An effort by Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that plans to construct the South Fork Wind Farm approximately 30 miles east of Montauk, to alleviate the concerns of skeptical fishermen over disruption or destruction of their livelihood took an incremental step forward when the company’s president and vice president of development addressed a standing-room-only crowd at East Hampton Town Hall on Monday.
Concerns remain, however, with commercial fishermen demanding to see data that Deepwater Wind has promised but has yet to produce, along with assurances that they will be compensated for losses resulting from construction or operation of the wind farm.
The town trustees, who hosted the gathering at their last meeting of 2017, listened as Chris van Beek, Deepwater Wind’s president, and Clint Plummer, the vice president, insisted that the South Fork Wind Farm will be a benign installation, its turbines positioned so far from each other that fishing will not be impeded, and its transmission cable safely buried in the ocean floor.
Ongoing postconstruction surveys around the Block Island Wind Farm, the nation’s first offshore wind farm, which Deepwater Wind built and operates, demonstrate no negative impacts, they told the audience, conceding, however, that some fishermen were compensated for interruptions to their business during its construction.
“So far, it’s the conclusion that the fish habitat is as good as it was, or perhaps a little bit better,” Mr. van Beek said of the Block Island Wind Farm. “Especially fishing in the wind farm . . . is spectacular.” Recreational fishermen, he said, have migrated to waters around the turbines, which he said act as artificial reefs.
Last week, Deepwater Wind proposed a number of incentives to the town, including a total of $600,000 for the trustees to establish fisheries habitat and marine environment improvement funds and $200,000 to the town for an energy sustainability and resiliency fund. On Monday, Mr. Plummer repeated the promise of an operations facility in Montauk, and along with it the first set of permanent jobs associated with offshore wind in New York.
But for commercial fishermen who have long felt their livelihoods under attack from state and federal regulations, the South Fork Wind Farm, comprising up to 15 turbines, and the threat of perhaps hundreds more in the 256-square-mile Rhode Island and Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, remains an unacceptable risk.
“You’re going into our fishing grounds,” Hank Lackner, owner of the 90-foot trawler Jason & Danielle, told the Deepwater Wind officials. Visibly angry, he demanded details as to how fishermen would be compensated for interruptions, likening that compensation to the incentives offered to the town, which he said are effectively bribery. “When I can’t fish where I have for decades . . . and have to change my business operations, what are you going to do?”
“Our goal,” Mr. Plummer answered, “is not to be putting anybody out. . . . We believe the construction methodology . . . will allow commercial fishing to continue to operate as today.” Should fishermen be displaced or their business otherwise interrupted as a result of Deepwater Wind’s activity, “we will deal with that on a business-to-business basis with individuals,” he said.
“This is not a one-on-one question,” Mr. Lackner said. “This is about an industry that you will at some point interrupt. . . . You have not addressed it anywhere in your entire presentation.”
Chuck Morici, another Montauk fisherman, said that fishermen should select Deepwater Wind’s fisheries liaison – “somebody that is going to stick up for us,” he said – and not the company itself. The South Fork Wind Farm is “kind of a good idea,” he said, but fishermen are rightly opposed to it “because the governor, NOAA” – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – “and everyone else has been putting them out of business for years. . . . We feel like we’re under attack. We have not gotten a fair shake. Wind power is great, bring it on . . . but we’ve got to make a living, too.”
Dan Farnham, also of Montauk, asked about various fishing fleets’ ability to work in the area of the wind farm.
“We will not restrict, nor will we ask, nor do we have the ability to restrict any activity,” Mr. Plummer said. “Mobile gear, fixed, up-down guys, anybody can fish.” Referring to the Block Island Wind Farm, he pointed to an increase in fishing at the bases of its five turbines. “That’s recreational,” he said, “but the point is, we’re not restricting anybody.”
But Wesley Peterson, another commercial fisherman based in Montauk, asked if an independent third party is verifying Deepwater Wind’s trawl surveys. Yes, was Mr. Plummer’s reply, Drew Carey, a scientist and managing partner of Rhode Island-based Inspire Environmental. Is he paid by Deepwater Wind? Yes, was the reply. Then he cannot be truly independent, Mr. Peterson said.
Mr. Peterson also said that nets are getting caught on the concrete mattresses used to bury the Block Island farm’s transmission cable in areas where it could not be buried at the optimal four-to-six-foot depth under the ocean floor. Mr. van Beek had previously said that the mattresses had to be placed over about 5 percent of the cable’s path.
“We haven’t received any reports of this,” Mr. Plummer said, “and we have fisheries liaisons and representatives in Rhode Island working with us. We’ve done videography surveys and seen no evidence of mats moved. We haven’t heard from anybody.”
Mr. Peterson disagreed, and said that he would have affected fishermen contact Deepwater officials.
Dan Lester, a bayman from Amagansett, asked about any effect on fish migration caused by the electromagnetic frequency emanating from the transmission cable, and how he would be compensated if it altered that migration.
“We believe this installation can be done in such a way that it won’t impact fish populations,” Mr. Plummer said.
Jim Grimes, a trustee, asked if Deepwater Wind is willing to create a fund to indemnify fishermen against any losses. “If you’re right about your science, it’s a bet you can’t lose,” he said.
“We’re not here asking for money,” Mr. Lester said. “We want to go to work. We just don’t want our work messed with.”
“Our primary focus is . . . to keep you working, to have zero to as minimal impact on what you’re doing,” Mr. Plummer said, imploring fishermen to participate in an ongoing dialogue with his company.
The trustees’ harbor management committee will meet today at 5 p.m. at the Donald Lamb Building in Amagansett. The meeting, said the committee’s Rick Drew, will include a “debriefing” of Monday’s presentation. The committee will begin to form its recommendation to the full trustee board as to its support for the wind farm, he said.