial. In addition, a single meteorological tower will be installed during phase two of construction.
According to the notice, a 'take' is defined as harass, hunt, capture, kill or attempt to harass any marine mammal.
The notice says US Wind anticipates the potential harassment of marine mammals during the following stages of construction – installation of up to 114 wind turbine monopile foundations with an impact hammer; installation of up to four offshore substation foundations with an impact hammer; installation of one permanent meteorological tower using an impact hammer; use of high-resolution geophysical equipment to survey the lease area over 28 days.
“We have proposed some of the most stringent marine mammal protections in the offshore wind industry,” said Jeff Grybowski, US Wind CEO, in a statement May 9. “I can’t think of an industry that is more protective of marine mammals than offshore wind. We voluntarily agree to things – like limiting the speed of our vessels and having dedicated marine mammal observers onboard – that other offshore businesses simply won’t do.”
The notice says an incidental take authorization shall be granted if NMFS finds the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stocks, will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stocks for subsistence uses, and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set.
Comments and information must be received no later than Thursday, June 1. According to US Wind, the estimated ruling on the application is December 2023.
Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Comments can be mailed to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 or emailed to ITP.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, contact Jessica Taylor in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Protected Resources at 301-427-8401.
An electronic copy of US Wind’s application may be obtained online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-us-wind-inc-construction-and-operation-maryland-offshore-wind.
US Wind has proposed protection measures during construction.
In addition to the comment from Grybowski, US Wind provided a list of measures the company will take to minimize negative impacts to marine mammals during construction:
- No driving of monopile foundations into the seabed from Dec. 1 through April 30, as this is the timeframe in which North Atlantic right whales are known to migrate through the area
- Driving one monopile foundation per day; no pile driving at night
- Prior to the start of pile driving, a clearance zone of 3.2 miles in radius will be established around the installation location to ensure that marine mammals are not present. This clearance zone would be monitored for at least 60 minutes prior to pile driving, and US Wind will not start pile driving until this area was clear of marine mammals for at least 30 minutes
- Monitoring of these clearance zones will be accomplished using a combination of visual- and acoustic-monitoring methods. NOAA-trained protected species observers with binoculars and additional visual means will be stationed on the installation vessel and potentially deployed around the zones to monitor marine mammals. Passive acoustic monitors on buoys or vessels could also be used.
Advancements in detection technology are also expected, so the option to use those technologies, when approved, is built into US Wind’s monitoring plan.
In addition to clearance zones, US Wind says it is committed to using multiple sound-dampening technologies during pile driving to further minimize impacts. For instance, double bubble curtains will be deployed around the installation of monopile foundations and a sleeve or similar sound dampener will encase the pile.
Pile driving is expected to take about two hours per monopile foundation. During pile driving, shutdown zones will be established such that if a marine mammal approaches and crosses into the shutdown zone, pile driving will be stopped.
For large whales, the shutdown zone is 1.8 miles from the location, with smaller shutdown zones for other marine mammals.