Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Crabbers voice concern over offshore wind farms

Last week we provided a story on some possible changes to the nature of life on the North Coast. With a potential wind farm in the offing for the waters of the Hecate Strait, local crab industry stakeholders presented their concerns over the impact the new industry may have on the crab fishery.

The Daily News on Monday provided some more information of the issue, highlighting the release of a recent study from Denmark, one which has been hailed by NaiKun wind power as a good guideline for success of their proposal.

On the other side of the debate is the Area A Crab Association, which is quite concerned about the impact any such industry may have locally.

The findings and responses were found on the front page of Monday’s paper.

Local crabbers say wind farm proposed for hear of grounds a cause for concern
By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Monday, January 22, 2007
Pages one and three

A Danish report touted by developers as evidence that offshore wind farms can have minimal negative environmental effect proves nothing about the impact the industry could have on the Hecate Strait, say local crabbers.

“It’s half a world away where there’s no Dungeness crab,” said Geoff Gould, Area A Crab Association executive director, of Danish Offshore Wind a report recently lauded by energy company NaiKun. “What this demonstrates is we’re up against a public relations machine from a large corporation where every month they send out some little bit of glitter about how great they’re going to be.”

So far, crabbers have had little luck getting firm details on where the company plans to place its wind towers. The billion dollar multi-phased project remains in the proposal stage and no environmental assessment has been conducted. However, what documentation has been filed for phase one shows the towers smack in the heart of the heaviest crabbing area of the Hecate Strait – an area where 35,000 traps are dropped yearly – raising concerns for an industry that employs hundreds of people in Rupert and Masset and one that injects millions into the economy. The first phase – and NaiKun has proposed five – covers as much as a fifth of the area where North Coast crabbers ply the water, raising questions about the crab industry’s future if the wind farm takes off.

“Once the towers are there, we don’t think we’ll be able to crab between the towers, you’d be nuts to take your boat in there. It would be like going into a grid of 300 rock piles,” said Gould of the proposed first phase.

“Plus, if these guys have a fear that the (underwater power) cable is going to be interfered with then all of a sudden they’re going to come up with a big exclusion zone and you’re kicked out of another area.”

On top of that, crabbers worry that the big push for alternative energy and the potential to generate huge sums of money for both government and private industry may leave them tied to the dock.

“If phase one is successful, (and) starts making money there’ll be another 300 towers out there the next year. They would put a tower on every piece of real estate out there if they could,” he said. “And if they started making huge money, the crab industry would be pushed to the side and they’d probably have the government right there helping them push.”

Along with the economic concerns, a recent Parks Canada report on Haida Gwaii – in contradiction to the Danish report – cites bird strikes, sea bed disturbances, acoustic effects of construction and interference with the Dungeness crab fishery all as environmental concerns about offshore wind farms. With all these concerns still unanswered, building towers on land – like Katabatic Power’s Mount Hays Mount Hays project – is the obvious answer, said Gould.

“If you’ve ever flown to Masset, you can see all the trees that are bent right over. The prevailing wind is constant, why not just put all the towers along there and service them from the beach,” he said. “Not only that, you can supply power to the Charlottes, instead they’re talking about an undersea cable coming through Kitkatla while the Charlottes are burning diesel fuel.

“If they put it where we aren’t going to crab, we’ll go buy shares.”
The area the towers appear to be headed for is a nursery ground for many types of fish and Gould said that concerns from other fishing groups may be forthcoming.

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