After more than a dozen informational meetings with the East Hampton Town Trustees, offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind has still not convinced fishermen that its plans to erect 12 to 15 wind turbines 36 miles off the Montauk shore will not affect their livelihood.
The wind developer has also had difficulty filling a position of a fisheries representative, ideally a fisherman from Montauk who would represent the industry’s interests.
Two consultants working with Deepwater Wind, a biologist and geologist and an expert in electromagnetic fields, spent nearly four hours on the evening of Jan. 19 discussing their work with the Trustees’ Harbor Management Committee, relying heavily on research from other areas of the country and from studies already conducted for Deepwater Wind’s Block Island wind farm.
The wind company has also just begun the process of obtaining easements from East Hampton Town to run the cable down a series of back roads and the Long Island Rail Road right of way, from Wainscott to a power substation on Buell Lane in East Hampton Village.
Deepwater Wind representatives say they need to obtain those easements before going ahead with federal and state permits needed for the project.
Dr. Bill Bailey, of consulting firm Exponent, Inc., an expert in bioelectromagnetics, has spent 30 years studying the way electrical and magnetic fields interact with the environment and organisms. He is working as a consultant for Deepwater Wind on the potential impacts of the cable, which would travel around 60 miles from the turbines to Beach Lane in Wainscott.
Dr. Bailey said there are two types of fields emitted by the cables — electric and magnetic.
The 138 kilovolt cable’s electrical field does not extend beyond its sheathing, he said, while a 60 hertz magnetic field would be shielded from exposure to marine life because it would be buried about six feet under the sea bed.
“Very few organisms have access to where the fields are highest, and they drop off with distance dramatically,” he said.
Dr. Bailey added that most organisms’ biology has developed to react to magnetic fields that oscillate at far lower frequencies than those produced by electrical power generation.
For example, he said, animals are aware of the static magnetic frequency of the earth, with an oscillation of zero hertz, and the frequency of other fish, which “doesn’t go above 20 hertz.”
“There’s a big frequency gap between their senses and the frequency of fields produced by the cable,” he said. “Marine organisms don’t aggregate over 60 hertz alternating current cables,” he said. “It does not repel or attract species.”
He then gave detailed information about the magnetite in the brains of certain species of fish like salmonids and tuna that are sensitive to magnetic fields, and to the electrical field sensitivity of sharks, skates and rays.
East Hampton’s oceanfront surfcasting is world-renowned, and that’s because of the way fish migrate parallel to the south shore, which would be bisected by Deepwater Wind’s cable.
East Hampton Town Trustee Rick Drew said he’s disappointed Dr. Bailey’s presentation didn’t include details about the effect of electromagnetic fields on locally important species like striped bass, bluefish, squid, weakfish, black sea bass and fluke.
“Hundreds of thousands of fishermen rely on this migration,” said Mr. Drew. “There’s a huge amount of economic value to our community, and generations of livelihoods depend on this migration… There’s a huge disconnect here. You’re not honed in on actual species, routes or importance of what this means to our community…. It seems like we struck out tonight. I should say, I’m concerned.”
Mr. Drew added that he’d like to see more details on the potential impacts of the wind farm, which is slated to be developed near the fertile codfish grounds on Cox’s Ledge, on breeding cod and black sea bass.
“You need to ensure that breeding activities are not impacted,” he said. “There have been only three strong young of year classes in the past 10 years…. If you miss a breeding year, it could really have an impact on quota limitations. The recreational season could be eliminated. It’s really, really important there is a lot of science and information about this.”
Dr. Drew Carey of Inspire Environmental, who is doing biological and geological assessments for Deepwater Wind, said there’s very little existing scientific research about cod spawning on Cox’s Ledge, and much of the information he’s received has been from fishermen.
He said Deepwater Wind has just embarked on a study, sending two scientists and eight to ten recreational fishermen out on a headboat one day a week to find four areas where spawning cod are aggregating, fish for 45 minutes, half using jigs and half using bait, and record the results of the fishing trip.
They intend to continue this experiment every week through the end of April, when cod spawning season ends.
Some in the audience were critical of that experiment, wondering why it wasn’t being done by a trawler.
Former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny asked why the researchers couldn’t use video surveillance to document cod populations, like cameras he’s seen on nature programs on television.
“They’re pretty selective about what they show you,” said Dr. Carey of the television shows. “Most of the time the visibility is so limited, there’s no way to collect data.”
Mr. Penny also said he’s read that the endangered North Atlantic right whale had a terrible breeding year in 2017.
Dr. Carey said right whale conservation is a big focus during the turbine construction process, and workers will use noise reduction technology and have marine mammal spotters on their construction crafts while the turbines are being built, along with using acoustic and thermal camera monitoring to detect nearby whales. If whales are in the area, they will stop work.
Deepwater Wind Vice President of Development Clint Plummer said that, if they use a traditional “jacket” style of wind turbine base construction, they will likely be driving piles into the ocean floor for about 10 to 14 weeks, between November and March of the year of construction.
Mr. Drew pointed out that November is “a key month in the migration of striped bass.”
Fisherman Dan Farnham, who has regularly asked many pointed questions of Deepwater Wind at Trustee meetings said there are “still a lot of questions that haven’t been answered.”
“Now you’re asking the board and Trustees to sign off. This is the last bargaining chip we have here locally,” he said. “Once you get your Article 7 application in, local governments are no longer required to hold public hearings. It seems you guys have been passing the buck about questions.”
Article 7 is a federal environmental review process, similar to the State Environmental Quality Review Act process done on projects within the state’s jurisdiction.
Mr. Farnham, as well as Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady and other speakers also criticized Deepwater Wind for not yet hiring a fisheries representative.
Deepwater Wind Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Permitting Aileen Kenney told Mr. Farnham that the company is looking for someone “who’s a constructive member for communication. We need someone willing to be a conduit for the facts.”
“We’d love to get that position filled. We’ve been able to get it filled in Point Judith and New Bedford, but not in Montauk,” said Ms. Kenney.
Many speakers said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s best practices guidance says a fisheries representative for dealing with offshore wind projects should be elected by fishermen, not hired by the wind company.
Mr. Drew, along with Trustee member Keith Grimes, implored Deepwater representatives to let fishermen elect their own representative.
“No criteria should be set by Deepwater to determine who that is,” said Mr. Grimes.
Other speakers wanted to know why Deepwater Wind was offering certain financial incentives to East Hampton Town for the use of its roads, but not paying fishermen and residents who may be impacted.
Claudia Diaz asked why Deepwater Wind hadn’t been clear that they were intending to lease land adjacent to the Buell Lane substation to install an addition to the substation.
She called the payments to the town “a slush fund for (Councilwoman) Sylvia Overby’s green fund.”
“Where’s the compensation for homes that are going to be affected in the area?” she said. “This is eminent domain without compensation.”
Mr. Plummer said the land adjacent to the substation is owned by National Grid, and would be leased by Deepwater Wind for the installation of equipment necessary to plug the cable into the existing infrastructure at the substation.
Ms. Brady also asked whether fishermen would be compensated if they were unable to fish during construction of the turbines.
Ms. Kenney said Deepwater Wind had requested that fishermen not work in the area of the Block Island wind farm during pile driving, and they had compensated about a dozen fishermen for the time they were unable to work.
She said with the South Fork Wind Farm project, Deepwater Wind is planning to use jack-up barges to do the construction, a construction method that will enable fishermen to continue to fish.
“We’re going to design away from that constraint. It was an impact that, planning-wise, we wanted to address,” said Ms. Kenney.