Tensions between ocean fishing and offshore wind-energy interests was evident at a meeting Tuesday in Montauk as federal regulators set the stage for leasing hundreds of miles of the Atlantic for wind farms.
Regulators at the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management occasionally got a earful from local fishermen and women who worry the plans could damage or close off large swaths of fishing grounds, to produce relatively little energy at high cost.
“Any adverse impacts these windmills have are going to come out of fishermen’s pockets,” said Dan Farnham, a Montauk tile fisherman, noting regulators still don’t know all the impacts.
Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for the bureau’s renewable-energy programs, emphasized that Tuesday’s meeting was designed specifically to address such concerns. She acknowledged more information is needed to understand the impacts and encouraged fishermen to stay in contact with the bureau as the leasing process moves forward.
But some potential impacts are already known. Scallop fishing would be curtailed by a wind-farm project proposed in the South Shore waters off western Long Island by LIPA, Con Edison and the New York Power Authority, according to maps shown at the meeting. Two other energy firms are also bidding for that lease, which hasn’t been awarded.
“We’re very concerned about it,” said Andrew Minikiewicz, an attorney representing scallop industry interests at the meeting. Regulators “talk about listening but not about what they’ll do when they hear something” and that is a problem.
He said the scalloping industry “will use all means at our disposal to fight” the loss if fishing grounds.
A 256-square mile lease has already been awarded for waters off Rhode Island to Deepwater Wind, which proposes selling energy to LIPA. An official for Deepwater attended the meeting but wasn’t authorized to comment.
Bornholdt said similar wind farm proposals are being considered for leases in Atlantic waters of nearly every state along the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida.
Larry Penny, a biologist and former East Hampton Town natural resources director, suggested the bureau start off slowly. “Let’s do a few of these and see what the impacts will be,” he said.
Bornholdt agreed all impacts weren’t known but said the step-by-step process of approvals and monitoring would help prevent unforeseen problems. “We can build in some monitoring capability . . . and stop project activity once we approve a plan,” she noted.
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, an industry group in Montauk, expressed concern about the turbine’s impact on the sea bottom.
“You’re blasting [wind towers] onto the ocean floor,” she said, potentially creating “mini dead zones” in their wake in which fish cannot live. Others said studies showed the addition of “structure” from a wind farm actually increases marine life.
Montauk fisherman Dave Aripotch, who is married to Brady, questioned the economics of wind energy against his potential losses.
“I don’t know how you can rationalize putting these things in when they take so long to pay off,” he said, noting areas where he fishes for squid could be impacted. “To put hundreds of people out of business for something that’s pie in the sky at best makes no sense.”
Bornholdt noted that wind-farm companies will operate based on their own economic feasibility assessments – but in any case they will be required to put up bonds to compensate for potential problems and to remove the structures at the end of their lease terms.
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