Deepwater Wind’s new Fisheries Liaison, retired commercial fisherman Rodney Avila of New Bedford, Mass., will be on the East End all week meeting with potential independent fisheries representative candidates for the South Fork Wind Farm off of Montauk, while the East Hampton Town Trustees have issued a detailed set of requests for Community Benefit Projects they’d like to see Deepwater Wind fund on behalf of fisheries here.
Deepwater Wind, the developers of the first U.S. offshore wind farm off Block Island, is planning to build a 90 megawatt, 15-turbine wind farm about 36 miles off the coast of Montauk, and has been meeting with local fishermen and the East Hampton Town Trustees in an attempt to build trust with the local fishing community.
But those conversations have turned testy in recent months, as scientific studies of fish populations in the area of the turbines and the proposed electric cable landing site in Wainscott are just beginning, and no one from the Montauk fishing community has agreed to work with the company on behalf of fishermen.
Deepwater Wind had been close to hiring a fisheries representative early in 2017, said Deepwater Wind Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Permitting Aileen Kenney in an interview Feb. 16, but that person had backed out of the position due to backlash from the fishing community.
“There’s fear and apprehension. People have to learn a little more about it,” said Mr. Avila of the wind farms. “Both (fishing and wind farms) can coexist.”
Mr. Avila started fishing at age 9 and tallied more than 50 years of experience in the fishing industry before retiring. He’s operated out of several major Northeast ports and captained seven commercial fishing vessels berthed out of New Bedford. Most recently, he’s conducted vessel safety inspections up and down the East Coast.
In his new role as Deepwater Wind’s fisheries liaison, Mr. Avila will perform outreach to the commercial and recreational fishing communities on the East Coast and guide communication between local fisheries representatives and Deepwater Wind regarding the company’s planned offshore wind farms.
Mr. Avila and Julia Prince, Deepwater Wind’s Montauk manager and fisheries liaison, will be meeting with prospective fishing representatives on the South Fork Monday through Thursday of this week, Feb. 19 through 22, and would like to speak with anyone in the fishing community who is interested.
Ms. Kenney said it’s been a six-year process since Deepwater Wind began planning the Block Island Wind Farm, with two years of baseline fisheries studies done before the wind turbines were built and two years of studies done during construction, with the company currently finishing up work on two more years of post-construction studies.
“When we first started, we had a reaction like the folks in Montauk,” she said, but added that, as more Block Island fishermen have experienced having the turbines off the coast, they’ve realized that they provide structure, serving as an artificial reed that is a boon to recreational fishing.
“We will have more science,” she said. “It takes time to get results and have them be scientifically valid….These projects grow incrementally. We want to have a long-term relationship with fishermen.”
Ms. Kenney said Deepwater Wind has learned from its first wind farm on Block Island, where the turbines are half a mile apart, which provided enough distance for safe transit of the farm by the smaller fishing boats used by local fishermen. But the South Fork Wind Farm turbines will be .8 miles apart, she said, due to the larger vessels fishing in those waters.
Mr. Avila said he has a simple strategy for building consensus up and down the East Coast.
“I’m just gonna go talk to fishermen,” he said. “We want input.”
Deepwater Wind recently proposed a “Community Benefits Package” for East Hampton Town that included paying to bury existing overhead electric lines in Wainscott, giving the town $1 million for water quality improvements in Wainscott, providing $200,000 for a town energy sustainability resiliency fund, and pledging $600,000 to the East Hampton Town Trustees for fisheries habitat and marine environmental improvements. They have pledged to keep a fisheries liaison on staff for the full 25 year life of the project.
“The proposed landing of the cable on the Atlantic Ocean side of East Hampton is exactly perpendicular to the seasonal travel pattern of striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, fluke and other migratory game fish upon which our local economy heavily depends… We fail to see how this package offsets the risks we are asked to assume,” said East Hampton Town Trustee Clerk Francis Bock in a Feb. 12 letter to Deepwater Wind Vice President of Development Clint Plummer. “At the same time, we recognize that NY State regulations will most likely over-rule, should the Trustees deny access to the cable landing.”
Mr. Bock also asked Deepwater Wind to conduct studies on EMF radiation’s effects on the specific species of fish that migrate along East Hampton’s coastline.
In the letter, Mr. Bock asked Deepwater Wind to establish a Fisheries Conflict Resolution Fund to reimburse fishermen for losses due to the turbines, the establishment of a Town Trustee Fishery Resource Assistance Fund, which could be used for shellfish restoration, fisheries research and socioeconomic studies of the local fishing community, and the establishment of an East Hampton Town Trustee Aquatic Environmental Improvement Fund, which could be used for community shellfish gardens, environmental remediation of eelgrass and other shellfish habitat, water quality testing and dredging to improve water quality, among other projects. Mr. Bock also asked Deepwater Wind to fund a Town Trustee historical research project and improvements to infrastructure at Trustee marine access sites throughout town.