AS COMMUNITIES up and down the East Coast jockey for economic opportunities from the emerging offshore wind industry, New Bedford is trying to stay ahead of the pack by doubling its capacity to provide staging areas for the construction of wind farms.
The South Coast community is already home to the state-owned New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, which both Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind have contracted to use as they build their wind farms off the coast.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Jon Mitchell announced that a long dormant 29-acre parcel on the city’s waterfront will be redeveloped by the city and a group of private investors to make room for more offshore wind work. The parcel is the former Cannon Street Power Station, which has sat unused since it was decommissioned in 1992. Over the years, there has been talk of using the property as a casino or an aquarium, but none of those proposals came to fruition, in part because of environmental concerns.
While most of the site will be used as an offshore wind staging area, one of the project’s private investors, Andrew Saunders, said a “fish-centric retail facility” will also be built on a corner of the property facing the downtown area. A section of the building will accommodate local vendors who can display and sell their wares and a smaller area of the ground floor will be for seafood offloading.
The project is projected to be completed by the first or second quarter of 2023. City leaders expect it to bring an influx of jobs to the area and improve the city’s commercial tax base.
In a tweet, Mitchell called the plan a “major breakthrough” for the city and promised the project would make the most of New Bedford’s assets by attracting investments, creating jobs, and strengthening the seaport.
He also said the new offshore wind staging area will position New Bedford well to compete for additional business down the road. The Biden administration recently announced a plan calling for 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy production and 44,000 industry jobs by the end of the decade.
“What we’re trying to do is to grab as big of a piece of the pie as possible,” said the mayor. “We’re trying to get as far ahead of the pack as possible.”
Cannon Street Holdings, LLC is the private investor in the project. Its principals are Saunders, John Lees, Maurice Gulson, and Lou Cabral. They intend to purchase most of the site from the utility Eversource and the real estate company Sprague Massachusetts Properties.
The New Bedford Redevelopment Authority will purchase a four-acre section of the site from Eversource for $1. The lot will be used for commercial purposes. Site preparation is expected to begin as soon as Cannon Street Holdings closes on the sale of the land toward the end of 2021.
In its press release on the proposal, New Bedford said steps are being taken to minimize environmental remediation costs. “By choosing land uses that can achieve full regulatory compliance at costs within the means of the property purchaser, clean-up efforts and the overall redevelopment path have been greatly simplified,” the press release said. “Also of help is the anticipated designation of the site by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection under the State Enhanced Remedy program, which would accelerate clean-up efforts by streamlining environmental permitting that would otherwise take months or years to complete.”
It’s also possible state resources could become available for redevelopment of the site. Gov. Charlie Baker has urged the Legislature to approve the use of $100 million in federal funds for infrastructure improvements to give local ports a shot at a chunk of the offshore wind business. Baker has said New Bedford, Somerset, and Salem would be the leading contenders for the money.