2011-06-23 / Front Page

Comment on wind farm sought

DAN PARKER
REPORTER


Coming to our waters? Standing in the Irish Sea is a part of the Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm, west of the city of Barrow-in-Furness, England. The Baryonyx corporation is seeking permits to build a similar wind farm off Mustang Island. 
COURTESY PHOTO Coming to our waters? Standing in the Irish Sea is a part of the Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm, west of the city of Barrow-in-Furness, England. The Baryonyx corporation is seeking permits to build a similar wind farm off Mustang Island. COURTESY PHOTO State and federal authorities are seeking public comment on a company’s proposal to build a wind farm that could mean scores of turbines in the Gulf of Mexico off Mustang Island.

The Baryonyx Corporation, based in Austin, wants to establish a tract, known as the Mustang Island Lease Area, where turbines would be set up on platforms standing on state-owned submerged land just south of the southern city limits of Port Aransas, according to a public notice document issued by the Corps of Engineers to Port Aransas city hall.

There are no offshore wind farms along the coast of the United States, according to Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the Texas General Land Offi ce (GLO), but some exist in other parts of the world.

“We regard this as a significant first step towards realizing the development of offshore wind off the coast of Texas, and we will coordinate closely with the Corps and the statutory agencies through the process,” Baryonyx CEO Ian Hatton said in a news release issued by his company.

“Offshore wind represents a tremendous opportunity for Texas to bring its long history of offshore engineer- ing, design, fabrication and installation to bear on the nascent offshore wind industry,” Hatton said.

If permits are granted for the project, parts of the wind farm could begin taking shape as soon as 2015, according to Mark Leyland, senior vice president of offshore wind projects for Baryonyx. The Mustang Island Lease Area could contain as many as 170 turbines, some as close as five miles from shore, Leyland said.

“They will probably be visible from Mustang Island. But then, so are a lot of other structures,” Leyland said, referring to offshore oil and gas production platforms.

The Mustang Island tract would be one of three tracts in the overall wind farm, which would contain 500 turbines total, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Tracts dubbed the Rio Grande and North Rio Grande Lease Areas would be off Cameron County, the southernmost county in Texas.

Baryonyx also has identified a fourth site, off the northern part of Padre Island National Seashore, that could be used instead of the site off Mustang Island if Corpus Christi Naval Air Station officials’ concerns can’t be allayed, according to Leyland. The military base worries that the wind farm could interfere with radar, Leyland said.

Public comment is sought by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Corps of Engineers to help the agencies decide whether to issue permits for the project.

Comments also will be used to determine the need for a public hearing on the project.

The Corps will base its decision on whether to issue a permit on “an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed activity on the public interest,” according to the public notice document. Benefits must be balanced against detriments, the document said.

Among factors to be considered will be conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and quality, energy needs, safety and food needs.

Port Aransas City Manager Robert Bradshaw said he doubts that city staff will issue a recommendation, one way or another, to the city council on whether to support or oppose the wind farm proposal. Staff will supply the council with facts, and council members will decide what the city should do, if anything, from there, Bradshaw said.

Mayor Keith McMullin said he has mixed feelings about the prospect of the wind farm. He said he likes the idea that it could provide good habitat for fishing. But he is concerned about how they might look.

It’s not worth worrying about the proposal much right now, McMullin said.

“They’ve got a lot of hoops to jump through, and I’m not going to get hot and bothered about it until it looks like it could be imminent,” he said.

The GLO in 2009 approved a 30-year lease for the offshore area and awarded a bid to Baryonyx.

The lease will require that Baryonyx pay the state’s Permanent School Fund a nominal fee to lease the offshore areas for wind development. Once the wind farms are built and producing energy, the corporation will pay royalties to the Permanent School Fund.

The wind farms are expected earn a minimum of $338 million for the Permanent School Fund over the 30-year lease.

The proposed project could mean hundreds of new jobs in the Coastal Bend, Leyland said. The wind farm would need workers, including those who could fabricate parts for the structures and mariners who could shuttle people and parts out to sea and back, he said.

Baryonyx conducted an internal study to determine the environmental and economic feasibility of building the wind farm, Leyland said.

As a result of the study, officials at the company “don’t think there are any real fatal flaws where we are now,” Leyland said. Still, he said, the firm plans to do more studies.

The Mustang Island Lease Area would be 26,210 acres in size, according to the Corps of Engineers. The turbine blades would be up to 278 feet long, standing up to 410 feet above the surface of the water.

The TCEQ is reviewing the permit application by Baryonyx to determine if the work would comply with state water quality standards.

Up to four offshore electrical substations would be built on platforms at the Mustang Island Lease Area, according to the Corps of Engineers public notice document. Electric cables would be buried to a “target depth” of three feet below the Gulf bottom, but that depth will be dependent on the nature of the seabed, the document said.

As envisioned, the route of the cables will be designed “to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources by following previously disturbed areas and areas devoid of vegetation, reefs, sea grasses, dunes and other valuable habitats,” according to the document.

Scheduling of the work would take into consideration minimization of impacts to sea turtles, birds, fisheries and other natural resources, the document said.

The areas proposed for the work are included in the Texas Antiquity Committee’s list of state lands containing state archaeological landmarks, according to the Corps of Engineers.

“Therefore, the proposed activities may affect pre-20th Century shipwrecks,” the public notice document said.

“Threatened and/or endangered species or their critical habitat may be affected by the proposed work,” according to the document. “Consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Department) and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service will be initiated to assess the effect on endangered species.”

Leyland said migratory birds tend to fly higher above the Gulf than the tops of the wind farm blades. As a result, he said, impacts to migratory birds likely would be minimal. Still, more studies need to be done “to quantify that,” he said.

The Corps initially has determined that the proposed work would not have a “substantial adverse impact” on essential fish habitat or federally managed fisheries in the Gulf. The Corps’ final determination and need for mitigation measures will be subject to review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, according to the Corps.

Structures similar to the proposed wind farm platforms have enhanced fisheries in some ways. Oil and gas structures long have served as artificial reefs that have attracted a wide variety of sea life and, in turn, thousands of offshore fishing expeditions over the years.

Leyland said anglers would be allowed to fish in and around the wind farm.

The deadline for public comments to reach the Galveston office of the Corps of Engineers is July 18.

Comments may be mailed to: Jayson M. Hudson Regulatory Branch, CESWGPE RE U.S. Army Corps of Engineers P.O. Box 1229 Galveston, TX 77553-1229

Comments on the permit application to the TCEQ may be mailed to: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality 401 Coordinator, MSC-150 P.O. Box 13807 Austin, TX, 78711-3087

The TCEQ’s public comment period ends 30 days from the June 15 publication of a legal notice of the comment period.

The state agency may conduct a public meeting to consider all comments concerning water quality if requested in writing.

A request for such a meeting must contain the following information: The name, mailing address, application number or other recognizable reference to the application, a brief description of the interest of the requester, or of people represented by the requester, and a brief description of how the application, if granted, would adversely affect the interest.

The permit application number listed in the Corps of Engineers public notice document is SWG-2011-00511.

Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or dan@portasouthjetty.com.

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