Pictured Above: The road end at Beach Lane in Wainscott, the proposed landing site of the cable from the South Fork Wind Farm.

The Danish wind power giant Ørsted is offering East Hampton Town a total of $29 million for the use of its roadways to run the transmission cable for the proposed South Fork Wind Farm from a beach landing site in Wainscott to an electric substation in East Hampton village.

The 15- turbine wind farm about 30 miles off Montauk, pitched by offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind before Deepwater was acquired by Ørsted, was selected by the Long Island Power Authority to provide power to Long Island in 2017 and was originally slated to come online in 2022. It is currently under review by state and federal permitting agencies.

It has met with support from environmentalists, but with much trepidation by commercial fishermen and by residents of Wainscott, where the electric cable would come ashore.

Deepwater Wind initially offered what’s called a “community benefits package” of about $8.5 million to the town in 2017, in exchange for easements to run the power line underneath local streets. That package had included money to support local fisheries and environmental sustainability, as well as to bury existing electric lines along the cable route.

The latest community benefits package would include $500,000 up front after Ørsted and the town sign the contract to provide the easement, and another $500,000 after they commence construction, East Hampton Town Attorney John Jilnicki told the town board at its Sept. 9 work session.

Within six months of the project becoming operational, Ørsted will provide an $870,000 payment to the town, the first of 25 annual installments with a 2 percent escalator each year.

Ørsted has also proposed to hire a fisheries liaison and has agreed to attempt to site its turbine maintenance facility in Montauk, providing local jobs.

The total value of the benefits would be just under $29 million, said Mr. Jilnicki.

More information on the proposed agreement is on the town’s website.

“The initial package was significantly less than what we negotiated,” said Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who added that the new proposal was the result of “numerous meetings between the town board and the town trustees over the years.”

The cable landing and crossing is one of the few aspects of the project that is under review by local and state governments. The actual wind farm is in federal waters and being reviewed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The cable, which crosses 3.5 miles of ocean under New York State waters and about 4.1 miles of cable on land, is currently under review by New York’s Public Service Commission for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need.

East Hampton Town Councilman Jeffrey Bragman said he was concerned that the town did not give much public notice before the community benefits agreement was unveiled at the Sept. 9 work session, held remotely via Zoom due to the pandemic.

He added of the agreement: “that’s a lot of money, which has a lot of persuasive power in negotiations.”

“Money has the possibility of distorting and weakening the planning process,” he said, adding that the easements are the only aspect of the project that is within the control of East Hampton Town, while other permits would be granted by the state and federal government.

“The public has never seen this,” he said. “Nobody knows anything about this.”

“I’ve been mentioning that we’re very close to an agreement for weeks now,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “We’re certainly not in the early stages. This started six years ago.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc added that residents would have several opportunities to weigh in on the proposal, but a formal public hearing is not required.

Several residents who had heard the agreement was slated to be unveiled, mostly from Wainscott, called in to the Zoom meeting with questions.

Michael Mahoney of Wainscott said he doesn’t believe the landing site, on Beach Lane, is the shortest terrestrial route, and he said he believes the money should be given to low income people to pay for any higher electricity costs as a result of the project.

Si Kinsella, also of Wainscott, asked for more details about how groundwater would be protected while the cable is run. John Wagner, an outside attorney working on the project for the town, said water quality specialists are finalizing those details now.

“The language is done. It just has to be signed off on by the company,” said Mr. Wagner. “When the documents are circulated everyone will have a chance to see that.

Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady said the town’s fisheries advisory board had not yet discussed the proposal.

“We’ve had no discussion that has been fruitful on compensation for fishermen,” she said.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said this particular agreement concerned the terrestrial portion of the project.

“It does not address issues with fisheries, which will continue to be discussed and litigated,” he said.

Mr. Bragman countered that near-shore fishermen would be impacted by the cable landing in Wainscott.

David Buda of Springs said he believes residents could force a public referendum on the agreement.

Francesca Rheannon, who is a member of the town’s Energy Sustainability Committee but said she was speaking for herself, said the average person will pay about $1.15 more per month above what they pay now for their electric bills after the wind farm comes on line.

She added that the discussion had been ignoring the elephant in the room.

“The existential threat of climate change is going to destroy our fisheries,” said Ms. Rheannon. “Salt water intrusion in our drinking water is going to affect our ability to live here.”

She added that the costs of climate change in East Hampton, including declining property values and increased insurance rates, will be great.

“If we do not get this done yesterday, we will not survive this,” she said. “We’re talking about the survivability of ourselves, this planet and succeeding generations. It’s time to move on this.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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