A divided town board, in front of a public equally at odds, voted Thursday to support the town entering into an agreement with Deepwater Wind to grant an easement that would allow the company to run power cables from its proposed offshore South Fork Wind Farm under town-owned roads in Wainscott to a substation near Cove Hollow Road.
The adopted resolution, which does not formally grant the easement, also approved the hiring of attorney John Wagner with Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP to serve as outside counsel at a rate of $475 per hour not to exceed $25,000. Mr. Wagner will be charged with drafting and negotiating the easement, as well as a discussed $8.5-million community benefits package offered to the town by Deepwater.
He will also represent the town in the South Fork Wind Farm’s review before the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) – the state and federal agencies that will lead an estimated two-year review of the project, which would include 15 90-megawatt wind turbines anchored to the sea bottom farm 33 miles east of Montauk.
The vote was 3-2, with Councilmen Jeffrey Bragman and David Lys voting against the resolution, after Mr. Lys unsuccessfully attempted to introduce an alternative resolution with Mr. Bragman’s support that would have hired Mr. Wagner, but not memorialized the town board’s support to provide the easement until after the PSC had reviewed the project.
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwomen Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Sylvia Overby voted down the alternative resolution before approving the original measure.
According to Supervisor Van Scoyoc, the public will have the opportunity to review any easement agreement before another vote is taken to approve that contract at a later date.
“I don’t support this because it essentially requires the town to give the easement first and the environmental review second,” said Mr. Bragman, echoing comments made during the board’s public input period at Thursday’s meeting in which speakers called on the board to wait to offer its support for the easement until the PSC completes a formal environmental review of the project.
“We believe that is the best way to have the project reviewed,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc of the PSC review. He added that the easement would be conditional on completion of the review showing no adverse impact to the environment. Mr. Van Scoyoc said he believed Deepwater Wind officials would look elsewhere – to a landing near Hither Hills off Napeague on state-owned land connecting to state roadways – without the town’s acknowledgement that the town would support the easements in Wainscott.
“They would not take the risk or spend the years going through rigorous environmental review, spending thousands and thousands of thousands, if there was not an indication that the land would be available to them,” he said.
Deepwater Wind has a contract with the Long Island Power Authority to supply power from the wind farm from 2022 to 2042. While it already has secured a lease for the sea floor from BOEM, it will have to earn permits from that agency, the PSC and other state and federal agencies before it can move forward with construction.
“The East Hampton Town Board’s support for the South Fork Wind Farm proves yet again that they are true champions of the environment and clean energy, and actively working toward their 100-percent renewable energy goal,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski in a statement issued Friday. “We’re ready to fulfill our promise to bring more than $8 million in community benefits to East Hampton from New York’s first offshore wind farm, and to deliver a project that reflects extensive input from local stakeholders.”
Close to two-dozen residents and stakeholders spoke at Thursday’s meeting, some urging caution in the absence of what they said are a lot of unanswered questions and others pushing the board to support the project swiftly, with the threat of climate change looming under continued dependence on fossil fuels.
“It is important to remember scientists have calculated the remaining carbon footprint we have left and that we need to reduce emissions by 2020, begin to bend our emissions curve down, in order to stay in safe levels of global warming and climate change,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. “It will not be the way it used to be but we would avoid catastrophic and irreversible impacts from climate change if we could begin on a global scale to bend down emissions … Nature has set a deadline. Ignoring nature’s deadline is not an option when it comes to these things.”
“This vote is not a referendum on offshore wind,” said Jessica Enzmann, representing the Sierra Club. “Rather a vote on whether East Hampton gains benefits from this project and have a say in how the transmission line is connected. Nevertheless, there has been a consistent beat of misinformation and fearmongering over offshore wind and we wish to be clear about our support for this project in particular and offshore in general.” Local environmentalist and marine scientist Kevin McAllister, of Defend H20, also offered his support for the project and encouraged urgency.
“Renewable energy and wind electricity must replace fossil fuel produced electricity immediate, if not sooner,” said Frank Dalene, a Wainscott resident and member of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee. “Offshore wind needs to be implemented with the speed and urgency of now.”
“You don’t need to grant the easements to begin the Article 7 review,” said Rona Klopman, referring to the PSC’s review of the project. “It won’t delay the project not to grant the easements right now. The town has more leverage in the environmental review and therefore the commission might pay more attention to what the town wants.”
“In legal matters, you do your environmental review first and then you make up your mind,” said Nan French.
Rick Delmastro, also a member of the Wainscott CAC, said that body was divided.
“And we are not divided in wanting to look into alternative energy,” he said. “We are divided in that we don’t have enough research, have enough knowledge to make the right decision. I hope you and everyone else on the board takes the time before taking this vote.”
“The biological consequences of the industrialization of the ocean floor could be severe,” said Bonnie Brady, a member of the Long Island Fishing Association and the town’s Fishing Advisory Committee. “We need to take the time to allow us to do the due diligence that Deepwater has not done.”
Ms. Brady and the Fisheries Advisory Committee have called on the town to fund its own study, through that committee, to develop a framework for compensation in the event the project impacts local fishermen and their livelihood.
“This is a corporate for-profit action disguised as a public sector action,” said Patricia Hope, a retired science teacher. “Shareholders are the primary beneficiaries. Anyone who benefits will benefit after they do. It’s the public’s coast line. Let’s require Deepwater Wind to follow all the regulations the public needs to follow.”
The town board of trustees, a separate elected body that controls the beaches, has yet to weigh in on the actual landing of the power cable and are still reviewing the issue.
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