Despite the drawn-out drama over East Hampton Town’s consideration of easements allowing Deepwater Wind to land a power cable from the planned South Fork Wind Farm in Wainscott, the only avenue for public criticism to substantially influence—or wholly derail—the project most likely will be during the review by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which officially began this past week.
The federal agency known as BOEM, which controls the ultimate fate of the burgeoning industrial wind energy development sector, will hold its first public hearing session on the South Fork Wind Farm project from 5 to 8 p.m. on Monday, November 5, at the American Legion in Amagansett.
At that time, BOEM will hear issues of concern from various sectors of the community about the planned construction of 15 wind turbines in the Atlantic southeast of Block Island and 30 to 35 miles southeast of Montauk Point.
Scoping sessions—there will be three in all for the South Fork Wind Farm, the other two being held in New England later next month—are typically the first step in formulating an environmental impact statement, the standard scrutiny format for most large-scale development projects. The study will catalog all the potential impacts and effects of the proposed work and require the developer to offer solutions, mitigation and alternatives to each condition in question.
At the scoping sessions, the public officials who will conduct the full examination of the project will be asking the public to bring up all topics of concern, as well as questions that they want asked of the developers to vet the impacts the project may have on anything in its surrounding environs—from migrating whales to organisms living in the muddy sea floor to commercial fishing fleets.
“The comments that we make will be important,” said Bonnie Brady, a commercial fishing industry advocate from Montauk. “This is where, perhaps, in a perfect world, we can offer alternative pathways forward and demand a mitigation plan.”
Deepwater Wind, which was recently purchased by a giant Danish wind farm developer, Ørsted, has proposed constructing 15 turbines in an area of the Atlantic known as Cox Ledge. The immediate surroundings are an important hook-and-line fishing area that is home to stocks of highly sought after cod, black sea bass, flounder and other bottom-dwelling species.
The cable connecting the wind farm to the South Fork will be buried in the sea floor and run through areas that are important commercial fishing grounds for scallops, fluke, porgy, squid and striped bass.
The loudest objections to the proposal thus far have come from commercial fishermen. Their worst-case concerns focus on worries that the concussive noise from the two-year construction process—which could include driving steel piles into the sea floor—will kill or drive fish species from the area. They also worry that the electromagnetic emissions from the 138-kv power cable will alter historic fish migration patterns and decimate the near-shore fishing industry.
More minor concerns have been how the farm’s operators will indemnify fishermen against damage to fishing gear that tangles on the power cable if it becomes exposed, and compensation for lost fishing time should the planning or construction process cause temporary interruptions.
Others have raised concern that the construction and operation of the project could threaten already critically endangered right whales, which migrate past the Cox Ledge area each year and could be injured directly during the construction process, or have their food source driven away by the noise of the wind turbines’ operation.
With hundred of turbines already in planning stages for the region of the ocean surrounding the South Fork Wind Farm, critics have highlighted that few studies have been done on the specific effects of the sort of conditions the construction and operation of an industrial-scale wind energy network will have on the unique ecosystem of the Northeast’s continental shelf, and they have said that more studies should be undertaken before the project is allowed to go forward.
The New York State Public Service Commission is also beginning a review of the Deepwater project in the near-shore areas in state waters, which extend out three miles from the shoreline, in which the specific impacts of the chosen landing site at Beach Lane in Wainscott, or an alternative at Napeague State Park, as well as the horizontal drilling process that will bring the cable ashore will be reviewed.
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