Today is Deadline for Comments on South Fork Wind Farm Environmental Report

Pictured Above: Ørsted‘s Anholt offshore wind farm under construction in Denmark. Ørsted and Eversource are building the South Fork Wind Farm.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which recently finished its draft environmental review of the South Fork Wind Farm, gave the public a chance to weigh in on the document at three virtual public hearings in mid-February, and is accepting further written public comment through midnight tonight.

While much of the focus on the wind farm locally over the past several years has been the local and New York State Public Service Commission review of the wind farm’s export cable, currently slated to come ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott en route to a substation in East Hampton, the BOEM review focuses on the wind farm itself, 15 turbines slated to be placed in federal waters about 30 miles off the coast of Montauk.

At the series of virtual hearings on BOEM’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the wind farm, 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 also weighed in on the project, expressing support both for the project and for robust environmental protections and review during the construction and operation of the wind farm.

Some commenters also weighed in with concerns about the reliability of wind turbines, especially in the wake of the disastrous blow that cold weather dealt to the Texas energy industry in mid-February, which some lawmakers blamed on frozen wind turbines, which played a small role in the energy grid shutdown there.

Those concerns were swiftly dismissed by BOEM staff. 

“Texas is a warm weather state,” said BOEM geophysicist Jennifer Miller at the Feb. 16 forum. “All energy generating systems there have been affected, not just wind turbines. What happened there was beyond the capabilities of natural gas and nuclear power as well.

Ms. Miller added that offshore wind farms have long operated in cold climates in the North Sea in Europe, and above the Arctic Circle, and often incorporate active heating of the blades and a passive hydrophobic coating to prevent freezing.

“It is the basic responsibility of a responsible developer to engage in predictive and operational strategies,” she added. “Wind turbines have been operating in cold weather climates without issue when appropriately designed.”

Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze Ltd. in Narragansett, Rhode Island, pointed out that while the wind farm would provide power to the South Fork of Long Island, “it’s not in their backyard. It’s off Rhode Island.”

“Our vessels will have to fish in the area, which will be impossible if this goes through as planned,” she said, adding that the DEIS “does not contain any cumulative impact analysis” of how the offshore wind industry will affect the fishing industry. She added that a DEIS for another project, Vineyard Wind, further east off of Martha’s Vineyard, did include such analysis. 

Ms. Lapp added that the South Fork Wind Farm would require “seven cable crossing areas, which would need to be armored on their way to New York,” adding that, if those crossings are not armored, they will destroy fishing gear.

She added that she supports a four-nautical-mile wide transit lane to allow commercial boat traffic to transit the wind farm area.

Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, based in Montauk, agreed with Ms. Lapp, adding that the fisheries data in the DEIS was outdated, and an east-west transit route is essential for New York fishermen trying to access squid and scup fishing grounds.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said his organization had assessed the project, which it supports due to the “critical and urgent necessity of dealing with the effects of climate change on our community.”

“We want a project that meets the highest standards and is a model for other communities to pursue,” he said, adding that, after assessing the data on potential cable landing sites, the Group for the East End believes the Beach Lane site in Wainscott “represents the best option,” adding that it would involve the lowest amount of local community disruption and would be the most environmentally friendly option.

“You have the unique opportunity to sent the environmental standard for the most sustainable offshore wind economy we can envision.”

Steven Brustein, a member of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, said that offshore wind, “when thoughtfully implemented, can benefit commercial and recreational fishermen and people everywhere,” adding that the reef effect created by the turbine platforms once they are constructed will create habitat for fish, increasing their population.

The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association had submitted written comment saying the DEIS “fails to even consider impacts to private recreational fishing…. and therefore needs to be rewritten.”

Simon Kinsella of Wainscott said he’s concerned the project “may not be able to provide energy when it’s needed the most, during the summer,” adding that its potential reliability has not been assessed by the Public Service Commission. He also expressed concern for the effect the construction of the turbines might have on endangered right whales.

Tina Plesset of East Hampton didn’t mince words about the opposition to the project in Wainscott.

“These are thinly veiled concerns by local residents who live in Wainscott,” she said. They say they are for wind, just not in their backyards.”

Jeremiah Mulligan, an East Hampton resident and member of the wind power activist group Win With Wind said the project has the support of many East Hampton residents.

“We can’t deliver power without significant increases in infrastructure,” he said.

Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said that “without significant offshore wind development off of New England, we will not be able to achieve net zero emissions.” 

He urged BOEM to select a “fisheries habitat alternative” laid out in the DEIS, which would “avoid siting the wind farm in complex habitats.”

Tim McCarthy, the business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local 25, said he “speaks for all of organized labor in showing strong support for this project.”

“This is a critical part of New York’s energy portfolio,” he said. “It’s going to be a new industry for Long Island, and it will allow a lot of folks to get good jobs.”

Written comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on February 22, 2021, either electronically or by mail. If mailing your comments enclose them in an envelope labeled, “South Fork Draft EIS” addressed to “Program Manager, Office of Renewable Energy, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 45600 Woodland Road, VAM-OREP, Sterling, Virginia 20166.” Comments must be postmarked no later than February 22, 2021. Here’s how to file a comment online.

After this hearing process is complete, BOEM will draft a final Environmental Impact Statement.

At least 30 days after that document is published, BOEM, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue a Record of Decision  on whether to approve or deny the wind farm’s Construction and Operations Plan.

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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