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(NECN: Peter Howe -- New Bedford, Mass.) - Two years after Governor Deval L. Patrick first announced the state would build it, New Bedford officials on Monday celebrated finally winning Environmental Protection Agency approval for a $100 million Marine Commerce Terminal that could be a key offshore-wind project-staging area.
“The south terminal project holds the potential for the generation of jobs like nothing else that has materialized in this city in over a half-century,’’ Mayor Jonathan Mitchell said at a press event at the Bigelow Street boat ramp, just south of the planned 28-acre site, which will include seven acres of fill in the harbor.
EPA regional administrator Curt Spalding said the project includes multiple benefits for the environment, including cleanup of nearly 245,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment on the harbor floor and state commitments to rehabilitate salt marshes, winter flounder spawning habitat and shellfish beds.
The terminal, which will be able to handle ships up to 500 feet long and giant shipments like railroad cars and industrial boilers, is being touted by Patrick aides as a potential hub for staging construction of offshore wind projects like Cape Wind or others that may be built in Rhode Island Sound and areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Wind turbine blades and towers and cables would be shipped to the pier and assembled there for delivery offshore to where they’re being installed.
Cape Wind, however, has opened discussions with Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, fearing the New Bedford facility may not be open soon enough to accommodate what Cape Wind is now saying will be a 2014 construction start.
Cape Wind has said it wants to use the New Bedford terminal as much as is feasible.
The state has about $60 million of the $100 million cost lined up and authorized now, but several property owners in the area still need to agree to be bought out and relocated, including bearing maker Shuster Corp. and the transmitting tower for WBSM 1420 AM, the South Coast radio station.
“We are in a race when it comes to this project,’’ said State Representative Antonio F. D. Cabral (D-New Bedford). “We are in a race with Quonset in Rhode Island, and we’ve got to win this race.’’
State Senator Mark Montigny said he wants a clear commitment from Cape Wind: If Massachusetts builds it in New Bedford, they will come. “I fully understand why Cape Wind would do the dance between the two states, but now, before we put money in the ground, it’s a firm commitment, and these leases need to be signed, and there has to be a return for taxpayers,’’ Montigny said. “The business plan would have to be firm. There have to be signed leases and firm commitments before you go to dump taxpayer’s money in the ground.”
Mitchell said he’s confident that even if Cape Wind – which has been mired in lawsuits for years, and which could lose a financially critical federal tax incentive that is now set to expire Dec. 31 – does not happen, there are plenty of other offshore wind projects in the wings that could make good use of the marine terminal. “This is where the wind is,” Mitchell said, noting that just south of New Bedford lie areas estimated to represent 25 percent of all practical U.S. near-shore wind generation territory.
State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan said he hopes to put the project out for bids to developers “within weeks” and have it built and opened before the end of 2014.