The East Hampton Town Board voted narrowly on Thursday night to grant an access and utility easement to Deepwater Wind, allowing the Rhode Island company to route a transmission cable from its proposed South Fork Wind Farm from the ocean beach in Wainscott to a Long Island Power Authority substation near Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton.
The decision came at the conclusion of a nearly three-hour discussion in which members of the public argued passionately for immediate action or a delay to review the matter.
In the resolution, passed by a 3-to-2 vote, the board also voted to hire John Wagner of the Long Island law firm Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP, to serve as outside counsel to the town attorney’s office for all issues relating to the project. Mr. Wagner will be charged with drafting and negotiating the grant of access and utility easement and the $8.45 million community benefits package that Deepwater Wind has offered the town to fund sustainability programs and infrastructure improvements in exchange for the easement. He will also oversee proceedings pursuant to Article VII – a review process under the state public service law covering applications to construct and operate a major electric transmission facility – and proceedings before the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other regulatory and environmental review agencies.
The vote was expected, based on the discussion board members had at a meeting held two days earlier. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwomen Sylvia Overby and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez voted in favor; Councilmen Jeff Bragman and David Lys were opposed.
The vote granting the easement survived a last-minute effort by Mr. Lys to amend the resolution, eliminating the granting of an easement and solely retaining outside counsel.
As he had on Tuesday, Mr. Bragman protested the timing of granting an easement to Deepwater Wind. The company has sought to have that in hand before submitting applications to federal and state permitting agencies to construct the 15-turbine installation approximately 30 miles off Montauk, which could be online late in 2022.
A majority of the board, he said, argues that granting the easement is the best way to maintain a level of control over the project, “which I really think means that’s the best way to get the money for these projects that seem to be so attractive,” he said of the community benefits package. “But it also means that the town recognizes there are serious and substantial issues with the project that must be addressed and mitigated through the Article VII review.” He could not support the resolution, he said, “because it essentially requires the town to give the easement first and do the environmental review second.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc disagreed. The language of the easement, he said, “would be conditioned upon thorough review of the public service commission and a finding of environmental appropriateness.” He said that Mr. Bragman had agreed at Tuesday’s meeting that “that was the best place to vet this project for its environmental impacts, and the town was not capable or well suited to make those determinations on the project, and that fell to the public service commission” and other agencies, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the State Department of Environmental Conservation, to fully review any environmental impacts of the wind farm.
“I think your explanation sounds more compromising than the actual language of the resolution,” Mr. Bragman said, “because you’re going to engage in lawyers on both sides and hammer out an agreement, and then tack a condition on at the end.”
Again, Mr. Van Scoyoc disagreed. “I’m confident that the best way to proceed is represented well in the first resolution,” he said. Mr. Bragman repeated his assertion that the supervisor was motivated by the community benefits package.
That discussion followed members of the public issuing urgent calls to action or pleas to allow study of potential adverse impacts. Cate Rogers referred to the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Henry Pollack, who co-authored a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and authored “A World Without Ice.” Postponing action, she said, “is an implicit endorsement of the status quo” and “often an excuse for maintaining it. . . . Waiting for uncertainties to disappear is not a feasible option.”
Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island and a former member of the town’s energy sustainability advisory committee, said that he had co-authored a 1999 Pace University study that had recommended a study of offshore wind. If the South Fork Wind Farm becomes operational in 2022 as planned, it will be 23 years after that study. “Nature has set us a deadline,” he said. “Ignoring nature’s deadline is not an option when it comes to these things. I encourage you to move forward swiftly for the sake of this community and future generations.”
Don Matheson said that Antarctica is melting three times faster than it was in 2007. If all of its ice were to melt, sea level would rise by 200 feet – and that would be the least of civilization’s problems, he said, pointing to mass migration from places that will become uninhabitable due to heat. As a place visited by “decision makers from all over the world,” East Hampton should serve as an example, he said, by embracing offshore wind and abandoning fossil fuel-derived energy.
But Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, and Julie Evans, who serves as liaison to Deepwater Wind for the town’s fisheries advisory committee, said that the developer has not been an honest partner in outreach to the town, and repeated a call for a $30,000 budget to devise a framework for compensation should the wind farm interrupt commercial fishing activity, or worse.
Simon Kinsella, who has addressed the board repeatedly to oppose the South Fork Wind Farm, asked that the board seek outside counsel in an effort to compel Deepwater Wind to reveal details about the cost of its electricity to LIPA ratepayers, about which it has been cagey. “No contract should be entered into without first knowing the price,” he said.
David Gruber, who will challenge Mr. Lys for his seat on the town board in November, said that the board is “deciding to do a real estate deal for money cloaked with the virtue of sustainable energy.” Deepwater Wind does not need the easement in order to proceed with its permit applications, he said. Board members know nothing about fisheries or statistical analysis “because you deliberately choose not to know,” he charged.
“It’s remarkable that you know what we do and do not know,” Mr. Van Scoyoc replied. “It’s a pretty broad statement. It takes a lot of gusto to make that comment, but go for it.”
John Mullen, a part-time resident of Springs who was born in New Orleans, made the evening’s most dramatic pronouncement about climate change. In the 23 years he has resided here, he has measured nearly three inches of sea level rise, he said. “Ice is melting, air is warming, seas are rising,” he said. The hurricanes experienced in the northeast are “nothing” compared to Katrina, which killed at least 1,245 people in 2005, and Camille, which flattened nearly everything along the Mississippi coast in 1969.
“Temperature back then in the Gulf is similar to what you’re starting to get here,” Mr. Mullen said. “It’s coming, folks, it’s coming.”
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