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Wainscott wind opponents say metrics are on their side

The Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott told neighbors this past weekend that they are confident the New York State Public Service Commission will be compelled to find alternative sites for the landing of the South Fork Wind Farm cable proposed by the group in Amagansett and Montauk preferable to the current Beach Lane site chosen by the wind farm’s developers.

The narrowness of Beach Lane, the number of homeowners whose lives would be disrupted, fewer miles of roadway disturbed, and the availability of existing public utility rights-of-way in other locations all make the alternatives proposed at Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett and at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk more appropriate sites when viewed through the lens of strict environmental review laws, members of the CPW told the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee on Saturday morning.

“We are now more confident than ever in making the case … that Wainscott will not satisfy New York State law for an appropriate landfall site,” CPW co-founder Gouri Edlich said in a letter read to the CAC on Saturday by her husband, Alexander. “Orsted cannot meet the legal burden that developers must pursue a route with ‘minimum adverse environmental impact.'”

The group’s pitch to the state will make it clear that the proposals presented to the Public Service Commission do not thoroughly explore alternatives to the developer’s choice of a Wainscott landing site, as is required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act, Mr. Edlich said.

The route was chosen purely because the “hedge fund-owned company” that first proposed the project, Deepwater Wind, was looking to “maximize profits,” Mr. Edlich said.

“This is a big project and there has been no government or independent analysis done,” Mr. Edlich said. “There has been no explanation of alternative landing routes.”

At just 19 feet wide, Beach Lane does not meet the state’s standards for public roadways, would not leave enough room for large fire trucks to pass the drilling equipment during the installation and burying of the cable, for equipment to be parked or for a safe buffer for pedestrians to pass, he said, even though the developer has pledged that all roadways would remain passable during construction.

Consultants hired by the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott have presented the state regulators with a package of alternatives proposing landing the cable at Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett and a vastly different version of the developer’s proposal for Hither Hills, using the Long Island Rail Road right-of-way, rather than Montauk Highway, to run the cable the 11 miles westward to the LIPA substation in Cove Hollow, just west of East Hampton Village.

The Atlantic Avenue site would present a much broader space in a large town-owned parking lot with a wide street to accommodate traffic, pedestrians and emergency vehicles passing the cable installation equipment and would impact about half as many homes as the Wainscott route would, they have argued.

But in testimony submitted to the PSC earlier this month, East Hampton Town Trustee Clerk Francis Bock said that the Trustees would not consider allowing the cable to be landed at Atlantic Beach, citing environmental concerns and disruption to a heavily used public beach.

An attorney for the CPW, Kevin Bernstein, said that such a stance was the sort of arbitrary position that the Wainscott group would challenge before the PSC.

The Hither Hills options presented by the group would disturb essentially no local roads or homes at all, running underground from an overflow parking lot in the state park to the LIRR tracks, where it could remain all the way to the East Hampton substation.

The group has said repeatedly that the Hither Hills proposal by Deepwater Wind, and now Ørsted, which would have required digging up miles of Route 27 through Napeague, Amagansett and East Hampton, was an obvious “poison pill” intended to rile opposition and make the cheaper Beach Lane option seem vastly more appealing.

“11.6 miles on Route 27, then through the Main Streets of Amagansett and the village of East Hampton – it was purposefully designed to be unattractive,” Mr. Edlich said. “It’s one thing to have alternatives, it’s another thing to have alternatives that are viable.”

The Wainscott organization has accused Ørsted and East Hampton Town officials of reneging on promises intended to calm opposition when the spotlight was on the project, and of trying to fast track behind-the-scenes agreements to derail any consideration of alternatives. They have said they will take East Hampton Town and the East Hampton Town Trustees to court if either board enters into any agreements with Ørsted prior to the Article VII review by the Public Service Commission being completed and is mustering an effort to incorporate Wainscott as a village.

The town and Ørsted announced in September that they have reached an agreement in principle that would see the town and Trustees granting easements to the wind farm developers for Beach Lane and other town-controlled roadways beneath which the cable would be buried. Neither group has yet signed the agreement, which would be contingent on the Beach Lane route winning approval from the state.

Ørsted, the Danish energy company that now owns the South Fork Wind Farm project, announced recently that delays in the planning and permitting process caused partly by the COVID-19 pandemic have now pushed the anticipated completion date for the SFWF project back at least one year, to 2023. That means there is plenty of time for the PSC to require detailed analysis of the alternative routes proposed by the CPW.

The best alternative, Mr. Edlich said, might actually be one that would mean fewer landing sites across the entire region as the offshore wind power industry explodes from a Block Island experiment into a Brobdingnagian powerhouse over the coming decade.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Mr. Edlich noted, has already been looking at ways to interconnect the multitude of offshore wind farm projects that are in the pipeline or expected to be proposed in the coming years with shared transmission cables.

Ørsted’s Sunrise Wind project, which could be as many as 100 turbines, has proposed bringing its large power supply cable ashore at Smith Point County Park in Shirley. Mr. Edlich said that having a separate landing cable for the tiny 15-turbine SFWF seemed inefficient, both environmentally and financially.

“Why not combine the infrastructure and bring it all onshore at Smith Point,” Mr. Edlich said, also nodding to other advances in the distribution of renewable energy policies in the offing. “With the Community Choice Aggregation that will exist soon … the East End can procure green energy no matter where it is provided.”

Whether their arguments will sway the PSC or not remains to be seen, but members of the Wainscott CAC largely welcomed them. Michael Hansen, who has been a vocal supporter of the Ørsted plans, was the lone voice against the project at this particular hearing.

“The facts from Alex are there – whether you agree with it or don’t, they are there,” said Bruce Solomon. “I don’t see that coming from the other side at all.”