East Boothbay residents were surprised Nov. 11 by surveyors and a drilling team investigating three possible cable routes for the New England Aqua Ventus offshore wind project. NEAV – a partnership between Maine Prime Technologies, Diamond Offshore Wind and RWE Renewables – is installing a 654-foot turbine atop a University of Maine Composites-designed floating concrete hull about two miles south of Monhegan Island. The turbine will be connected to the Central Maine Power power grid with a 20-mile sub-seafloor cable landing on the Bigelow Laboratory campus where an underground cable will run to the Boothbay Harbor substation at the Routes 96 and 27 intersection.
The proposed cable routes all start from Bigelow Laboratory down School Street with the first and second routes banking left on Murray Hill Road and the third continuing up Ocean Point Avenue to the substation. The first proposed route splits off onto Sunrise Road and the second continues onto Mass Avenue and up Virginia Street. Both proposed routes hit Ocean Point Road where they continue all the way to the substation.
The surveying and drilling for the routes began the day the press release announcing it, dated Nov. 9, was published. The release said work would run for the next couple weeks. SGC Engineering is doing the surveys and Ransom Engineering is drilling for soil and ground testing.
Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer said last week he had four residents calling or coming in with concerns. However, by Nov. 15, nearly a dozen more had come in asking for information and sharing concerns. “I probably know as much as you,” Bryer said. “Maybe less.”
Bryer said since the cable lands on private property and will be set underground along a series of utility rights of way identified by the state, no one has to ask the town’s permission or notify the town on anything. Code Enforcement Officer Jason Lorrain said he has only received one permit application for cutting down some trees.
“Once people are surprised by something, then they are naturally going to be reactionary which is what we're seeing now,” he said.
Murray Hill Road homeowner Nat Wing said his concerns are about water access for at least eight homes which have wells in the front yards, one of which is about 12 feet from the roadside. If project managers opt for the first proposed route and continue with underground cable, then blasting the ledge will be necessary, he said. “You may get lucky with nine out of 10 (wells), but the last one could be a problem.”
Wing also said Virginia Street access might be a problem due to an easement six homeowners created in 2006 to allow emergency vehicular access and so Ocean Point residents would not be stuck should access to Ocean Point Road be cut off. “(NEAV) would have to get us to agree to an access that would allow them to blast which we will not let them do given the danger of the wells.”
Mass Avenue homeowners Chris and Cherry Goodwin were upset to find out surveying and drilling were happening without any notice. The couple said project management’s history of transparency issues make them wonder if waiting until the area’s summer residents were gone to do the surveying was a conscious decision.
“I mean, maybe we're reading into it, (but) they may have wanted to sneak this through when no one was around,” said Chris. “They couldn't tell us why they were surveying, they just said we were told to do this. The major concern for us is a lack of transparency and that nobody told anybody about anything.”
Diamond Offshore Project Director Duncan McEachern said he has been attempting to spread information about the project in all its steps, said Bryer. The Boothbay Register contacted McEachern who deferred to NEAV spokesman Dave Wilby. Wilby said the purpose of the survey is strictly for information which will play into any future decisions about where the cable will go. He said the survey and drilling will also help find the safest, least disruptive way to lay the cable.
“Until more is known, it is premature to speculate about exactly where the route is going and what will be needed to bury the line, but the goal is to use pre-existing underground utility corridors,” Wilby said. “It would be two years before any installation occurs, and the process during that time entails continuing to work with the community, particularly those along the potential routes.”
Bryer said he is keeping in touch with concerned East Boothbay residents and with House District 89 Rep. Holly Stover who has recently been working closely to broker a meeting between Diamond Offshore Energy and local residents. Stover said she has already helped bring four concerned residents and two NEAV representatives together to talk about their concerns.
Stover said there were attempts last week to improve communication, but they were “in the moment” when the work had already begun.
“My understanding from the residents I've spoken with is the lack of communication and the lack of information has generated a great deal of mistrust … And there's a difference in communication when you have things being done to you versus things being done with you. I think in this instance because of the lack of communication, people are rallying around the idea this is being done to them. The examples of that are, without warning, seeing workers in your front yard surveying and doing work you weren't aware was going to be done … When it's your home and your front yard it's very personal to you and your family. Your home is your sanctuary and when you feel as though you are threatened in that place – it isn't surprising to me that people are reacting to that lack of communication.”
Stover said a meeting will be announced in the next couple weeks which will bring NEAV representatives and East Boothbay residents together to discuss the project.