Members of the East Hampton Town Trustees, deeply split over their role in the anticipated Deepwater Wind offshore wind farm, are attempting to work out some of their internal differences before they begin public discussions of when they might bring the application up for a vote—if they decide to do so at all.
The public comment period for the two applications by Deepwater Wind, to the East Hampton Town Board and the East Hampton Town Trustees, officially closed on Thursday, June 14. That comment period included one official joint public hearing session with the two boards and two Trustees meetings that served as defacto continuations of the pleadings of supporters and opponents with the Trustees, who are seen as more on the fence than the Town Board.
The Town Trustees, who had held their public comment period open for two weeks longer than the Town Board, will hold their first meeting since the end of the comment period on Monday, June 25, and hope to begin discussing how they will treat the application.
But before that meeting, Trustees Clerk Francis Bock admitted, the Trustees need to do some internal mending of fences.
Mr. Bock said he has asked some members of the board who have butted heads to meet before that meeting to work out how the board will proceed with its discussion of the application. He said the closed-door pre-meeting discussion will be treated as an executive session, because it will involve legal details regarding the Trustees’ authority and contract negotiations.
“There are a few of us who clearly have not been in agreement with the way this has been going, and we need to iron out our differences so that we can have a constructive discussion about the facts of this application,” Mr. Bock said this week. “There’s a lot of emotion involved with this issue, and we need to clear that out so we can debate the application on the merits.”
Trustee James Grimes said he’s been frustrated with some other members of the board, whom he would not name, for having aired their position or thoughts about the Deepwater project on social media rather than reserving such opinions for the board’s public discussions on the topic.
“I don’t think it’s productive to read about comments that people are making one way or another before we’ve talked about it as a board,” Mr. Grimes said. “Our job is to hear all sides and develop an opinion that represents the community’s opinion. We have a responsibility here beyond our own personal feelings.”
Deepwater Wind has applied to the town’s two elected boards for permission to run the lone power cable connecting the South Fork Wind Farm to the mainland at Beach Lane in Wainscott, and then run it beneath town roads to the PSEG Long Island substation in East Hampton Village.
Deepwater has said that it needs approvals from the two local boards before it can file its application to the state and federal agencies that will review the overall application.
The Trustees, like the Town Board, have seen their position in the project’s approval as an odd balancing act of considerations about their authority, their duty and their reach.
Both boards seem to be taking nearly the full scope of the construction of the nation’s first major wind farm into account in weighing whether they see it worthy of supporting.
But the application to the Town Board is only for a fairly run-of-the-mill easement along roadways for utility undergrounding, of the sort that would typically be granted out of hand. The most disruptive portion seems to be that of the horizontal drilling equipment stationed at Beach Lane through one winter, and potentially operating around the clock at times, though the company has said it will keep the road open most of the time and will surround the operations with noise-dampening measures.
What the Trustees are being asked is somewhat unique, and potentially broader in consequence.
It involves the boring of a cable conduit under the beach and sea floor out 1,500 to 2,000 feet from the ocean beaches, where it will connect to the cable being laid to the wind farm. It would be the first time such a process had been done in the region.
But the permission sought is still only for the boring, while the debate at the Trustees’ meetings has focused on a broad variety of much grander concerns regarding global warming, endangered species, financial analysis of electrical rates, and regionwide fish migrations.
The Trustees have listened particularly closely to fishermen about their concerns that the power cable, and electromagnetic pulses it gives off, could drive fish away from the traditional routes fishermen have relied on for centuries.
Complicating the local board’s deliberations are considerations about the “public benefits” package that Deepwater has offered the town and Trustees—totaling some $8 million in funding for infrastructure projects in Wainscott and fisheries programs administered by the Trustees—and whether the project could just proceed more or less as planned even if the town agencies reject the request but without the town getting the financial tithe the company is offering now.
Members of the Trustees have also openly expressed their frustration that part of the difficulty in the discussions about the project lately has been the fogginess of the information swirling around the Deepwater application. From nondisclosure agreements about the costs of the wind farm’s power supply, to changing explanations from Deepwater itself about various details of the project, to the vagaries of a gargantuan approval process that has never been hurdled before, members of the board have said on several occasions that not knowing exactly what is true and what isn’t makes considering an application at this early stage a daunting and unenviable task.
Part of what Mr. Bock said he wants the board’s member-to-member discussions to focus on at coming meetings is nailing down fact from speculation and innuendo, regarding various details of the project, including whether the approval of the Trustees is something that is even needed before the project can be brought to the federal and state agencies, which could spend as long as two years reviewing the environmental impacts of its construction and operation.
“We’re not exactly sure about a lot of things,” Mr. Bock said. “We’ve been given a lot of information—we have to determine what is accurate, and what to do with it.”
The Town Board could potentially vote on the application it is considering as early as at its first regular meeting of next month on July 5. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he expects the Town Board will next discuss the Deepwater application at its July 3 work session but would offer no predictions on how soon it would bring the Deepwater application to a vote.
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