A group of Nantucketers is challenging key environmental approvals for Vineyard Wind, the offshore wind energy farm under construction south of Martha’s Vineyard.

Nantucket Residents Against Turbines filed an appeal with the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Saturday, calling on the court to overrule a district court’s decision to dismiss the group’s prior lawsuit. The residents previously alleged the federal agencies involved in permitting Vineyard Wind failed to consider the impacts of the project’s 62 turbines on the critically endangered right whale, which is known to swim through the Cape and Islands’ waters.

The lawsuit is one of several courtroom battles that have been waged in an attempt to stop Vineyard Wind. The project is expected to be the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the country and could start producing energy this fall. Construction started earlier this year, and the farm has come out victorious in other legal cases.

The Nantucket residents initially sued the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2021. In May, a federal court judge in Boston dismissed the case.

But the group contends the case needs reconsideration.

“Absent an order from this Court reversing the District Court summary judgment denial, the project, which is now in the inchoate stages of construction, will be permitted to continue, sending the already highly endangered [North Atlantic right whale] careening further down the road toward extinction,” the group wrote in its appeal.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and National Marine Fisheries Service “failed to utilize the best scientific and commercial data available, and failed to adequately consider a number of important, significant risks to the [North Atlantic right whale] induced by the project,” the Nantucket group wrote in its initial briefing to the court.

The lack of consideration for the species during permitting breaks the Endangered Species Act, the residents allege, and the federal district court’s ruling that determined the agencies were in compliance was incorrect. 

The Nantucket residents, led by Vallorie Oliver, say the federal government did not rely on the best available science and commercial data when making permitting decisions. The group claimed the agencies also did not delve deep enough into the fact that right whales are commonly found in the area of the wind farm, including during construction periods.

Vineyard Wind has said it has extensive safety measures in place to protect right whales during construction. Company boats are supposed to have observers looking out for protected species, boats are restricted to speeds of 10 knots or less and pile driving can’t occur between January and May. Pile driving is also not allowed at night, when it is hard to see whales, and the company is listening for whale calls with underwater acoustic monitors.

Vineyard Wind spokesperson Andrew Doba declined to comment Monday, citing the pending litigation.

The plight of the endangered whale is one that has been followed closely by residents of the Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod. There are fewer than 350 right whales left in the world. Scientists say the species plays an important role in ocean ecology. The whales help maintain healthy ecosystems by redistributing nutrients from the bottom of the ocean to the surface and their carcasses serve as food for other organisms.