Two East Hampton Town councilmen said on Tuesday that they will vote to deny the application by Deepwater Wind to land the South Fork Wind Farm power cable in Wainscott if it comes up for a vote—and they implored the rest of the Town Board to put off a decision on the proposal until a more comprehensive review of the project has been completed.
But the wind farm project still seems likely to win ultimate approval from the Town Board, as the other three members all expressed support for it as an imperative green energy effort.
A vote on granting Deepwater Wind an easement beneath town roads between Beach Lane and the Long Island Power Authority/PSEG Long Island substation on Buell Lane could come as early as Thursday, July 19.
Councilmen David Lys and Jeff Bragman, the board’s two newest members, both said they would vote against any resolution to approve the easement. Both stressed that they were not necessarily opposed to the project itself, but wish the town would wait to issue approvals until officials have a more concrete understanding of the project’s details.
Mr. Bragman, in particular, offered a wide-ranging argument for the town withholding approval of the easement until the broader project has navigated the nearly two years of review that it is expected to go through in front of the New York State Public Service Commission and more than a dozen state and federal agencies.
“We do not have to be the ‘land of no,’ but we do have to be the ‘land of know,’” Mr. Bragman quipped. “I’m not saying wind is bad. I support the use of wind power. But I also support thorough, methodical, deliberative environmental review. The pacing of this has been a little speedy.”
The councilman ran through a long list of unknowns about the project that he says the town withholding its approvals could help get answers to, including what electricity rates in the contract between LIPA and Deepwater are—a detail that has not be made public by LIPA.
Mr. Bragman called out Deepwater on one of its very first claims about its application to the town: that it needed to get the town’s approval before it filed its application with the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Bragman, an attorney, said that he spoke with the commission’s general counsel, who told him it is not necessary and is actually rare that local approvals be granted prior to the broader review. He noted that Deepwater representatives’ claims about the matter had “softened” considerably in recent weeks to emphasize that they “want” to have the approvals first.
He also said that as part of the review by the commission, known as an Article 7 Review, the town would be entitled as an interested party to expert assistance, and even financial help for the commissioning of expert analysis, about various points of concern with the project.
“I don’t understand why this board would think, or even consider, executing a real estate right that’s essentially permanent before we get to participate in the Article 7 review and get … some answers,” Mr. Bragman said. “Why are we committing ourselves before we do the environmental review? You’re giving up a lot of your leverage in the Article 7 Review. How much attention are they going to pay you when [Deepwater] can walk in and say the municipality is on board?”
Mr. Bragman was also critical of the Town Planning Department’s report on the questions raised at a public hearing on the applications on May 17, saying the answers from the town staff seemed to be little more than information that Deepwater had provided and not supported by independent evidence.
Mr. Lys, for his part, said that his own hesitations about the application were driven by concern that the impacts on the local fishing community and the marine environment through the 50 miles of ocean between Wainscott and the wind farm have not been thoroughly examined.
“I still don’t feel this has been the complete application that I would like to see,” Mr. Lys said, nodding to some assurances and protocols intended to protect fishermen that he had asked to be included in the application but weren’t to his satisfaction. “I am fearful that my decision here will be seen as someone who does not look at the environment. But I’m also a protector of the values of the people who live here. I think the long-range effects of this project have to be discussed now.”
While town officials had emphasized at the May hearings and again at the outset of Tuesday’s discussion that the application before the town is little more than an essentially run-of-the-mill underground utility easement, and that the town’s support would certainly not be the linchpin in the success of Deepwater’s application, the support offered by the three Town Board members in favor of the application was rooted in the grander issues surrounding the project as a whole.
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc countered Mr. Bragman’s robust dissent with his own broad rebuttal that stood up for the logic of the project and how “the developer” has handled its application to the town. He compared the idea of asking the town for easements before starting the application to a house builder going to an architect and the zoning board first—and then asking if the land were for sale.
He acknowledged the point that wind farms, because of their inherent inconsistency at producing electricity, do require fossil fuel power plants as backup for times when the wind doesn’t blow. “But every megawatt of electricity that is generated in a clean and renewable way is one that doesn’t have to be generated from fossil fuels,” he said. “The net is making progress.”
He also addressed criticisms that the contract between LIPA and Deepwater would mean Long Islanders would be paying relatively high rates for power from the South Fork Wind Farm for 20 years, even as the cost of wind farm electricity is forecast to plummet over that same time frame as the industry expands. He compared the industry to the advent of flat-screen televisions: the first one a family bought may have cost four times as much as the one they have now. But the wind industry will require a ramp-up, through the construction of pioneering projects like the South Fork Wind Farm, he said, to bring the costs down.
“If everybody was to take the approach ‘Let’s wait until the costs come down,’ the costs would never come down,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
Councilwomen Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Sylvia Overby agreed with Mr. Van Scoyoc that the project should be advanced by the town, if only to get the local participation in a global effort to tamp down the effects of climate change started.
“From my perspective,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said, “there’s real consequences for doing nothing.”
“If every rooftop in East Hampton had solar, we still would not be able to meet our energy needs,” Ms. Overby added. “Eliminating fossil fuel use is needed now. Our environment is our economy.”
Deepwater has also applied to the East Hampton Town Trustees for permission to run the power cable beneath the ocean beach at Beach Lane. The Trustees, where majority support for the approval is very much in doubt, have not publicly discussed the project since the May 17 joint public hearing.
The board’s clerk, Francis Bock, said the Trustees are still in negotiations with Deepwater about how the lease or easement they will consider will be worded—something Mr. Bock said needs to be ironed out before the Trustees can begin deliberating about whether to grant it or not.
“Everything is moving in a positive direction as far as the lease agreement goes—we’re not quite there, but we’re close,” Mr. Bock said. “Once we get that worked out, we’ll start discussing a vote. We’re not trying to gain a consensus, but we can’t discuss it until we have something concrete to discuss.”
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