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Apr. 7—Wednesday's announcement that Maine organized labor and the developer of a pilot offshore wind farm are partnering to train and hire construction workers took place against a backdrop of rising tensions between two marine-related job creators.
One, the fishing sector, is longtime symbol of Maine's independent work ethic and an economic mainstay in many coastal communities. The other, offshore wind, is part of a fast-evolving clean-energy industry that's taking shape along the Eastern Seaboard.
With offshore wind, the interests of these two water-dependent activities are colliding. At issue is access to the ocean and to what degree floating turbine platforms, subsea anchoring systems and buried cables can coexist with boats that haul lobster traps and drag for ground fish and scallops.
The job projections for offshore wind are tantalizing. New England Aqua Ventus, the developer of a demonstration floating wind turbine planned for construction next year off Monhegan Island, said building a single floating platform will create hundreds of union-wage jobs. Full-scale commercial wind farms with multiple turbines could require thousands of skilled workers, the company says.
Fishing interests say such projections are overblown. A study done last year by Georgtown Economic Services for the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance said some of the skilled jobs would need to come from overseas, along with specialized, foreign-flagged vessels, for the industry to rapidly expand.
Whatever the projections, many Maine business interests see room for both industries. Some have formed a new advocacy group, the Gulf of Maine Sustainability Alliance. Its internet home page reads: "Let's lead the way in floating offshore wind. A new Maine industry in harmony with all ocean users."
The group's advisory council includes Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce; Jack Parker, president of Reed & Reed, which has helped build many land-based wind farms; Rep. Genevieve McDonald, D-Stonington, a fishing captain who also serves on the Maine Lobster Advisory Council, and Grant Provost, business agent for Ironworkers Local 7.
Gov. Janet Mills, who's counting on offshore wind to help Maine meet aggressive climate mitigation goals, is trying to navigate a course through choppy waters. Last fall she announced plans build the nation's first offshore wind farm dedicated to research, with up to a dozen floating turbines at least 20 miles from the coast. She asked the fishing industry to be part of the process, to help design floating arrays that minimize impact with traditional harvesting.
The proposal wasn't widely embraced. In January, in a bid to quell opposition from fishing interests, Mills proposed a 10-year moratorium on wind projects in state waters.
But many fishermen aren't placated. Some marine businesses have recently begun circulating a sticker that depicts a map of Maine and a red lobster holding a wind turbine in its claw.
"CRUSH Mills," the sticker reads.
In a blog post last month on the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association website, Dustin Delano, a vice president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, began his column by expressing what he saw to be at stake.
"In recent weeks, many fishermen along the Maine coast have discovered a new fear to add to their lengthy list of stressors — that they will be replaced by 700-plus foot wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine," Delano wrote.
That sense that fishing jobs would be blown away by wind energy led to charges, countercharges and confrontations in late March between lobstermen and a survey vessel marking the route for the undersea cable that would connect the Monhegan test turbine to the mainland.
Tensions eased only after Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher, acting on direction from Mills, asked captains who fish along the survey route to haul their gear or face having it moved out of the way by the Marine Patrol.