Commercial fishermen peppered representatives of Deepwater Wind this week with concerns, questions and “what-if” scenarios about the planned offshore wind farm’s feared impacts on marine life and the men who work the waters for a living.
The company, which is planning to spend more than $700 million to construct 15 wind turbines in the ocean 30 miles southeast of Montauk, walked a standing-room-only audience at the East Hampton Town Trustees meeting on Monday night through the coming permitting and presumed construction process that will follow. Its officials also tried to again assuage the concerns of fishermen about the effects the South Fork Wind Farm will have on fishing.
Deepwater Wind Vice President Clint Plummer assured the doubters that the company’s plans include exhaustive surveys of marine life and conditions in the area around the wind farm; extensive discussions with fishermen about when, where and how they fish to help guide the placement and movement of equipment; and how they will compensate fishermen for any losses they do experience.
The fishermen, some of whom even expressed reluctant support for the idea of wind farms, still were skeptical of the company’s assurances, at best, and often clearly distrusting.
Wesley Peterson, who owns a Montauk trawler, questioned the objectivity of the scientists analyzing the data being collected by the surveyors. Deepwater has hired a Rhode Island marine biologist, Dr. Drew Carey, to review its surveys of the marine environment. But the fisherman noted that he is a hired consultant and questioned whether he, or the data collection itself, can really be trusted to be objective.
“Is there an independent third party verifying your findings?” Mr. Peterson asked. “Is Dr. Carey paid by you? Then that is not independent.”
Dan Farnham, also a commercial fisherman, asked the Deepwater reps for information about how wind farms in Europe—where thousands of wind turbines have been constructed in the ocean—have affected fish stocks in the sea around them, and how fishermen have been affected. “Any fish stocks that are negatively impacted comes off the backs of commercial fishermen down the road,” he said.
Mr. Plummer noted that since some offshore wind farms in Europe are as much as 25 years old, and the turbines were much smaller, they also were typically placed closer together than the one mile that will separate each of the South Fork Wind Farm turbines, making fishing among them there more complicated.
He offered no assessments, however, of how fish stocks themselves have changed in the areas developed with wind farms.
Some fishermen acknowledged that with little information available about how the wind farm and its components might impact fishing, derailing it may be difficult. But they asked how the company would indemnify them if long-term impacts did arise down the road.
“I’d like to see some data on what the cable does to migrations of fish,” said Dan Lester, an Amagansett bayman. “Everything that comes into the bay has to come along the ocean [beach]. When this thing is up and running, and all of a sudden I’m not catching any fish because this cable messes up fish migrations … how am I going to be compensated?”
East Hampton Town Trustee Jim Grimes, who is from Montauk, said Deepwater’s assurances of the project’s safety to marine habitats ring hollow in light of past instances of industrial projects gone wrong, like General Electric’s polluting of the Hudson River, which shut down striped bass harvests in the 1980s.
“We’re not asking for money—we just want to go to work. But is there something there to help us if we are put out of business?” Mr. Lester asked. “We’ve been put out of business before, and it is not fun.”
Mr. Plummer said that the company believes the electricity pulsing through the cable, which will be buried 6 feet below the sea floor, will not have any effect on fish migrations or fishing. But he said the company will address any such issues on a case-by-case basis with the fishermen who are affected.
He said the company compensated some Rhode Island fishermen for loss of fishing time when the Block Island Wind Farm was being constructed in 2015 and 2016.
He also said the company is eager to meet with fishermen to discuss the issues of concern and show them the data it has and the studies that have been done.
Getting fishermen to the table is clearly destined to be an uphill climb.
One captain, Hank Lackner, who owns the largest trawler in Montauk, told the Deepwater representatives on Monday that any fisherman who signs on to work for the company as a go-between will be seen as “a traitor” who will have no credibility with his peers.
Mr. Lackner nodded to the company’s presentation of “community benefits” in exchange for the use of town roadways to put its cable underground—including $600,000 to the Trustees for environmental projects.
“You plan on giving certain entities money to restore habitat, to use their road or use their beach … those are bribes,” said Mr. Lackner. “What are you going to do to bribe the fishermen?”
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