Remarks by Brad Loewen, the chairman of the East Hampton Town Fisheries Advisory Committee, were met with cheers from most East End residents who packed American Legion Post 419 in Amagansett on Monday.
At a public hearing, Mr. Loewen, a former town councilman, accosted U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management officials, saying that his voice as a resident and bayman felt “stifled,” as the federal government begins to draft an environmental impact statement for Deepwater Wind’s proposal to construct 15 wind-generated power turbines in the ocean off Block Island.
“At worst, you don’t give a damn what we have to say, because you have already made up your minds,” he said.
More than 100 residents came to the meeting to hear a presentation by BOEM officials and to comment on the federal review of the offshore wind energy project.
Residents were given two minutes each to offer input on issues and concerns about the project, and were encouraged to submit written comments, or to comment online at regulations.gov, by November 19. More than 15 stations were set up around the room staffed with Virginia-based BOEM experts and Deepwater Wind community liaisons to answer questions about the project.
Bayman like Mr. Loewen say the construction, operation and eventual decommission of Deepwater Wind’s renewable energy project would disrupt their business, and they fear the pile driving and dredging of the seabed to make way for underwater cables and turbine foundations would drive wildlife away from popular commercial fishing locations.
Mr. Loewen called for the federal government to compel Deepwater Wind to compensate commercial fishermen for lost revenue due to construction. He also called for fisheries, which he said bear “the weight of this proposal,” to have a seat at the table during all phases of the project.
“We know this is our last, best hope,” Mr. Loewen said.
BOEM Environmental Impact Statement Coordinator Mary Boatman said the agency is weighing whether to approve Deepwater Wind’s proposal, with or without modifications, to put a wind farm in the leasing area in federal waters—which requires public input to shape the project.
In addition to asking the public for input, BOEM consults with other governing agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and regulations, such as the National Historic Preservation Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act, before it can let the applicant proceed.
“If we want to build a wind farm, we ask ourselves, ‘How are we going to do it with the fisheries in mind?’” said Aileen Kenney, the energy company’s senior vice president of development.
Deepwater Wind touted throughout the night its community outreach on the docks with local fisheries. Fishing surveys for the project were even claimed to be done on commercial fishing vessels with fishermen.
“In order to be successful in development, you have to make concessions,” she continued.
Deepwater Wind contends it has already changed its plans after discussions with East Hampton Town officials to get permission to bring the power cable to shore at Beach Lane in Wainscott to connect to the PSEG Long Island electric substation. The company has promised to increase the spacing between wind turbines to one mile, arrange the wind farm in a grid to not interfere with commercial passageways, and scrapped a northern cable route.
Ms. Kenney also said that Ørsted, the Danish wind energy giant that purchased Deepwater Wind for $510 million in October, is committed to backing all of those promises made.
Town officials, however, made it clear more still needs to be done.
Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, Councilman David Lys, Trustee Clerk Francis Bock and Trustee Rick Drew asked for the federal government to complete additional baseline studies on fish and wildlife habitats before it compiles its draft environmental impact statement. They also asked them to consider approving smaller cables with better insulation and fewer turbines installed farther apart, among other changes.
“This project will set an example for larger wind developments in that lease area off the coast,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “It is critically important that BOEM vet all of the environmental concerns, and the economic impacts on the fishing industry that supplies the traditional means of making a living here in town for the last 400 years.”
Michael McDonald, a Springs resident and member of the East End Resilience Network, claimed the 15-turbine project was going to open the door to the long-term industrialization of the Atlantic Ocean.
“If our town has to absorb this kind of industrialization, it will change the character of the town,” he said.
Other residents, like Michael Wootton of Wainscott, were concerned the project was far more extensive than what they were privy to. The fear is that what BOEM is considering has doubled in size since it was first proposed, laying the groundwork for a larger plan. The plan submitted to BOEM suggests the project has grown to a 180-megawatt wind farm with two 230-kilovolt transmission cables coming to shore or to potentially an offshore substation.
The area leased by Deepwater can accommodate more than 100 wind turbines, which is set by the energy company and not by federal limitations. Also, there are more federal waters designated for wind energy projects close by, and other projects in the works. In addition there is another, separate proposal BOEM is considering to open up about 287 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean south of Fire Island for wind farm development.
Mr. Wootton said that, to make matters worse, BOEM has never stopped a project from happening or approved a project of this scale—even though there is another Deepwater Wind project off the coast of Block Island. “Block Island is not a barrier beach,” Mr. Wootton said. “You’ve never done this before.”
Ms. Boatman contends that even though there are multiple irons in the fire, if the project was to be approved, Deepwater Wind would be allowed to build only within regulations. “The only thing we are looking at, and what can be built if approved, is for 15 turbines,” Ms. Boatman said.
“But we are looking at a broader future here, too—cumulative, outside this project,” said Michelle Morin, the regional environmental branch chief at BOEM.
Meanwhile, some residents, like Don Matheson of East Hampton, wholeheartedly supported the proposal, saying that the larger benefit to combat climate change is more important, and “the ship has sailed” when it comes to over-industrialization of the South Fork.
“It’s this or it’s going to be something else to keep up for the increased demand for electricity and combat climate change,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which is based in Farmingdale. “Or we make an effort to stop development—but you can ask the supervisor how that’s going.”
As the meeting came to a close, Steve Williams, the president of the Azurest Homeowners Association in Sag Harbor, asked, when all said and done, what electricity is going to cost the average resident.
Jennifer Garvey, the Long Island development manager at Deepwater Wind, said that LIPA figures put the rate at 16 cents per kilowatt—even if there are delays to construction or setbacks. That’s lower than what the New York State comptroller’s office has said the cost of the LIPA contract for power from the wind farm will be, saying the cost to ratepayers is an average of about 22.5 cents per kilowatt over the 20-year life of the project.
“The risk is ours to bear,” Ms. Garvey said.
“Just remember us, please,” Mr. Williams said. “We are part of the environment, too.”
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