Under pressure from some to take a stand, however futile it may be, against offshore wind farm development, the East Hampton Town Trustees are moving in an increasingly outspoken direction in their concerns with the project.
Members of the board this week implored town residents to contact state and federal lawmakers and make it known that they do not want to see Deepwater Wind’s plans move forward without more scientific evidence of its environmental safety.
They also expressed bewilderment at the extent to which state agencies seem to already be brushing aside the state’s usually stalwart hurdles to approval, clearing a path for large offshore wind energy projects in general.
“They’re being considered unlisted actions, [which is] the lowest standard that has to be met,” Trustee Rick Drew said on Monday, referring to a recently released environmental impact statement from the state that would be applied to all offshore wind projects going forward. “We need thorough environmental review. We’re working very hard to ensure our community is treated fairly.”
Members of the board and fishing industry advocates blasted the draft generic environmental impact statement from several angles, not the least of which that the 70-plus-page document was released just this past week but is open to public comment only through April 9.
At the same time, the Trustees seemed to acknowledge that their official stance on the matter may be little more than a speed bump in the road to approval for the 15-turbine wind farm planned in the Atlantic east of Block Island, and that battling the project could mean turning their back on a robust aid package from the wind farm developers.
The company has said that if the Town Board or Trustees object to bringing the 12-inch-diameter power line ashore in Wainscott, the cable could be brought ashore at Napeague, across state-owned parklands that would not require any approvals ahead of the main project application to a platoon of state and federal agencies.
The State Public Service Commission also could overrule any local agency that denied permission to the company on the grounds that the project represents a greater public service, allowing Deepwater to take the shorter, cheaper route from the ocean beach in Wainscott to the PSEG Long Island substation in East Hampton that it has asked for town permission to use.
The company has yet to respond to the Trustees’ call earlier this month for potentially millions of dollars in funding from the company for a broad variety of environmental and fisheries-related projects. The Trustees say the proposals could soften the blow of lost fishing prospects for local baymen were the wind farm someday found to have negative effects on fish migrations.
Deepwater Vice President Clint Plummer said this week that the company is preparing a joint response to both the Trustees and a long list of questions raised during a public presentation to the Town Board earlier this winter.
“We’re very pleased that the Trustees are engaged and working through this process with us,” Mr. Plummer said. “There’s been a lot asked of us, both in terms of commercial negotiations and in terms of science. My thoughts were that the Trustees were asking for a lot—they’re setting a very high bar. But we want to get to a solution that everyone can look at and say was a good process that everyone weighed in on, and that addressed the concerns people have raised.”
The company offered a little more than $5 million in public benefit projects at its first discussion of the matter in December, including $600,000 in funding to the Trustees for environmental and fisheries improvement projects. About $2 million would go to bury power lines in Wainscott, and another $1 million was proposed for addressing drinking water concerns related to a chemical contamination plume in the hamlet.
Public benefit payments have long been common for major development projects, and are recommended but not mandated in the state statutes that guide such projects.
The construction of the Caithness power plant—which requires approvals from Brookhaven Town—in Patchogue brought with it $13 million in public benefit funding from the company, Caithness Energy, for education, job development and community benefit projects in the township. The company also set up a college scholarship fund for students from three surrounding school districts.
Trustees Clerk Francis Bock said this week that while the dollar value attached to the various projects that the Trustees asked Deepwater to support as compensation for the potential pitfalls of the project was purposely left vague, he acknowledged it was certainly more than has been offered so far.
“Maybe it’s $10 million, I don’t know,” Mr. Bock said of the long-term costs of the projects, which ranged from a compensation fund for lost fishing income to direct funding for dredging and environmental restoration projects. “It’s clear that we are not in any position to stop the project, but we want them to help us create a buffer against any possible effects it might have on our fishermen.”
And yet some jabbed the Trustees this week for even presenting the company with a list of things that, if granted, would seem to indicate the Trustees’ support would follow, regardless of the price tag.
“I don’t think we should be negotiating … on a price on our natural resources,” Rachel Gruzen, an Amagansett resident, told the Trustees on Monday night. “It is not our task at this point in time to negotiate a price tag on our natural resources. Our task at the moment is to protect them.”
Former longtime Trustee Diane McNally also urged the board she served on for nearly 30 years to toss the wants of the wind farm developers aside.
“You guys are the original government of the Town of East Hampton—it’s not like you let these guys take control,” she said. “It’s a political dog-and-pony show.”
Trustee James Grimes said that he worried that the Trustees trying to block the project could just hand it right to the state agencies that they distrust the most to look at it with a jaundiced eye.
“We can fall right into the hand of the very people we’re trying to stop,” he said. “A judge has the authority to overrule the local law.”
But those who see the Trustees as possibly the only impediment to a rubber stamp on the project said the principle should win out in their minds, even if the war is ultimately lost.
“Even if … Goliath overrules us,” Ms. Gruzen said, “at least we can tell our grandchildren that the Town of East Hampton did not sell out to a developer.”
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