The East Hampton Town Board last week pledged to grant Deepwater Wind an easement to lay power cables beneath town roads between Wainscott and a power substation off Buell Lane near East Hampton Village—to a smattering of applause from supporters of the wind farm project.
As expected, the resolution on the easements was approved, 3-2, on Thursday, July 19, with only the barest majority of the board supporting it. Councilmen David Lys and Jeff Bragman both voted against the measure, while Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwomen Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Sylvia Overby voted in favor.
The vote did not actually grant Deepwater specific easements but rather memorialized the intention of the town to do so and formalized the town’s stance that running the cable beneath town roads would not generally pose a threat to the environment.
The board also voted on Thursday to hire an attorney to draft the specific easements that will be granted to Deepwater Wind. Mr. Van Scoyoc said that once the easement agreements have been crafted the board will hold a public discussion of them and welcome public comments on their wording.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that he is hopeful the attorneys for the town and Deepwater can iron out the specific legal details of the easements that will be needed and present them to the board by next month.
“The position of the majority of the board is that we wanted to signal our support of granting the easements and move forward with what will be a very vigorous environmental review,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, nodding to the view of critics that the board should have demanded a full environmental review before it voted. “The board and public will see this again.”
The South Fork Wind Farm would be built about 33 miles southeast of Montauk Point, in an area of ocean known as Cox Ledge, within sight of Block Island. The company has proposed building 12 to 15 turbines, each about 600 feet tall and capable of producing 90 megawatts of power.
There also is evidence in state records that the company has already discussed a second phase of the South Fork Wind Farm—but Deepwater has declined multiple requests from The Press for comment on references to South Fork Wind Farm II in the New York State Independent Operator’s list of upcoming power generation projects.
Deepwater Wind has already purchased a lease of the sea floor from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and inked a contract with the Long Island Power Authority to deliver power from the wind farm from 2022 to 2042.
It must now apply to more than a dozen state and federal agencies for permission to construct the turbines in the area it has proposed and will go through what it has estimated will be two years of review and hearings. If approved, construction of the turbines and power cable linking them to land would take two years, with the goal of the wind farm coming online in 2022.
Before Thursday night’s vote, critics and supporters of the wind farm plans, on which the easement has been seen as de facto referendum, made a long series of last-minute appeals to the board. Supporters said that the town should allow the project to advance as quickly as possible.
Supporters mostly pointed to the current and predicted effects of climate change on coastal communities as the driving force for advancing the use of renewable energy, and said that the town’s vote would be the first step in what already looks to be an inevitable surge in industrial-scale offshore wind energy generation.
“Every month there is something more dire than the month before,” Don Matheson said about the burgeoning effects of global warming. “Vote for this thing and you can tell your children you did something as the world begins to fall apart.”
“Tonight, you will take a historic vote,” echoed Frank Dalene, a member of the town’s Energy Sustainability Committee. “It will possibly be the most important decision you will ever make. It will define your legacy in our community. What side of history do you want to be on? Renewable offshore wind electricity must replace fossil fuel-produced electricity immediately, if not sooner. Offshore wind needs to be implemented with the speed and urgency of now.”
Critics decried the board’s approval as an abandonment of its duty to protect local residents’ interests, supporting a project about which there are still many unknowns, and being most concerned with securing $8 million in financial contributions from Deepwater.
“The biological consequences of the industrialization of the ocean floor could be severe,” said Bonnie Brady, a member of the town’s Fisheries Advisory Committee, imploring the town not to vote on the easements until a larger review of the project has been conducted by state and federal agencies. “Take the time to allow us to do the due diligence that Deepwater hasn’t done. Make sure it’s rock solid before we let them in the door.”
Deepwater has offered the town a wide-ranging package of financial incentives that includes $1 million for drinking water infrastructure improvements in Wainscott, $2.5 million to bury utility lines along Wainscott Main Street, and more than $3 million into funds to benefit the local fishing industry that will be administered by the East Hampton Town Trustees.
The company has also pledged to make Montauk its base of operations for the wind farm, despite its being more than 30 miles from the site, which it says would spur jobs and long-term economic investment in the community.
Critics have likened the benefits package to a bribe and have said the town could see broader benefits if it waited and participated in the state review process.
“You are being snookered by Deepwater Wind,” added David Gruber, nodding to the argument that if the town rejected the Deepwater easements the company would simply run the cable through state lands and the project would go forward without the town getting any of the financial contributions the company has offered. “Deepwater is backed by very sophisticated investors who know how to negotiate. They are conning you.”
Commercial fishing advocates have demanded that Deepwater offer indemnity against impacts from the construction of the wind farm on their harvests, in terms of both losses due to changes in fish migrations and reimbursements for fishing equipment damaged by components of the wind farm. Fishermen have claimed that the Block Island Wind Farm, also built by Deepwater Wind, has caused damage to gear in places where the power cable is not buried.
At Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Van Scoyoc said that while many people in the community clearly disagreed with the decision of the board, he applauded the decorum with which the long debate on the topic was held.
“What I heard tonight was that all the speakers had a great deal of interest and concern about our town, about our environment and about our future,” he said. “What the discussion comes down to is how do we make a better future for ourselves.”
Attention now turns to the East Hampton Town Trustees, who have also been presented with an application for the cable landing. That board has said it is still working on getting more specific language for the actual lease it will consider giving to Deepwater, before the board members discuss their own feelings about a vote on the matter.
Trustees Clerk Francis Bock said this week that Deepwater Wind has made a new proposal to the Trustees for the lease of the beach in Wainscott, under which the cable will run, and on the benefits package the company has offered. Mr. Bock said he could not yet discuss details of the latest proposal from Deepwater Wind.
The Trustees on Monday formed a subcommittee of members to conduct a search for legal counsel with experience in utility real estate deals to help them review the lease deal.
“We believe there are some issues of concern that could, in fact, be addressed in the wording of a lease,” Mr. Bock said on Tuesday. “So an attempt is being made with that.”
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