By James Niedzinski
---- — Representatives from Tetra Tech, a technical engineering firm, and New Hampshire Transmission, the developer exploring the installation of a 55-mile long underwater cable, are poised to meet with lobstermen and fixed-gear fishermen tonight to discuss the plans and impact of a Sonar survey around Cape Ann.
But while lobstermen and their backers say the timing is terrible, and would disrupt their efforts in the middle of peak lobster season, any change in a time frame could impact future cable installation plans, according to Matt Valle, president of New Hampshire Transmission at NextEra Energy.
”If we don’t do it in the near term, we would have to put a proposal out where we haven’t investigated all the risks,” said Valle, whose parent NextEra is the energy giant that also operates the Seabrook (N.H.) nuclear power plant. “In terms of data collection and a time frame, it’s the ideal time.”
Valle said an underwater cable, which is under “serious consideration,” would help meet the needs of the company as well as customers. The cable, which would offshore from southern New Hampshire and around Cape Ann to just off Revere, is being designed to boost the New England power grid while also avoiding the need to build more land-based, overhead power lines.
The cable, if installed, would connect two stations in different sections of New England, said Nick Welz, a senior marine scientist with Tetra Tech. Because of the population and usage between the two stations, Welz said power does tend to “bottleneck” in the area.
New Hampshire Transmission has tapped Tetra Tech to use the 110-foot vessel Sea Lion V to drag Sonar equipment from Revere, through Cape Ann waters and up to the Seabrook area to examine the possibility of installing the underwater cable. While the cable would loop offshore, NextEra’s Seabrook nuclear plant sits just 17 miles across the water from Cape Ann, and can be seen from parts of Rockport and Lanesville.
There will be four zones for the survey and the Sonar equipment will spend 7 to 10 days in each zone; the Sea Lion V arrived in Gloucester late last week in preparation for the project.
Yet the timing of the sonar survey, which will carry through August, will tangle plans for lobstermen and fixed gear fisherman, as the sonar equipment would pass through waters that would have to be cleared of lobster traps.
Local officials with the Gloucester Fisheries Commission as well as the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association have previously expressed their frustration with the sonar plans; as this is the ideal time to be out setting traps and collecting lobsters.
The public meeting tonight, which will include the state Division of Marine Fisheries and representatives of Tetra Tech and New Hampshire Transmission, is set for 6:30 at Gloucester High School
Officials with both companies said they sympathize with the situation of lobstermen.
But Welz said this is also the right time to do the survey, as this time of year would provide the best results. The project has already been 15 months in the making; with all of the preparation work done such as accessing mooring databases done before, the next logical step was to take a look at where a cable might be placed.
Valle said he has been in contact with local lobstermen and he understands their concerns.
Tetra Tech has agreed to limit the survey corridor to 984 feet in width to minimize water space, use local fishing vessels to act as liaisons and assist in fishing communications and work with the state Department of Marine Fisheries to limit the displacement of gear; it is against the law to damage commercial lobster equipment.
Tonight’s meeting was scheduled with the Department of Marine Fisheries at the request of local lobstermen, most of the fixed gear fishing taking place in the area will be lobster trawls and gillnets.
”I think we can work through this with them, I think we can minimize the impact,” Valle said. “They’ve got a job to do, we’ve got a job to do as well.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.