A group of Wainscott residents on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against East Hampton Town asking a court to throw out easement agreements with wind farm developer Ørsted allowing the South Fork Wind Farm cable to be brought ashore in the hamlet.
The suit, filed by the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, claims the town agreed to the easements without a full environmental review of the proposed project having been conducted and did so with the ulterior motives of financial gain and the desire to sabotage the drive by some residents of Wainscott to incorporate a new village government that could reject the cable landing site and force it to be put elsewhere.
The lawsuit was brought by the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, the Dune Alpin Farm Property Owners Association and some two dozen other Wainscott and East Hampton homeowners from the neighborhoods through which the power cable will run along the route from Beach Lane to the LIPA power substation off Buell Lane.
The opposition to the cable landing has been led in large part by the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, a group of wealthy homeowners that have likely already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and attorneys in mounting their campaign to force the cable landing elsewhere. The group’s message in opposition, and in the lawsuit its attorneys drafted, is that the town has embraced the cable landing proposal without a full understanding of its potential impacts on the Wainscott community, that it made no effort to conduct a detailed examination of the proposal beyond what the developers presented and that it rushed to sign the agreements as a tactic to head off other roadblocks being planned by Wainscott residents.
“A competent Town Board would have hired environmental and transmission experts to evaluate these plans, to ensure that the developer is properly accounting for every possible issue and grill the developers to ensure this project gets done right,” Gouri Edlich, co-founder and chairwoman of the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit filing on Tuesday. “Instead, Peter Van Scoyoc appeased the developer and put Wainscott at risk in the process. We all support renewable energy, and we want to see that goal completed. But there are better ways to accomplish this important goal.”
The lawsuit had been expected in the wake of the Town Board and the Trustees both voting last week to grant Ørsted the required permissions for the landing, as well as a third agreement detailing the payment of some $29 million over the next 28 years by the wind farm developers in compensation. The Town Trustees are not named in the claim filed on Tuesday.
Dovetailing with the drama surrounding the cable is the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott’s petition calling for a referendum on incorporating a portion of Wainscott into a village, which the Town Board this week announced will be the subject of a public hearing this Friday morning, February 5.
The hearing will be aired live on LTV Channel 22 at 11 a.m. and streamed on the station’s website, ltveh.com and on the LTV YouTube channel. Those wishing to listen in by telephone or offer comments on the petition may do so by calling (351) 888-6331.
The hearing is technically only for comments on the legal validity of the village proposal and the petition calling for the referendum, which must meet a number of state law requirements to be accepted, and not on the merits of forming a village.
The incorporation effort has already had to negotiate some of the legal obstacles in the state’s rules regarding how a village may be formed.
The original proposal, for which the CPW gathered hundreds of supporting signatures on July Fourth weekend, had to be scrapped because it had proposed using the boundaries of the Wainscott School District to define the village’s boundaries. But the district overlaps into small corners of Sagaponack Village and East Hampton Village, making it unusable. And state law dictates that a new village must either use the boundaries of an existing municipal district or must be less than 5 square miles, but have at least 500 residents. Unable to identify an existing district boundary that would qualify, attorneys for CPW went to the drawing board themselves and carefully sketched a new proposed village boundary that cut out large, mostly uninhabited, chunks of the current hamlet to get the total area below 5 square miles while preserving sufficient population.
If the petition is validated, a decision Mr. Van Scoyoc will have to make within 10 days of Friday’s hearing, the referendum will be scheduled within 60 days. Only residents living within the boundary of the proposed village would be allowed to cast ballots on the incorporation question.
Like the debate over the wind farm, the incorporation effort has split Wainscott residents, largely along the same fault lines. Another citizens group, calling itself Wainscott United, has mounted an organized opposition drive to convince residents to vote against incorporation in an eventual referendum.
The incorporation effort was born of the opposition to the wind farm cable landing and the belief that a newly incorporated village government, which would take ownership of Beach Lane and the other roadways, could reject the cable landing site.
The group has accused the town of rushing to sign the agreements specifically to beat out such a roadblock, as well as to deflate support for the incorporation effort.
Consultants hired by the CPW have submitted reams of evidence that they say points to alternative landing sites in Amagansett or Montauk as less disruptive. The alternatives each would mean shorter routes beneath town roads, and immediate disruption to fewer homes. But they also both rely heavily on running the cable along the Long Island Rail Road tracks for several miles, an option that skeptics have said is rife with logistical complications.
Last week, an attorney for the Town Trustees had scoffed at the CPW’s alternatives as making assumptions that were not technically possible and told that board that Public Service Commission staff had recommended that the Wainscott landing site was the best option.
Early in the pitch for the South Fork Wind Farm, representatives of the original developer had also hinted that if push came to shove over a landing site, the state commission, which reviews all major utility projects, could dictate the path the cable would take regardless of local municipal endorsements since the project is going to be a part of the critical infrastructure of the power grid. But a Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott spokesman said the group does not believe the commission would take such a “hostile” step if Wainscott Village were to seize control of Beach Lane and reject the roadways easement.
“We have no concerns at all that the state would try to force the easements through if the new village rejects the easements,” the spokesman, Michael McKeon, said in a message. “It would be unprecedented and extremely unlikely the state would take such a hostile step on a newly formed local government, especially when there are several better options than Beach Lane available.”
Rather, the group says that the fight over the cable landing is “far from over.” In a letter to supporters last week, just after the two town governments voted to enter the agreements with Ørsted, Ms. Edlich threw down the gantlet.
“We all know why the Town and Ørsted rushed to grant the easement before the state environmental review was completed: They are afraid of us and our voices,” she said in the letter. “They are afraid we will incorporate as a village and gain control of the right to stop putting Ørsted’s 1.6-billion-dollar infrastructure project in our quaint residential community. We may force Ørsted to land at a non-residential site as they do in their home country. Wainscott will not be cowed by Ørsted and its money. We will not be bullied any longer by the Supervisor and his allies, including the so-called Wainscott United. Wainscott United will do anything to stop incorporation because they have their own agenda linked to the Supervisor, as evidenced by their founders’ massive contributions to the Supervisor’s and Trustees’ political campaign. We will have a voice, and we will stand up for our community.”
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