The East Hampton Town Trustees, who assert jurisdiction over most of the town’s beaches, bottomlands, and waterways, are apparently divided as to whether or not to grant a lease to Deepwater Wind to land the transmission cable of the proposed South Fork Wind Farm under the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott.
But their authority may not even extend to the beach in question, Francis Bock, the body’s clerk, said on Tuesday. The trustees have not conducted a title search to prove ownership, he said, nor have they seen a deed to the property.
“There are records that indicate in 1881, I believe, the trustees turned over Beach Lane to the commissioners of highways,” a three-member department of the town. “The indication is it was turned over to them to the water line. If you look at a tax map, you will see almost every road end from there to, I believe, Wiborg’s Beach,” in East Hampton, “goes right down to the water.”
Other trustees do not believe the body ceded ownership of the beach, Mr. Bock said. But “if you accept what those records show, it indicates to me that Stephen Lynch,” the town’s superintendent of highways, “is in charge of it.”
The wind farm is to be situated some 35 miles east of Montauk,
The four-week span in which the East Hampton Town Trustees solicited public comment on the proposed South Fork Wind Farm, following a joint hearing with the town board, ended last Thursday, and the trustees have called an executive session to discuss their next move on Monday at 5:30 p.m., an hour before their regularly scheduled meeting. Such so-called executive sessions may be held only in certain circumstances; this would not appear to be oneof those.
Discussion on Monday will focus on how the trustees will vote, “if we vote,” Mr. Bock said on Tuesday. “There’s a possibility we may not vote,” given the uncertainty surrounding their jurisdiction.
Mr. Bock said that Monday’s special session would be followed by another, possibly on Wednesday. After hearing from some 60 speakers at the May 17 joint hearing, the trustees received approximately 50 more comments during the four-week period, many coming from those who had spoken at the hearing. “From what I’ve seen it’s probably a fairly even split,” in favor of and opposed to the wind farm, he said.
Meanwhile, Deepwater Wind officials are awaiting decisions from the trustees and town board before they submit applications to multiple federal and state permitting agencies, vetting of which is expected to take up to two years. They had hoped to submit those applications in the first quarter of this year in order to maintain a timetable that could see the wind farm operational late in 2022.
“We have been delaying our permit application for several months, waiting to know whether or not we have the approvals we need from the town and trustees, before we can submit our permit applications,” Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, said on Tuesday. “It’s getting very tight on time. We’ve delayed for several months, and we need to submit permit applications very soon.”
Mr. Plummer would not comment on the question of trustees’ ownership of the beach in Wainscott. “We know that we have to have certainty that if we go through this permitting process that we have the real estate rights we need to actually build the project,” he said. “We need to have the town and trustees take a vote. . . . I remain very confident about where we stand in that respect.” Should the real estate rights be denied, “We’ll have to go to one of the alternative landings,” most likely state-owned land at Napeague, he said. “In that case, we are very confident we have a viable and workable route.” In that event, an $8-million-plus community benefits package proposed to the town and trustees in exchange for the easements would be withdrawn, he said.
Nonetheless, “We really want to do a deal with the town and trustees, in part because we’ve been working here so long. I think everybody recognizes we’ve come up with a consensus that works for the community.”
Regardless of the local governing bodies’ decision, offshore wind has determined proponents at higher levels of government, and LIPA, in a statement issued last Thursday, called the South Fork Wind Farm “the foundation of a sustainable wind energy industry on Long Island.”
While the town board and trustees deliberate, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is making offshore wind a priority. On Friday, he announced an $18.5 million grant awarded by the federal Department of Energy to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to lead a nationwide consortium to advance offshore wind technology. The consortium is to create a public-private partnership including offshore wind developers, utilities, research laboratories, and states including New Jersey and California. Its mission is to develop innovations in wind farm design and methods to reduce siting and installation costs, and explore advanced technology for operations, maintenance, and supply-chain development.
The governor issued the Offshore Wind Master Plan earlier this year. It is to guide the development of 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, the year that 50 percent of the state’s electricity is mandated to come from renewable sources as specified in the Clean Energy Standard, issued in 2016. Mr. Cuomo also directed NYSERDA to invest $15 million in clean energy work force development and infrastructure advancement to support the nascent industry.
“The South Fork continues to experience electricity load growth,” according to LIPA’s statement, which cites growing commercial activity and ongoing, and larger, residential construction. The South Fork Wind Farm “demonstrates how governments at all layers can work with the private sector to make smart energy decisions and solve a long-term supply problem to the South Fork without the need to build unsightly and costly poles and wires.”
Neighboring states are also moving forward with offshore wind. On June 13, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced 250 megawatts of renewable energy projects, including 200 megawatts from Deepwater Wind’s Revolution Wind Farm, proposed in the same federal lease area in which the South Fork Wind Farm is to be constructed. Revolution Wind is to comprise two separate projects: Rhode Island is already slated to receive 400 megawatts from the installation. Massachusetts has also committed to 800 megawatts of offshore wind-generated electricity.
“As you see playing out in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, offshore wind is going be a very large industry,” Mr. Plummer said. “There’s going to be a lot of these projects developed. That’s just the momentum behind our industry, because it makes fundamental sense. We’re very proud of our work in East Hampton over these last several years, and hope in particular the board and trustees can consider their yes vote to be part of establishing a very high bar.”
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