Fishermen and their advocates this week ramped up criticisms of Deepwater Wind and its efforts to prove that the planned South Fork Wind Farm would not hurt fishing off Long Island, challenging the basis of the company’s data and its adherence to the required review process.
On Friday, fishermen and East Hampton Town Trustees again spotlighted what they say is a dearth of information from Deepwater’s scientists that pertains directly to the marine species that migrate through the region and their sensitivity to electrical currents, at an hours-long meeting with company representatives and members of the Trustees board.
And on Monday a group of fishermen and fishing-related business owners released their own detailed assessment of the project proposal, demanding broad new data about the potential impacts and questioning whether there was even a need for a new electricity source so dire as to justify proceeding without full assurances there would be no negative effects.
All of their doubts were cast in an urgent light with the revelation earlier this month that Deepwater needs East Hampton Town and the Town Trustees to sign off on several easements before it files its sprawling federal and state applications this spring, which would preclude the town agencies from requiring in-depth reviews of the overall project before granting them.
“My fear here is that you are asking the Trustees and Town Board to sign off on this … but that is the last bargaining chip we have here,” said Dan Farnham, a Montauk fisherman. “You’re asking the town to sign off on these easements without even knowing what your proposal is. You still don’t know the diameter of the cable … and also how you plan to mitigate the impact to the commercial fishing industry and recreational fishing industry. There’s so many variables that you have not disclosed to us, which is kind of unsettling.”
Members of the Town Trustees, who are being asked to give Deepwater an easement allowing the power cable to run beneath a section of Trustees-owned beach in Wainscott, have also raised their own concerns about the direction Deepwater’s pitch has been going in.
On Monday members of the board debated how they should be looking to proceed with their review of the application. The board’s attorney, Richard Whalen, said he could see the Trustees requiring an environmental impact statement, a detailed environmental review process that typically takes months to complete—something Deepwater officials have said they cannot do and stick to their application schedule, and that they said would make them instead turn to a state-owned beach as their landing site to avoid the need for town approvals.
“It seems like we’ve got a huge disconnect right now,” Trustee Rick Drew said Friday, following a presentation that day by a Deepwater-hired scientist on the studied effects of electromagnetic fields on fish. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of recreational fishermen and thousands of commercial fishermen that depend on this migration. None of the species that are key players of this migration—like striped bass, like bluefish, like weakfish, like fluke, like squid—are being referenced. You are very knowledgeable about your subject matter but as it applies to our community and our region, it seems like we struck out tonight.”
The scientist, William Bailey, Ph.D., said his presentation on studies conducted in the Pacific—including one in which caged fish placed atop buried electricity transmission cables showed no changes in behavior between when the cables were charged and when they were not in use—were an example of the kind of work that has been done already and will be expanded in the permitting process of the Deepwater project to focus on regionally specific factors.
In a report submitted to the Town Trustees on Monday, representatives of the fishing industry said that a proper and thorough examination of the effects of an operating offshore wind farm and its transmission lines would take years of research in the specific region it’s to be built—and that Deepwater’s plans, however involved, will not be able to meet the level of certainty about impacts to justify its construction.
“What they tested in Europe is not that relevant, what they tested at Block Island, with a cable one-quarter the size of this, is not that relevant,” said Gary Cobb, who compiled the research in the 15-page report. “They can’t keep promising to give us the data after we’ve given them the permits.”
The report, which Mr. Cobb presented on behalf of more than 30 local baymen and business owners, also calls into question the need for the 90-megawatt South Fork Wind Farm. It claims that the LIPA search for new power sources on Long Island was based on outdated estimates of steeply increasing power use that have since been greatly pared back, showing there may not be the demand for energy in the future that was once thought.
“Block Island, they needed the project—they were paying stupid money to get the diesel for generators,” Mr. Cobb said. “But to industrialize the ocean to this extent, for something that isn’t completely necessary? Why eff with an environment that is so important if you don’t have to, or the very least without doing all the site- and species-specific studies that should be done.”
At Friday’s forum, which was hosted by the Trustees’ harbor management committee, Dr. Bailey explored the dynamics of electromagnetic fields in the ocean, which have been the main point of concern for many fishermen, especially baymen. He claimed that while fish are very in tune to electromagnetic frequencies, for navigation and locating prey, the frequencies they have evolved to be sensitive to are much lower than those given off by undersea power cables. Along with the caged fish example, he said that surveys around existing undersea power cables have shown no differences in fish distribution near cables.
He noted that in widely roaming migratory species, the faint EMFs given off by undersea power cables—dozens of which already crisscross the migratory paths of fish, the company has noted—are barely a blip and unlikely to affect behaviors.
Larry Penny, the former director of the town’s Natural Resources Department, warned that any effects on species like sand-eel minnows that burrow in the sand, where the EMFs would be strongest, could have ripple effects up the food chain.
The Deepwater representatives sought to assure the fishermen that they will have ample opportunity to demand species-specific surveys and studies during the two-year federal review.
But Mr. Penny and others said that grinding out a few studies over a year or two would not provide a sound basis for faith.
“I just think we already have something going, five turbines, and it seems that given 10 years or 20 years you will be able to find out what is the impact,” Mr. Penny said, referring to the Block Island Wind Farm. “But I don’t see putting another set of them out until we really know what’s going on.”
Deepwater Vice President Aileen Kenney said that she has asked the company’s researchers to prepare a report, in the next several weeks, addressing the potential effects of EMFs on locally relevant species, though she noted that the report would have to rely on existing data, not new surveys.
The company’s representatives also said that it is currently conducting recreational fishing-based surveys of cod stocks at Cox Ledge, where the 15 turbines are to be built.
Mr. Drew said he would like to see tagging programs used during the spring and fall migrations over a number of seasons to determine what fish are migrating where.