NARRAGANSETT – Is $2.25 million sufficient compensation to grant Deepwater Wind an easement to bury a cable at Town Beach and run it underground to a switchyard near Sprague Park? That is the offer Deepwater Wind has in mind, CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said during a June 26 work session with the Town Council. During the meeting, Council members were not allowed to debate the offer, but Council President James Callaghan opined landing Deepwater’s transmission line at Town Beach would not be in Narragansett’s best interest.
“It can’t be the best for the town if [the line] goes under its most precious resource, up its main thoroughfare and then plops down between its two baseball fields,” Callaghan said. “I can’t imagine being part of a group that lets that happen. It can’t be the best option, and I know it’s probably the cheapest and makes sense for you, but I don’t think it makes sense for us.”
Deepwater intends to build a five-turbine demonstration-scale offshore wind farm off the coast of Block Island that will use 10 percent of the energy produced to meet the island’s energy needs. The remaining 90 percent would be transferred through an underwater transmission line to the mainland. Deepwater proposes to land the line at Town Beach and run it underground along Narragansett Avenue and Kingstown Road to a switchyard near Sprague Park. This transmission line would connect to National Grid’s distribution system.
Sitting across the table from the council for the first time since November’s election, Grybowski assured council members and residents that the line, which would be buried under a 30-foot strip of beach near the South Pavilion Parking Lot, would not affect the landscape, nor pose health risks.
“I can understand, emotionally, people can become concerned, but the reality is we are talking about a cable that’s 10 feet under the beach, and public health risks are extraordinarily low and no different than the public health risks from any other cable on a pole,” Grybowski said.
With Superstorm Sandy’s destruction still fresh in mind, there also have been concerns that severe weather could compromise the cable. Grybowski said that was not the case.
“You would need 10 successive Superstorm Sandys with no effort trying to fix the beach at all to expose the cable,” Grybowski said.
He added that beach erosion also would have a negligible effect on the cable.
The town has a rare opportunity for financial gain with a construction project that would be “simple” and “unobtrusive,” Grybowski said.
“In exchange for a very short period of construction and disruption in the off-season, there’s an opportunity for the town to make a significant amount of money,” he said.
Referencing the passionate opposition from some residents, Callaghan questioned how simple the process would be, and whether the company could secure another landing site, if the council votes against granting the easement.
“If it were simple after you’ve been through all this with us…it can’t be that easy,” he said. “If it were, you would have gone somewhere else already.”
During the meeting, Grybowski also addressed why the company changed its plans from a buried line to one above-ground and back again, and also the company’s interest in securing an office in the Port of Galilee.
After initially presenting a plan calling for a buried transmission line at an open house at Narragansett Elementary School in Dec. 2011, the company met with town staff and former Town Manager Grady Miller to discuss route alternatives, he said.
“As a result of those conversations with that town manager, we concluded at Deepwater that the town was going to be okay going overhead,” Grybowski said.
He presented the revised route at a council meeting Aug. 27 and it was published in the project’s environmental report, he said.
“Clearly, if I had the opportunity to take that decision back to go from buried to overhead, I’d take that decision back,” Grybowski said. “I guess it’s a lesson of ‘trust your first instinct.’”
After some residents were adamant in their disapproval of the above-ground line, the company announced plans to bury the cable again. That led to claims the company was not being forthright about its plans, Grybowski said.
“The idea that we hid the overhead route and buried it in our permit applications is simply not true,” he said. “It is completely false and inaccurate.”
He also acknowledged the company submitted a bid to the state Department of Environmental Management for a property, Lot 204E, in Galilee, which would be accessible to the wind farm for repairs and maintenance.
When the council unanimously voted to suspend negotiations with the company from May 6 until June 3, Grybowski said he had no way to gauge the town’s interest or opposition to the company proposed lease.
“Halting negotiations really had the effect of halting all discussion,” he said. “Frankly, we thought we were doing a good thing by putting that in Narragansett because it would create economic activity and jobs.”
According to the Galilee master plan, zoning requirements restrict port properties to fishing-related industries.
McLaughlin said it was “very troubling,” if Deepwater moved into the property and attempted to adhere to the zoning regulations by including a fishing information center at the facility.
The company has since withdrawn its interest in the property, Grybowski said.
During the session, President ProTem Susan Cicilline-Buonanno lauded the transparency of the public discussion, as opposed to the previous council’s communications with the company and McLaughlin praised Grybowski for his professionalism throughout this process.
“I want everyone to appreciate that, too. I found him to be very honest,” McLaughlin said.
While the council has not determined its next step, Grybowski said he hopes it reaches a decision by the end of July, in case the company has to determine an alternate landing. In order to receive federal tax credits for the wind farm, Deepwater must begin construction – most likely construction of turbine parts – by the end of 2013.
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