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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – State Sen. Susan Sosnowski said last week that the U.S. Coast Guard will continue to conduct its search-and-rescue missions in and near wind farms.

Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) made the announcement to allay serious concerns of Rhode Island’s commercial fishermen. Sosnowski chairs the Senate Fisheries Task Force.

“The Coast Guard’s response will be a great relief to Rhode Island’s commercial fishermen,” Sosnowski said. “We have many concerns regarding navigational safety near wind farms, and that was the biggest.”

The Coast Guard confirmed the information last week as well.

“The wind energy development area will not be a limited rescue zone nor a no-rescue zone,” Capt. Jennifer Williams, acting director of marine transportation systems, said. “The Coast Guard will conduct its search and rescue (SAR) mission in and near wind farms.”

Two other agencies, the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration, also responded to the task force’s concerns relating to the displacement of vessel traffic, collision risks and radar interference.

The Senate Fisheries Task Force was re-established in March, with Sosnowski being named its chairwoman. The stated purposes of the task force are to track the status and trends of the fishing industries of Rhode Island and understand the legal and regulatory mandates imposed on the fishing industry.

It’s also designed to provide a forum for individuals and organizations in the fishing community to present ideas and identify challenges facing these communities, and propose legislative and regulatory recommendations for consideration.

Sosnowski’s office said commercial and recreational fishing in Rhode Island are important industries that support not only the vessels and fishermen on the water but also fish markets, ship repair shops, ice houses, marinas, restaurants, grocery stores and dozens of other shore-side businesses.  

Late last month, Sosnowski said newly-announced changes to proposed wind farms off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts are “a positive development” that will better address some of the needs of commercial fishermen and others who work on the water or use it recreationally.

However, she added, the proposals still present some obstacles to local users, and she urged regulators to vigilantly protect the waters’ existing uses.

Sosnowski said that, in particular, changing the orientation of the proposal to align the turbines east to west will accommodate the fishing practices of some commercial fisherman who fish in the area.

“It’s a positive development that the proposal now reflects some of the fishermen’s needs for alignment, as well as the industry’s request for one-nautical-mile spacing that was not in the original plans,” she said. “While there are still some significant concerns with these proposals, I consider it progress that these adjustments have been made to help protect our fishing industry.”

Among her remaining concerns, Sosnowski includes the removal of designated transit lanes through the turbines and the overall size of the projects.

“While I am pleased that these changes have been made in recognition of our valuable fishing industry’s needs, I will continue to advocate for the fishing industry and remain concerned that this proposal still poses considerable risks to the safety and livelihood of our hardworking fishing industry’s workers,” Sosnowski said.

Developers have submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard plans that include the changes for the two proposed wind farms, one for an 84-turbine array off Martha’s Vineyard and the other for 15 turbines in Rhode Island Sound. The proposals are still on hold as the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reviews the concerns of the fishing industry.

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