The Narragansett Town Council is moving ahead once again with its discussions with Deepwater Wind.
The council had voted to suspend all talks about the five-turbine wind farm project until this month’s meeting, but has now slated a discussion with Deepwater representatives for Wednesday, June 26.
The vote was taken at the council’s Monday, June 3, meeting.
“It is a chance for the council to talk with Deepwater,” said Narragansett Town Manager Rich Kerbel.
Town councilor Douglas McLaughlin said that he is hoping the discussion will provide an opportunity to glean more information about Deepwater’s proposed offshore wind farm.
“I have not made up my mind on Deepwater,” McLaughlin said. “I represent the people in Narragansett. I have to represent their best interests.”
However, McLaughlin added that it’s been hard to determine the best interests with little discussion about Deepwater, partially due to what he called “special interest” groups who have been opposing the project.
“It’s very distracting. I’m the one who was elected to make the decisions. It’s not going to be a special interest group making the decision,” he said.
McLaughlin said the opposition has been working to, “stifle any conversation with them [Deepwater].”
McLaughlin said that he wants to talk with Deepwater about several issues. First, he wants to know the actual cost the project will have to mainland customers.
Second, he wants to know if there, “is any room for compromise,” referring to the landfall of Deepwater’s transmission lines at the Narragansett Town Beach.
Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski said the company plans on addressing concerns from the council and the public. He said that Deepwater will discuss its proposal to bury its transmission lines in Narragansett and about the project’s construction process.
“We’re looking forward to making a presentation to the council,” said Grybowski. “I know the council and the public have questions that we’re looking forward to answering.”
Narragansett resident Marie Younkin-Waldman opposes the town council’s decision to continue its discussions with Deepwater.
“Deepwater Wind, with all the resources they have, are just going to keep pushing it [the wind farm] right through,” she said. “They want to move this so fast. We don’t understand why.”
On Saturday, May 25, Younkin-Waldman joined a group of residents that circulated a petition opposing Deepwater outside of a Narragansett Stop & Shop. The petition has garnered a little over 100 signatures so far, said Younkin-Waldman.
“We don’t trust Deepwater,” she said. “Now we’re wondering whether or not we can trust our town council after what happened Monday.”
Deepwater’s Environmental Report
The petition circulated in Narragansett asked Deepwater in part to include its plans to bury its electric transmission lines in Deepwater’s environmental report.
Deepwater Wind has now agreed to modify its Environmental Report (ER) to include burying the transmission lines that will make landfall in Narragansett.
This change was announced in a letter written by Aileen Kenney, Deepwater’s vice president of permitting and environmental affairs, which was sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday, May 31.
Kenney’s letter outlined the changes to be made to the environmental report, a document that Deepwater submits as part of its public permitting process.
The letter says that Deepwater “has agreed to modify the 0.8 mi (1.3 km) segment of the Block Island Transmission System (BITs) from the Narragansett Town Beach to the proposed Narragansett Switchyard from an overhead line to a buried line.”
The Narragansett switchyard is a switching station that would connect the power to National Grid, and it is proposed to be built on town-owned land in Narragansett.
Previously, Deepwater had planned to run its transmission lines above-ground, but agreed to change its plans after opposition from Narragansett residents and councilors.
“Above-ground is not acceptable to me at all,” said McLaughlin.
The Deepwater letter goes on to say, “based on discussion with staff of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), [Deepwater Wind] has modified the previously designed of the Narragansett Switchyard to further minimize land use impacts within buffers to Narrow River Special Area Management Plan (Narrow River SAMP) wetlands.
“The proposed changes result in the following benefits:
The existing utility poles along the previously proposed overhead route no longer require enhancement;
A reduction of 0.5 [acres] of temporary disturbance during construction of the Narragansett Switchyard; and
A reduction of 1.93 [acres] in the operational footprint for all BITS facilities in Narragansett.”
Also included in the letter are the changes to be made to the environment report, including specific construction and operation activities associated with the buried lines.
“The buried portions of the Project terrestrial cables will be installed in a concrete-encased duct bank,” says the letter. “In Narragansett, the installation of the buried portion of the BITS will require a trench approximately 3 ft (0.9 m) wide and 7 ft (2.1 m) deep.”
The letter also states the underground cables “will have no regular maintenance needs beyond periodic inspections of the system unless a fault or failure occurs.”
This change to the cable status is “in response to feedback received from residents in the Town of Narragansett,” said the letter.
Deepwater Wind, and the transmission line between Block Island and Narragansett, has also been the topic of conversation at several Narragansett Town Council meetings.