It’s been nearly a year since the Long Island Power Authority agreed to buy the power produced by an offshore wind farm 36 miles off of Montauk, and the firm that is building the South Fork Wind Farm, Deepwater Wind, is in the midst of an intensive push for public support for the project in advance of submitting a bevy of permit applications to state and federal agencies next year.
Crucial to the wind farm developers is a landing site for the cable that will supply power to the LIPA substation on Buell Lane in East Hampton Village. Local easements for that site will need to be in place before Deepwater Wind can submit its more than 20 applications for permits and approvals from other agencies.
Deepwater Wind developed the first offshore wind farm in the United States off of Block Island, a demonstration project with just five turbines that went online in late 2016. The South Fork Wind Farm, which is slated to have about a dozen turbines, would be their second project. It is designed to feed the South Fork’s unique need for power in an area geographically distant from most power production, which has unique peak power needs on hot summer weekends.
Members of the public said earlier this year they were concerned about the impact to wildlife if the cable came ashore at Deepwater Wind’s original suggested site, where it would have been laid through the productive marine habitat in Napeague Bay, coming ashore at Napeague State Park.
In early December 2017, Deepwater Wind proposed a new landing site, on town-owned Atlantic Ocean-front land on Beach Lane in Wainscott, proposing several major financial incentives, which they’re calling a community benefits package, to the town in exchange for the use of its land.
The package includes money to move existing overhead utility lines in Wainscott underground on Beach Lane and Wainscott Main Street.
Deepwater Wind has also proposed giving the town $1 million for water quality improvements in Wainscott and $200,000 for a town energy sustainability resiliency fund.
The company has also pledged $600,000 to the East Hampton Town Trustees for fisheries habitat and marine environmental improvements, including seeding of shellfish, and has pledged to keep a fisheries liaison on staff for the full 25 year life of the project.
Deepwater Wind Vice President of Development Clint Plummer also pledged the company will station permanent workers — mostly electrical and mechanical technicians, in Montauk, where the wind farm’s crew transfer vessel would be stationed.
Several Montauk fishermen who attended the East Hampton Town Trustees’ Dec. 11 meeting, at which Mr. Plummer and Deepwater Wind President Chris Van Beek presented their proposal, were unimpressed with the community benefits package.
“Those are bribes, when you get down to the definition of it,” said fisherman Hank Lackner. “What are you going to do for the fishermen? What are your intentions to subsidize fishermen as you move forward with this plan? You plan to give certain entities money. What do you plan, when you cut my road off, to subsidize me?”
“Our goal is not to put anybody out of being able to fish,” said Mr. Plummer. “We believe we will be able to operate continuously alongside the fishing community without displacements.”
If fishermen were to be displaced, he said, “we will deal with that on a business to business basis in the same way we did with the Block Island Wind Farm. We believe the construction methodology we use will allow the commercial fishing community to be able to operate as it is today.”
Commercial fisherman Dan Farnham wanted to know if Deepwater Wind would pay to remove the wind farm platforms if the company goes bankrupt or after the end of the turbines’ useable life.
Mr. Plummer said his company will be required to have a decommissioning plan and an escrow fund to pay for it.
Mr. Farnham said that, if the wind farm impacts fish populations, it will affect fishermen.
“The only input control for fisheries management is reducing catch,” he said. “That’s the only way you can rebuild fish stocks. Is there gonna be some kind of fund set up for reimbursing fishermen?”
Deepwater Wind’s marine life consultant, Dr. Drew Carey of the Rhode Island firm Inspire Environmental, is expected to address the Trustees in January on the company’s environmental surveys of the area surrounding the wind farm and the cable.
Montauk trawler Wesley Peterson wanted to know if an independent third party would be conducting those studies, but Mr. Plummer said Dr. Carey is paid by Deepwater Wind.
Town Trustee Keith Grimes, of Montauk, pointed out that environmental consultants’ reputations depend on their objectivity, even when they are paid by developers.
“If the fishing community is skeptical about the results, perhaps you guys could work together to approve an individual to do those surveys,” said Mr Grimes.
Mr. Peterson added that he’s heard of instances of Rhode Island commercial fishermen getting their gear caught on the concrete mats used to cover the cable for the Block Island wind farm.
“We haven’t heard of anybody who’s been hung up on the mats,” said Mr. Plummer. “We’re happy to talk with anybody who’s had a problem. If you know someone, have them give (Deepwater Wind fisheries liaison) Julia Prince a call.”
Ms. Prince, along with the company’s Long Island Development Manager, Jennifer Garvey, are working out of Deepwater Wind’s new office at 524 Montauk Highway in Amagansett, where they are available to answer questiosn from the public.
The cable for the South Fork Wind Farm would be placed beneath the ocean floor using a jet plow, which uses surrounding sea water, under high pressure, to temporarily liquify the ocean floor while the cable is buried, said Mr. Van Beek. About 2,000 feet offshore, the cable would hit a hardpan bottom known by geologists as ‘glacial headlands,’ essentially the front edge of the glacier that created Long Island. Deepwater Wind would then conduct horizontal drilling under the headlands to a point about 800 feet behind the dunes at the end of Beach Lane.
Mr. Van Beek said the company would use bentonite slurry, a natural clay material, as the drilling fluid, which would be disposed of after it was used, although the disposal plan has not yet been decided. The hole would be wide enough for a conduit of up to 24 inches in diameter, which would house a cable about 18 inches in diameter. Once it comes ashore, it would be split into three cables for three-phase electric power transmission, along with a fiber optic cable, which would be trenched underground up Beach Lane to Wainscott Main Street, up Sayres Path to Old Montauk Highway and Hedges Lane. It would be trenched along the Long Island Rail Road right of way from Hedges Lane to the Buell Lane substation.
Montauk commercial fisherman Chuck Morici said he thinks a wind farm is “kind of a good idea,” but he told Deepwater Wind representatives that all the federal and state agencies Deepwater Wind will be working with “have been putting us out of business for years.”
“We’re the most regulated industry besides nuclear power. It’s just crazy. We’ve never got a fair shake,” said Mr. Morici. “Of course we’re gonna be scared of you.… I used to be allowed 3,000 pounds of codfish a day, now I’m allowed nothing…. Wind power’s great, but give us something to live on. I was gonna bring a lobster here today and smash it. We’ve been tortured.”
Amagansett bayman Dan Lester said he’d like to see Deepwater Wind’s electromagnetic field studies of the possible effects of the cable on the migration of fish.
“We’re not here asking for money. We just don’t want our work messed with,” he said. “We’ve been put out of business before and it’s not fun.”
Simon Kinsella of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee was also skeptical of the information his group has received on the project. He cited that there may be a family of endangered salamanders in Wainscott Pond whose lives could be impacted by the cable crossing.
“Deepwater Wind cannot progress or submit its application for permits prior to having easements, and those easements should not be granted unless there’s full disclosure of information which includes fisheries surveys,” said Mr. Kinsella. “Once the easements are approved, it’s out of our hands and it goes to a state level. It’s important that the Trustees hold their ground and not grant easements until all the information is in.”
The Town Trustees will hold a public forum with Dr. Carey and a public hearing on the proposal in January, on dates that have yet to be announced. Their regularly scheduled meetings are Jan. 8 and Jan 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the East Hampton Town Hall meeting room. We will have more information as it becomes available.
Mr Plummer said Deepwater Wind intends to have permits in hand in 2020, and to begin work on burying the cable after Labor Day in 2021, with work on East Hampton’s roads completed by Memorial Day of 2022. The company is planning to have the wind farm up and running by the fourth quarter of 2022.