Big change coming to Salem port seen from West Shore

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Within the next three years, the Salem skyline when viewed from Marblehead’s West Shore will change as developers transform a 42-acre site around the Footprint Power plant across the harbor into a wind turbine terminal. 

The Salem Harbor Wind Terminal would become the second port of its kind in the Bay State, the other residing in New Bedford.

But while the project is viewed by state officials as an important step away from Massachusetts’ reliance on fossil fuels, at least one local resident is urging his neighbors on the West Shore and beyond to stay vigilant as the project goes through its extensive permitting process.  

A panoramic photograph of what the Salem Harbor Wind Terminal could look like when it is fully operational. COURTESY PHOTO / CROWLEY WIND SERVICES, INC.

The Salem terminal project is a public-private partnership forged between Crowley Wind Services Inc. and the city of Salem, with AVANGRID serving as the port’s anchor tenant through its Commonwealth Wind and Park City Wind projects. 

Crowley will develop, build and operate the terminal to support the construction of wind turbines offshore. The site would act as a hub for the staging and partial assembly of turbine components, including blades and tower sections, to be shipped in from across the globe and prepared for offshore installation, according to the company’s website.  

John Berry, Crowley’s director of terminal operations, said Marblehead residents will see quite a bit of activity on land and on the water. 

“They are going to see some of the tower sections as they come in,” Berry told the Marblehead Current. “Though they will be prominent on the site, the tower sections won’t be as tall as the stack of the [liquefied natural gas] plant. To consolidate the area, tower sections will be placed vertical and laid down.”

A steady stream of vessels between 400 and 500 feet will be dropping off and picking up turbine components. 

The Salem Harbor Wind Terminal will occupy the parcel labeled ‘Lot 2.’ COURTESY PHOTO / CROWLEY WIND SERVICES, INC.

“Marblehead and Salem residents will certainly see more vessels coming in and out, which will be a little bit of a new experience and development for the port,” Berry said. “They’ll also see a big crane that will be used to load and discharge tower sections.” 

As the Bay State’s second terminal, Salem’s port would be a centerpiece as Massachusetts strives to meet its goals to decarbonize and transition to renewable energy. The state is planning to establish wind farms that collectively generate 5,600 megawatts of power.

The Bay State has already contracted for 3,000 megawatts (one wind turbine can produce between 13 and 20 megawatts, according to Berry) across four projects:

  • Vineyard Wind, 1,800 megawatts
  • Mayflower Wind, 804 megawatts
  • Commonwealth Wind, 1,232 megawatts 
  • Mayflower Wind (residuals), 405 megawatts

A game changer

The opportunity for Salem to serve as a wind terminal came about fairly quickly, according to Mayor Kim Driscoll. Driscoll, the state’s next lieutenant governor,  has pointed to Gov. Charlie Baker and the White House as major catalysts for a groundswell of offshore wind projects.

“President Biden has led a more amplified effort to accelerate offshore wind as a means to supply renewable energy,” said Driscoll in 2021. “The state has identified [the Salem] port as a key part of the needed infrastructure to support offshore wind.”

The Salem Port Authority and Crowley landed $45 million from the state government and $33.8 million from the federal government to support investments in the port’s infrastructure.

“We are going to need to get all the funding we can get for our project,” said Berry. “It’s going to take a lot of private-public investment in order to get these projects to the market.”

Preparations for Salem to serve as a wind terminal will include the construction of a 700-foot-long wharf and bulkhead that will be able to handle oversized and heavy cargoes and serve as a loadout and assembly location.

Crowley projects construction will create 200 full-time jobs, and post-construction operations will create another 200. 

“The project is moving quickly,” Driscoll said. “We’re learning a lot. I think the industry is only growing, and we’re excited to be able to position Salem to take advantage of the opportunity to grow this particular industry here.”

The scope of work for the terminal will include:

  • LAYDOWN YARDS: Two laydown yards will provide space for pieces of the wind turbines called “nacelles” and “towers.”
  • TRANSITION YARD: The transition yard will connect between the two laydown yards and provide additional storage.
  • PRE-ASSEMBLY AND LOAD AREA: This area is planned for pre-assembly, staging and loadout activities adjacent to the bulkhead and wharf.
  • WHARF AND BULKHEAD: Area improvements will provide adequate landside and waterside structures for loading and unloading of vessels.
  • BERTHS FOR VESSELS: Several berth areas are anticipated to accommodate berthing and moorage of wind turbine installment vessels (WTIVs) for loadout operations as well as heavy transportation vessels (HTVs) for inbound deliveries.
  • ON-SITE EQUIPMENT: Equipment such as transport vehicles and high-capacity cranes will be on site to assist in moving the wind blades and nacelles.

A little background 

Footprint Power plant’s predecessor, a coal and oil-fired plant, resided on 65 acres of the Salem waterfront property. When Footprint bought the land, it demolished the old plant and built the natural-gas plant, leaving behind 42 undeveloped acres.

“The coal plant was demolished beginning in 2014, and a site environmental remediation effort was undertaken,” Crowley wrote on its website for the terminal project. “The original 65-acre site has since been divided into two lots. Footprint Power sits on 23 acres, and the terminal would be on Lot 2.”

Berry said the plan is for shovels to go into the ground next summer, beginning a “very aggressive construction schedule” that would wrap up sometime in 2025, with the terminal becoming operational in 2026. 

Once operational, the Salem Offshore Wind Terminal will support a number of offshore wind projects.

“The first two projects deployed from Salem by AVANGRID will provide 2 gigawatts of clean power,” Crowley’s website notes. “This is roughly equal to removing over 500,000 vehicles from our roadways or powering over a million homes with clean energy.”

A schematic drawing outlining operating and planned Atlantic offshore wind farms. COURTESY PHOTO / MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES

Crowley must procure 10 local, state and federal permits before construction work gets underway, including from the Salem Conservation Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Salem Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management. 

“We’re going through a pretty extensive permitting process to get all of the environmental green lights, if you will, to start to develop the property,” Berry said. “There’ll have to be extensive rehabilitation of the berthing areas to support the heavy weights.” 

Berry characterized the latter work as “a real big investment.” Construction workers will use steel and concrete to reinforce key sites and support very heavy loads. 

“The back lands will also be improved for strength and stability,” said Berry. “And that will be the areas where these components will be laid down, organized, inspected and prepared for offloading into the wind farm installation.” 

Salem’s 42 acres and port are ideal for a turbine terminal, Berry said.

“Salem’s natural deepwater harbor is very attractive to be able to bring vessels in and ship them out with big turbine components,” Berry said. “The fact that Salem has no overhead obstruction is very desirable.”

More than an eyesore?

While Salem may be “desirable” to the developer, residents of Marblehead’s West Shore should be taking a more critical view of the project, wrote Gregg Thibodeau of Marblehead, the author of a call to action circulated among members of the Naugus Head Association Dec. 5.

Thibodeau, retired engineer with over 40 years of experience and the father of two Marblehead firefighters, said he has done a close read of the port’s 500-plus-page permitting document, including the design plans for the port.

Through that research, he has come to believe that the project’s “major impact on Marblehead” has not been made plain in the community presentations to this point.

“You will also be disappointed as was I that there was no mention of the impact on Marblehead nor on the harbor’s extensive recreational boating activities,” he wrote.

To support the heavy wind turbines and their components, construction of the new 400-foot jetty wharf and the 416-foot-by-66-foot preassembly and load-out deck will require driving approximately 600 pilings into bedrock, Thibodeau noted.   

A draft schematic drawing of the proposed Salem Harbor Wind Terminal. COURTESY PHOTO / CROWLEY WIND SERVICES, INC.

He also noted the extensive dredging operation to provide the water depth needed for the large ships that will be coming in and out of the port.

As Thibodeau sees it, four major forms of pollution will impact Marblehead and Salem Harbor during both the construction of the facility and the ongoing assembly of the wind turbines: noise, lighting, water and air.

“The noise from the 24×7 pounding pile driving alone will have a major impact on the quiet enjoyment of the harbor’s recreational users and Marblehead’s West Shore homeowners,” he wrote. “There will be an especially devastating impact if the work proceeds during the summer months, which seems to be the plan.”

To Thibodeau, it is obvious that the size of the windmills’ blades and towers will necessitate the use of heavy duty cranes and other equipment to unload them from the ships that will deliver the components, move them around the site during assembly, and then load them on the ships and barges for delivery.

That equipment, typically diesel-powered, will only add to the air and noise pollution, Thibodeau argued.

Thibodeau also has concerns about high-intensity lighting that might be used for overnight operations.

All of that is before even getting to the “major visual impact” on the harbor, Thibodeau continued.

Thibodeau urged his fellow Marbleheaders to engage with the permitting process.  

“Comments during the permitting process can really make a difference in mitigating the impact on recreational boating and those of us who live on the West Shore,” he wrote.

He opined that a priority should be preventing the demolition and pile driving between May and October.

Thibodeau also suggested that West Shore residents should insist on setting reasonable times for the construction work to avoid excessive noise at night, as well as lighting designed to reduce the impact on boaters and West Shore residents, and remedial measures to minimize noise and emissions from the construction equipment.

“Now is the time to mobilize!” he concluded.

Kris Olson contributed to this article.

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