BOSTON (AP) — A group of Martha's Vineyard fishermen on Tuesday dropped a lawsuit aimed at derailing the planned Cape Wind offshore wind farm, saying they will instead work with the developers on ways to co-exist.
The fishermen sued the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2010 after it approved the 130-turbine project and granted it a federal lease for waters in Nantucket Sound.
Fishermen argued the project would make navigation more risky, prohibitively increase their costs and could even completely kick them out of the 25-square mile wind farm site.
On Tuesday, an attorney for the fishermen said it's still not clear how the various problems can be solved, but it became obvious that collaborating with Cape Wind would be more productive than lengthy litigation.
"The idea is to work together to figure out how to maintain fishing opportunities," said David Frulla, attorney for the Martha's Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen's Association. "The concern is that you could end up in a never-ending grind of litigation."
Cape Wind officials say the settlement with the fishermen made sense because they share a goal of sustainable oceans. Spokesman Mark Rodgers added that offshore turbines can even benefit fishermen, because they've shown to form a sort of artificial reef that attracts marine life.
"We're very optimistic that local fishermen will see the fishery is improved," he said.
The centuries-old fishery on Martha's Vineyard boasts a variety of species, from sea bass to scup. Fishing association president Warren Doty said the squid and conch fisheries, with about 20 boats each, are among the island's most active.
The number of fishing boats, though, has fallen in recent years, and fishermen worried Cape Wind would devastate the fleet.
The wind turbines, each 440 feet tall, interfere with marine radar systems, a particular concern in the foggy sound, the fishermen said in their lawsuit. The Coast Guard said a dedicated lookout would be required on each vessel to ensure safety, but the fishermen argued that hiring another man was financially impossible for most vessels, which often run with one- or two-man crews.
Though no one has proposed specific solutions to their problems, Doty said the settlement allows fishermen to work with Cape Wind to find them, without being worried they'll be kicked off the water. The group has already spent $25,000 on the suit, he said.
"We're just willing to sit down and talk together about fishing practices and fishing access that's going to work in this area," Doty said.
The settlement also includes promoting a new "permit bank" on Martha's Vineyard — similar to those that already exist on Cape Cod and in Gloucester. The banks acquire the often costly fishing permits needed to chase various species and lease them to fishermen at affordable rates, so more people can enter and stay in the fishery.
Doty estimated the Martha's Vineyard Permit Bank would need $3 million to get going.
Neither side would say how much Cape Wind would contribute to the bank, but it will need additional funding to start it up. Frulla said the fishermen plan to appeal to private groups interested in seeing the wind farm and fishermen exist together.
Even with the settlement, Cape Wind still faces litigation from several groups that have filed similar lawsuits hoping to kill the project, which has been ardently opposed since it was proposed in 2001. The long fight has led to repeated to delays for Cape Wind. Rodgers said Tuesday that Cape Wind planned to start producing power in 2015, which is a year later than the projection developers made earlier this year.
Rodgers said as Cape Wind nears the planned start of construction next year, he hoped other opponents would see the project's merits and agree to work together.
"At some point, it doesn't do anybody any good to continue an argument," he said.