Representatives of Ørsted and Eversource, the companies that will be constructing the South Fork Wind farm off Montauk, told local residents this week that the final designs for the installation call for the electrical cable to be buried far deeper below the Wainscott beach where it will emerge from the ocean than originally planned, and will require fewer of the large underground “vaults” than early designs showed.
During a “virtual open house” hosted online by engineers from Ørsted on Monday evening, the company walked attendees through the construction plans for the installation of the foot-thick cable.
Among the details that have been adjusted since the plans were approved by New York State over the summer is the depth at which the cable will burrow beneath the ocean beach at Beach Lane in Wainscott.
A conduit for the cable will be bored using a horizontal directional drill based in the Beach Lane beach parking lot to a point some 1,700 feet offshore, through which will run the 50-mile-long cable that will send power from the 12 turbines ashore. The original application had called for the cable conduit to be bored to a depth of at least 40 feet, but engineers now say the cable conduit will plunge to a depth of some 80 feet below the beach surface before gradually sloping upward beneath the seafloor as it heads offshore.
During the application review process, some residents and members of the East Hampton Town Trustees had said that the depth of the cable was important to ease concerns about potential health effects and protect against the possibility of the cable ever becoming exposed by erosion, as happened to the power cable from the Block Island Wind Farm at popular bathing beach on Block Island.
Additionally, the engineers said that the latest designs call for just 10 “vaults” – the school bus-sized steel rooms that will buried intermittently beneath roadways and the Long Island Rail Road along the cable route. The new design means just five of the vaults will have to be buried along the two miles of public roads through Wainscott that the cable will follow, lessening the disruptions of the installation work.
The original plans had estimated that as many as 20 vaults would be needed along the route, half of which will be beneath roads and the other half alongside LIRR tracks between northern Wainscott and the LIPA’s substation in Cove Hollow.
Ørsted has already received approvals for the cable installation along the onshore and near-shore route and has said that it expects to receive the final approvals for the project from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in January.
A spokesperson said that no onshore construction work will commence until the final approvals have been issued, but that local utilities do plan to do some work starting later this month to adjust their infrastructure to clear the way for the cable route.
“This site work entails moving a small section of water main at the southern end of Beach Lane, and undergrounding a portion of the existing overhead utilities along Beach Lane,” a South Fork Wind spokesperson said in a message on Tuesday. “This work will be permitted and completed by each respective utility company: Suffolk County Water Authority, PSEG-LI, Verizon and Altice. As is their standard practice, the utilities will notify customers in the affected area in advance of the work, which is expected to start in late November.”
Though heartened by some of the presented changes to the construction plan, residents of Wainscott, who have been critical of Ørsted’s targeting their hamlet was the cable landing site, said they were frustrated by the format of the open house, which obscured how many members of the public were attending, did not allow attendees to see all the questions that were being posed by others and which left many questions asked unanswered or tailored in such a way as to cast the details in a more favorable light.
Simon Kinsella, a Wainscott resident who has mounted Herculean personnel campaign against the wind farm project, including filing a lawsuit challenging the state’s approvals, said that none of the five questions he had posed during the discussion – which inquired about testing for soil contamination along the route, the costs of the power supply contract and the prospect of future expansion of the cable conduits – were answered in any form during the open house.
“Despite all the advertising and fanfare, the event lasted only 60 minutes,” Kinsella said. “Participants were not shown on-screen live, so no one knew how many people attended or who they were. No one was allowed to speak … No one was allowed to ask questions, but questions had to be submitted in writing. Only South Fork Wind knew what questions had been submitted. There was only one ‘expert,’ excluding marketing.
“I have never witnessed such a tightly controlled environment.”