A 12- to 15-turbine wind farm still will have to navigate a long and arduous regulatory approval process before it can be constructed in the waters between Montauk and Nantucket.
One of the hurdles it will have to clear will be convincing regulators that it will not have a negative impact on marine life in the area the wind farm will inhabit, or on the fishermen who draw their livelihoods from the seas surrounding it.
In the still-fledgling world of offshore wind-generated energy in the United States, commercial fishermen have emerged as the leading doubters of the overall benefits of this particular method of creating renewable energy.
Last fall, a consortium of commercial fishing interests sued to halt a federal lease of hundreds of square miles of ocean floor in the New York Bight. The legal action claimed that the construction of hundreds of wind turbines in the area could restrict access to commercial fishermen and interfere with important fish migration patterns. The suit is pending but the lease auction went forward as planned.
Some Montauk fishermen say they are worried about the impacts of the turbines to be built about 30 miles offshore of their home port.
“The location is definitely a concern, because of the fishery that takes place there,” said Chris Scola, a Montauk sea scallop harvester. “The draggers do a lot of fluking there. They do a lot of yellowtail flounder there. It’s a very important place for sportfishermen, too— it’s really the only place that still has cod consistently.”
Mr. Scola and others have expressed concerns in particular about the effect the construction project would have on fish in the region and whether electromagnetic emanations from the 50-mile undersea cable that would connect the wind turbines to the South Fork would drive away fish from the area on a long-term basis.
One point of concern is whether the turbines would be anchored to the bottom with steel pilings, driven hundreds of feet into the sea floor, as the five turbines already constructed off Block Island are. The act of driving in the piles can damage the swim bladders of fish in the vicinity, fishermen worry, and drive fish away from the construction area for years, perhaps not to return.
Mr. Scola said there have been problems with the transmission cable for the Block Island wind turbines, which couldn’t be buried in some areas and have posed an unexpected hazard to fishermen.
“As a scalloper, I tow my gear along the bottom, and in the places they couldn’t bury that cable, boats can get hung up on it,” Mr. Scola said. “In a smaller boat like mine, getting hung up would be a major safety issue. And now we’re going to have a cable 50 miles long?”
Montauk fishermen say they were not included in the conversations held five years ago, when Deepwater Wind and federal regulators were discussing the regions that would be leased to the company for wind farm construction.
“They created a fishery advisory group … and Rhode Island and Massachusetts fishermen said, ‘You can’t go here, because we all fish here—that’s important to us,’ and they removed all these certain [areas] from the map,” said Bonnie Brady, director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. “They never talked to New York. No one from Long Island was invited, as far as I’m aware.”
Ms. Brady, who did note that she has met personally with Deepwater Wind officials in the years since the lease was auctioned out, also nodded to a court ruling that sidelined a giant wind farm proposal off Cape Cod that said there should have been far more detailed environmental studies of the entire area being considered, something that she said was not done fully for the Deepwater Wind lease area either.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said that the company has met and will continue to meet with commercial fishermen from across the region, including Montauk, and will factor their concerns into the final decision about where to put the wind turbines.
As to the driving of piles, the type of bottom in the area where the turbines are ultimately sited will dictate how they are anchored to the bottom, he said. The company would drive steel piles into the sea floor only in an area of softer bottom. On harder bottom, which Mr. Grybowski noted most of the targeted wind farm area has, the turbines could be anchored simply with giant concrete foundations set on the bottom. The company will begin doing surveys of the entire target area this spring, he said.
He also nodded to the existing Block Island turbines, saying that they have not had a lasting impact on fishing and that fishermen have told him the fishing around the turbines and their electrical transmission wires has been excellent.
“We drove piles at the Block Island project, and I think you can ask any fisherman—fishing is booming. We had to shoo away fishing vessels even while the construction is ongoing, and now they are fishing right next to [the turbines],” Mr. Grybowski said. “There are a lot of transmission cables in the water across the country and across the world, and there’s no evidence that these cables have an impact on fish at all. We feel very confident that the cables aren’t going to impact any kind of fish behavior.”
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