Two months after Deepwater Wind offered the East Hampton Town Board a community-benefits package in exchange for the easements it will need to land a cable from its proposed South Fork Wind Farm and bury it along a route to a Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton, the town trustees offered a counterproposal that seeks significantly more.
The offshore wind farm developer, which built and operates the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm, the nation’s first, has offered to pay for burial of the overhead utility lines along its transmission cable’s proposed path in Wainscott, an area designated by the town and state as scenic. It has also
offered $1 million to the town for water infrastructure improvements in Wainscott; $500,000 to the trustees for a marine-environment improvement fund and an additional $100,000 for a fisheries habitat fund; and another $200,000 to the town for sustainable-energy and resiliency projects as identified by the town’s energy-sustainability committee.
The Rhode Island company has also said that offices will be maintained in Montauk for the project’s anticipated 25-year life span, providing an unspecified number of permanent jobs.
At the meeting of the East Hampton Town Trustees on Monday, John Aldred, who was elected trustee in November, read a document that outlined the trustees’ counteroffer. It calls, first, for the establishment of a fisheries conflict-resolution fund to compensate fishermen for financial losses due to offshore and near-shore wind farm–related construction or operations, and unintended conflicts of use on traditional fishing grounds. Also on the list is a trustees-administered fishery-resource assistance fund, uses of which could include shellfish population enhancement and restoration; fisheries research, socioeconomic studies of fisheries, and possible development of an East End fisheries consortium.
The trustees also want an aquatic environmental-improvement fund that could support shellfish-based environmental improvement and education; aquaculture-based environmental remediation; aquatic vegetation restoration; water-quality testing; development and implementation of an environmental management plan; the purchase or leasing, and operation, of a dredge boat; marsh replanting, and phragmites control.
Establishment of a regional town trustee historical-research project and an infrastructure-needs assessment, implementation, and improvement fund were also on the trustees’ list. Finally, they asked that Deepwater Wind contribute an unspecified annual sum for the life of the project, to be administered by the trustees in consultation with stakeholder groups.
The document was delivered to Deepwater Wind on Monday, the trustees said.
Rick Drew, co-chairman of the trustees’ harbor-management committee, said that the trustees will file for Article VII intervener status with the State Public Service Commission, retain counsel to represent the community, and “maintain an active role throughout the permitting phase of the project and beyond.”
Article VII is a public review process under the state public service law for any application to construct and operate a major electric transmission facility or fuel gas transmission facility. It requires a review of the need for, and environmental impact of, the siting, design, construction, and operation of such facilities. Although it allows residents to participate in the review process, the Public Service Commission makes the final decision regarding all applications.
Anthony Tohill, an attorney whom the trustees have retained for legal matters, said that while some elements of the trustees’ counterproposal had not yet been discussed publicly, many of them are in the town’s waterfront revitalization plan approved in 1999. “So they’re not something that has not been discussed or vetted or understood to be beneficial to the town in the past,” he said. “That’s the entire reason for this: The intention is to cause a dialog to start immediately” between Deepwater Wind and the town board, “so that these items of concern and interest expressed by the trustees will get a public airing and, hopefully, the financial support of Deepwater Wind in the months and years ahead.”
But a representative of the near-shore commercial fishing industry complained that he had been left out of the document’s creation and, further, that it had been crafted during purported executive sessions, which are not open to the public, when in fact they were meant to be special meetings to which the public should have been invited. Susan Vorpahl, a trustee who was also elected in November, agreed with the fisheries representative, asserting that the meetings were improper.
Gary Cobb, who ran unsuccessfully for trustee last year, asked if the document had been crafted at the trustees’ Jan. 24 meeting. “This proposal is news to me and the stakeholders that I represent, the baymen,” Mr. Cobb told Francis Bock, the trustees’ clerk.
That meeting had been announced as a “special meeting —executive session” in a Jan. 18 memorandum to Carole Brennan, the town clerk, that was distributed to the press. (The Jan. 24 meeting fell on a Wednesday, as did another on Feb. 7; the trustees’ regular meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of each month.)
No, Mr. Bock said, it was not crafted at that meeting: “We’ve been working on this for a number of weeks, trying to understand where we are in this situation.”
The trustees’ counterproposal has “a lot of good elements,” Mr. Cobb acknowledged. “I’m just questioning, where did it come from?” From multiple meetings of the harbor-management committee, was Mr. Bock’s reply, and, Mr. Aldred added, through individual discussions. The trustees considered the entire community, Mr. Drew said. “There are many voices to this, and the fishing community has been the priority of all of our meetings, as I think you know as well as anyone. . . . I don’t think we’ve been chintzy on meetings.”
Ms. Vorpahl spoke up. “The confusion lies in the fact that the meetings that we held on Jan. 24 and Feb. 7 were put out in a memorandum as an executive session, when in fact they were not executive sessions, and the public could and should have been there.”
No, Mr. Bock said. “I disagree. The public cannot be involved in every single meeting that we have. We cannot do business when you have 20 people all piping in.”
Mr. Cobb asked Christopher Carillo, the trustees’ attorney, if the meetings were executive sessions. He and Mr. Drew responded at the same time. “It can be considered an executive session,” Mr. Drew said. “No, it was not,” the attorney said.
“But it was made aware of as an executive session,” Ms. Vorpahl said. “So I think the confusion there was that the public probably, maybe, thought that they were not entitled to be involved in an executive session.”
“This can lead to litigation,” Mr. Bock, exasperated, said, “and we met with our special counsel, so yes, we held it as an executive session.”
Mr. Grimes elaborated on that concern. Even if the trustees decline to grant an easement over beaches under their jurisdiction allowing Deepwater Wind to land its transmission cable, he told Mr. Cobb, “our authority in this is rather limited, to say the least. This is where the Article VII process, and the judge’s position as the sole arbitrator in this dialog, comes into play.” Should Deepwater Wind assert that they have made every effort to negotiate a reasonable solution, the authority of the trustees, the town, and even the state can be overruled, he said.
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