SALEM NEWS: Choices for a historic maritime deep-water port

Ted Warren, a member of the SAFE advisory board, published the following column in the Salem News, May 13, 2021.

Salem has a rich maritime history due to its deep-water port and technological excellence in using the wind to power its fleet of 18th- and 19th-century global trading vessels. At that time, wharves crowded the harbor as far as the eye could see, with dockworkers loading and unloading cargo. Sea trade made Salem the richest city in the United States on a per capita basis, at the turn of the 19th century. Today there is one remaining deep-water dock, located by the Salem Harbor Station, Footprint Power. This port and the undeveloped land behind it are the keys to a future maritime industry – offshore wind.

Lloyd’s Registry ranked Salem Harbor as the most desirable location in New England for supporting offshore wind.

The Biden administration has set a goal of reducing fossil fuel emissions by 50% by 2030. That ambitious goal will require ramping up offshore wind power. Salem is well-positioned to be a key player in this historic transformation.

Massachusetts has the highest offshore wind potential in the country. Federal waters east of Cape Ann are designated as extremely suitable for wind power generation because of its very high average wind speeds. The potential is enormous to power New England with carbon-free electricity. Today, natural gas-fired power plants, including our Salem Harbor Station, generate almost 50% of New England’s electrical power, along with megatons of polluting CO2. We can reverse this and supply 50% of New England’s electrical energy from clean offshore wind.

The technical difficulty of supporting wind turbines in deep water has slowed the development of offshore wind power in our area but this problem has been solved. Deep-water wind farms are now being constructed in Europe. To build and maintain these wind farms, however, requires considerable support from coastal resources. In particular, there is a strong need for harbors with no overhead obstructions and sufficient land behind the docks. Salem is unique in that it meets this requirement perfectly.

Lloyd’s Registry ranked Salem Harbor as the most desirable location in New England for supporting offshore wind. This designation could bring considerable financial support from the federal and state governments and offshore wind developers. This is not a one-off, short-term investment. Coastal New England will need 20-plus large wind farms from Maine to Connecticut. These will need to be constructed and maintained from select coastal New England ports for many decades. Salem is the perfect candidate for this opportunity.

Salem could be at the forefront of New England’s offshore wind industry, benefitting from the good-paying jobs that will be created. However, there is a potential obstacle that could prevent this vision of offshore wind construction, support, and maintenance from ever happening here: the owners of the property.

Footprint, now Footprint Realty, the owner of the land that abuts this deep-water port, has proposed a large-scale condominium development on the south lot. If this happens, then no deep-water port activity requiring the docks and the adjoining upland property will happen. This would be a disaster for Salem, the environment, and the neighborhood. This condominium project should be strongly opposed.

Currently, such a development is prohibited by Designated Port Area (DPA) regulations. Only marine industrial and supporting uses are allowed in this deep-water port. Footprint Realty, however, has proposed redefining the DPA border to exclude the south lot. This will not happen if the residents of Salem oppose the change to the DPA. We must stop this before an irreplaceable resource is destroyed.

Offshore wind support is consistent with the maritime history of Salem, with the state’s carbon dioxidereduction goals and federal climate goals. It would provide long-term, good-paying jobs in operations and maintenance if Salem is a player in the emerging offshore wind industry.