Pictured Above: Ørsted‘s Anholt offshore wind farm under construction in Denmark.
Agreements for the South Fork Wind Farm cable landing and burial project from Beach Lane in Wainscott to an East Hampton LIPA substation, and for $28.9 in benefits to be paid by the developers to the community, were approved by the East Hampton Town Board on Thursday.
Four out of five Town Council members voted in favor of the agreements, while board member Jeffrey Bragman voted against the Easement Agreement and abstained from the vote on the Host Community Agreement, saying he would have preferred if the town deferred the vote until after the New York Public Service Commission issues a decision on the project.
The Easement Agreement, which could be put to a public vote if voters force a permissive referendum, allows South Fork Wind, LLC to place the transmission cable in the roadbed along about 4.1 miles of town roads from the landing site at Beach Lane in Wainscott to an electric substation on Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton, and the Host Community Agreement confers $28.9 million in benefits to the town over the next 25 years.
Mr. Bragman said he supports the availability of the permissive referendum but added “I think I know which way the wind is blowing” in regards to support for the project.
The South Fork Wind Farm was originally proposed by Deepwater Wind, which has since been purchased by the Danish offshore wind company Ørsted, which is now pursuing the project in partnership with the New England electric transmission company Eversource, working as South Fork Wind, LLC.
The wind farm, just over 30 miles east of Montauk Point, will have 15 turbines capable of producing 136 megawatts of electricity.
The Host Community Agreement would include $500,000 up front after South Fork Wind, LLC and the town sign the contract for the easements, and another $500,000 after the company commences construction. Within six months of the project becoming operational, South Fork Wind will provide an $870,000 payment to the town, the first of 25 annual installments with a 2 percent escalator each year.
The package is a significant increase from an initial proposal three years ago totaling about $8.4 million.
The agreement also calls for South Fork Wind to hire a liaison to communicate with the East Hampton commercial fishing community “until the project ceases commercial operation,” and calls for a wind farm support facility and transfer vessel base in Montauk.
Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby both made a point to thank people who raised concerns about the project, particularly those in Wainscott, for making the project better.
The project’s critics may still pursue a lawsuit against the town over the approval, and have launched an effort to incorporate Wainscott as a village, with its own village government that would be responsible for these decisions in the future.
“They did ask the hard questions, and through their involvement I believe we have a better easement,” said Ms. Overby. “I am proud to have my name associated with the first wind power project in New York State… We are leaders in reducing climate impacts.”
“We all understand the short-term inconvenience for the long-term health of our oceans, our own properties and our entire waterfront community,” she added.
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez also highlighted the ways climate change is already affecting East Hampton, through stronger storms and migration of invasive species like the southern pine beetle.
“Addressing these threats is not a political issue, but a moral and practical one,” she said. “Solutions exist that can help us improve our quality of life here and now. We need to decarbonize our economies, and as rapidly as possible as we are a vulnerable coastal town…. I see no reason to delay.”
Councilman David Lys gave a detailed overview of numerous issues related to fishery conservation and compensation for fishermen who are impacted by the construction and operation of the project, saying he believed there is a framework now in place to address many of these issues.
“I believe that offshore wind, commercial fisheries, and other ocean users are capable of coexisting together,” said Mr. Lys. “We need to come together as a whole to protect East Hampton’s future, and the environment of the planet.”
Mr. Bragman said issues Mr. Lys raised were hardly just “small issues,” and said they haven’t been resolved, leading to a tense disagreement with other members of the board.
Mr. Lys clarified that, though he had initially voted against the agreements, he changed his mind after the plans were fleshed out over the past two years.
Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez accused Mr. Bragman of trying to mislead the public by questioning the impact of the project on Coxes Ledge, prime fishing grounds adjacent to the proposed wind farm, which are not the subject of the town easements or the Public Service Commission review, and are regulated by a separate environmental review process being conducted by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
“I think the public’s aware of your stance at this point,” Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc told Mr. Bragman. “I’m a little concerned about how you characterize some of our efforts, like it’s a willy-nilly knee jerk response of environmentalism without any further study or review. That’s completely contrary to what we’ve done here.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc added that the BOEM review is outside of the jurisdiction of East Hampton Town.
“It is a federal process,” he added. “We do have concerns and we have been making them known. We will continue to lobby for the best protection for what fishermen’s concerns are.”
“I think a lot of us have grown through this process and we’ve all learned a great deal,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc, adding that the agreements were the subject of 24 town meetings, and numerous other informal meetings with the community.
“We have taken the necessary time to carefully review and consider all comments received,” he added.