Fishermen Raise Concerns at Packed Deepwater Wind Open House

East Hampton Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc discussed the South Fork wind farm project with members of the community at Thursday's open house.
East Hampton Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc discussed the South Fork wind farm project with members of the community at Thursday’s open house.

Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island-based offshore wind company that was just awarded a LIPA bid to provide power to the East End from a wind farm off the coast of Montauk, was inundated with congratulations from renewable energy advocates and curious members of the public at a packed open house at the East Hampton Historical Society’s Clinton Academy March 9.

But by far the most vocal group of residents in attendance were numerous fishermen who spend their lives in the waters off the eastern tip of Long Island and are concerned about the changes the project may bring.

Deepwater Wind won a 30-year lease on a 256-square-acre site 30 miles off Montauk in 2013 from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The company initially plans to build 15 6-megawatt turbines at the site, providing 90 megawatts of power to be tied into the East End’s electric grid at LIPA’s East Hampton substation on Railroad Avenue.

The initial project would power 50,000 homes, and Deepwater Wind executives believe they can install up to 200 wind turbines at the site.

Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady brought a bevy of charts with her to the open house detailing the overlap between fishing ground for many different commercially caught fish and the site where Deepwater Wind plans to build.

“They should have sat down with us before they did this,” she said. “At no point did they say ‘we want to work with you guys.'”

Deepwater Wind representative Meaghan Wims said Friday that the company is “planning outreach to the fishing community” and expects to hold the first of several community meetings in the coming weeks.

Deepwater Wind became the first commercial offshore wind producer in the United States late in 2016, when their five-turbine project to power Block Island came online. But fishermen at Thursday’s forum said those turbines have not yet been added to their charting software.

Aaron Williams, a trawler out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, said the five turbines are “right in the path to go offshore” from his home port. 

“The updated NOAA charts don’t have them,” he said. “It’s a matter of safety, if you’re steaming in and out in any kind of weather. The Coast Guard won’t airlift you in a wind farm area.”

He said he’d recently ended up adrift a few hundred yards from the wind farm when his engine blew a coolant line. 

“A good day turns into a bad day fast out there,” agreed fisherman Shawn Jones.

Mr. Williams added that he’s seen other trawlers hung up on concrete mats that cover the cable bringing the power ashore on Block Island, and those mats are not on the charts either.

“The fishing industry is on the back burner,” he said. “There are so many regulations coming down on us. The industry needs to be taken into account.”

Montauk fisherman Steven Forsberg said he’s concerned that, with the summer recreational boating season coming soon, the turbines could prove to be a hazard to less experienced boaters.

“We’re already catching a fraction of the fish we were catching,” he said. “I’m all for alternative anything, but they’re squashing peoples’ livings. This is just the beginning of this. Where does it end?”

Ms. Wims said Deepwater Wind has received no reports of fishermen getting caught on the concrete mats, but urged those who do to contact the Block Island Wind Farm’s fisheries liaison Elizabeth Marchetti at 401.952.2902.

She added that Deepwater Wind has prepared an Information for Mariners pamphlet, with coordinates for the Block Island turbines, which is available online here.

The open house featured several displays explaining the work soon to be underway by Deepwater Wind to document both the physical and biological conditions on the sea floor of the site, with shipboard surveys to begin this summer.

“We’ll be mapping the seafloor and evaluating sensitive habitats and marine archeology,” said Irina Gumennik, the project manager and engineer for the mapping project.

“One of the first things we do is get input from the public,” she said, adding that her crew plans to embark just after Memorial Day to spend a couple months surveying the sea floor to find the best spots to site the turbines.

Deepwater Wind is currently considering bringing the undersea cable ashore at either the abandoned menhaden processing plant at Promised Land in Napeague, now the site of Napeague State Park, or at Fresh Pond Park in Amagansett. 

Electrical Engineer Corey Kelkenberg was soliciting public feedback on the two sites at Thursday’s open house. 

He said several people had told him they walk their dogs at Fresh Pond and want to know if the cable will prevent access to the beach. He said the cable would come into land underground and be accessed by a manhole cover in the road, and the beach should only be disturbed during the construction period. 

The cable would be buried underground on the 11-mile route from Napeague to the East Hampton substation. Mr. Kelkenberg said if it comes ashore at the Promised Land site, it could be buried underneath an existing dirt access road to the fish plant.

He added that the line must be brought to East Hampton, not to another existing substation in Amagansett, because the Amagansett substation handles lower voltage distribution lines, not transmission lines.

The $740 million South Fork Wind Farm is being constructed with funding from Deepwater Wind’s equity investors and financiers. The LIPA Board in January approved a 20-year pay-for-performance Power Purchase Agreement, allowing the utility to pay for delivered energy without taking construction or operating risk.

Depending on the schedule for permitting, Deepwater Wind projects that construction could begin as early as 2019 and the wind farm could be operational by 2022.

 

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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