Final Report on South Fork Wind Farm Cautions of Impacts to Fishing Industry

Pictured Above: Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the United States, during construction in 2015. Deepwater Wind has since been acquired by the Danish wind farm company Ørsted, which is working with the energy transmission company Eversource on the South Fork Wind Farm.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has completed its environmental review of the proposed South Fork Wind Farm, and is expected to release its final decision on the project in October.

The agency said negative impacts to commercial and recreational fishing would be “major” and found there would be “minor to moderate” beneficial impacts in terms of jobs and investment in the local economy.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the project, released on BOEM’s website Monday, Aug. 16, examines the potential environmental impacts of the proposal to build up to 15 wind turbines and an offshore substation in federal waters about 35 miles off the coast of Montauk. BOEM says in the FEIS that it prefers an alternative proposal to protect habitat by carefully siting just 11 turbines there.

The project, expected to be under construction by next year, would deliver approximately 130 megawatts of power to the South Fork, coming ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott en route to a substation in East Hampton. It would be the first offshore wind farm to provide power to New York State.

The FEIS found the greatest potential for adverse impacts would be to the commercial and recreational fishing industry, “due to increased port congestion; changes to fishing access, primarily through reduced fishing opportunity when construction activities are occurring; damage to or loss of fishing gear; and impacts on the catch due to changes in target species abundance or availability during construction activities.”

“The “reef effect” of WTG foundations and associated scour protection would have minor beneficial impacts to for-hire recreational fisheries, depending on the extent to which the foundations enhance fishing opportunities,” they added. “Overall cumulative adverse impacts would be major.”

The Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, based in Montauk, weighed in on the report on their Facebook page Tuesday: “New York commercial fishermen and their coastal communities have been left out of any and all federal consistency compensatory negotiations, as no one from the New York State Dept. of State or from New York State’s leadership has actively done a thing to protect their state’s fishing fleet as they will lose valuable fishing grounds and income within the South Fork Wind Farm and the 56 mile cable that lands in Wainscott.”

The FEIS also found there would be “minor to moderate beneficial impacts to the socioeconomic analysis area in terms of employment, federal revenue, and income,” due to employment opportunities offered by the design, construction and operations and maintenance of the wind farm.

Climate Jobs New York estimates the South Fork Wind Farm, along with two other projects — Sunrise Wind, also an Ørsted and Eversource project just south of the South Fork Wind Farm, and Empire Wind, off Long Beach — “will eventually power over one million homes, create more than 1,600 new jobs and pump $3.2 billion of private investment into our economy.”

The FEIS also examined two alternative proposals, known as the “transit” and “habitat” proposals.

The habitat proposal, which BOEM lists as its preferred alternative, would exclude the installation of turbines in up to four areas that are critical habitat for marine life. BOEM says it would prefer to use conservation recommendations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to exclude turbines from the layout.

According to the FEIS, South Fork Wind has “expressed concerns about the particular locations NOAA suggested for removal,” saying they would require redesign of the inter-array cable layout and cable specifications to reduce transmission loss. South Fork Wind has proposed an alternative habitat-focused layout.

The NOAA habitat-centered turbine layout recommendation (left) and an alternative proposed by the South Fork Wind Farm (right).

The transit proposal would include a four-mile-wide vessel transit lane through the turbine lease area.

According to the FEIS, “the vessel transit lane is unique to this alternative and could facilitate transit of vessels through the Lease Area from southern New England and eastern Long Island ports to fishing areas in the region.”

BOEM received about 1,300 comments from the public during three public hearings and a 45-day written comment period earlier this year.

During the public hearings, many labor union leaders spoke in favor of the wind farms, while many representatives of fishing communities in both Rhode Island and Montauk expressed concern not only about this wind farm, but about what the future development of the wind farm area surrounding the South Fork Wind Farm, which could be developed on a scale orders of magnitude greater than this wind farm.

Local environmentalists expressed support for the project due to the necessity of offshore wind to decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reverse climate change. They also called for robust environmental protections and review during the construction and operation of the wind farm.

New York State’s Public Service Commission voted to approve the transmission cable route from the South Fork Wind Farm on March 18 of this year, along a route that comes ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott.

East Hampton Town approved easements, along with $28.9 million in community benefits to be paid to the town by South Fork Wind, in January, in order to place the cable underneath a 4-mile stretch of town roads. South Fork Wind also agreed to provide a liaison to East Hampton’s fishing industry as part of the community benefit agreement.

“BOEM is now working with the appropriate parties to finalize the Section 106 consultation process consistent with the National Historic Preservation Act, as well as working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to complete the biological opinion, as required by the Endangered Species Act,” according to a statement from BOEM accompanying the release of the FEIS. “Once these steps are complete, BOEM plans to issue a record of decision on whether to approve the proposed project in October. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service will sign this record of decision for their respective authorization decisions.”

“South Fork Wind continues to advance steadily through the federal permitting process and we’re pleased to reach this latest milestone, the issuance of BOEM’s final Environmental Impact Statement,” said Ørsted Spokeswoman Meaghan Wims. “South Fork Wind remains on-track to be fully permitted by early 2022, with construction activities ramping up soon after on this historic, New York-first offshore wind farm.”   

Ms. Wims also weighed in on the status of the Block Island Wind Farm, Ørsted’s five-turbine project that is the first operational offshore wind farm in the United States, where four of the five GE Haliade turbines have not been turning for the past several weeks.

“Our ongoing routine summer maintenance continues at the wind farm. The summer is the optimal time for maintenance, inspections and other necessary repair work,” she said. “Part of the work being conducted is the repair of stress lines identified by GE in the turbines. We put four turbines on pause as a precautionary measure and carried out a full risk assessment, which showed the turbines are structurally sound. We expect to complete those repairs and all maintenance in the next few weeks as scheduled.”

Ørsted and Eversource placed a conditional order for Siemens Gamesa wind turbines for the South Fork Wind project in 2019.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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