August 19, 2022
New York

Agencies flag port’s wind tower site over fish, wetlands

Larry Rulison | Times Union | Aug. 18, 2022 |

BETHLEHEM – Plans by the Port of Albany to build a $350 million wind turbine tower manufacturing complex on the shores of the Hudson River in Glenmont could be jeopardized after two key federal agencies said they oppose granting a dredging permit needed for the project.

Port officials are anxiously awaiting a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the permit, which would allow it to move forward with construction of a 500-foot wharf at Beacon Island, the 82-acre waterfront parcel where towers will be assembled before being shipped downriver to offshore wind farms being built off the Long Island coast.

The project, the first of its kind in the United States, is one of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s most important economic development initiatives and vital to the state’s new climate change law that mandates that all electric generation be “emissions-free” by 2040.

But officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have urged the Corps of Engineers to deny or withhold the permit over environmental concerns, including fears of the potential destruction of the habitats of sturgeon and other fish as well as wetlands.

“We recommend that the project not be authorized as currently proposed due to the substantial and unacceptable impacts to aquatic resources of national importance,” Michael Pentony, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, wrote in an Aug. 2 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers office in New York City.

The EPA also asked that the port’s dredging permit be denied at this time under the current plan. Both agencies also suggested that alternative sites be considered for the project.

“Because the applicant has not clearly demonstrated that less environmentally damaging alternatives that avoid impacting these resources are not practicable, these impacts appear avoidable,” Pentony wrote in the letter.

Megan Daly, chief commerce officer at the Port of Albany, said Wednesday the port is working to provide the Corps of Engineers with additional information and data that will help alleviate the concerns of the agencies.

She said it was “wrong” to assert that the agencies were opposing the dredging permit – even though both requested it be denied unless changes were made.

“The port has provided additional information at least twice now,” Daly said. “We’re excited to be going through this process. We’re making positive progress.”

The port has outlined a plan to set up a new sturgeon habitat across the river at Schodack Island State Park, although it’s unclear if the Corps of Engineers will sign off on that proposal.

The Beacon Island project has been touted by Hochul as a way to combat climate change while create green energy manufacturing jobs at the same time. But trying to move the project to another site would likely set the project back months if not years and would hurt the Capital Region’s chances to develop a domestic supply chain for an offshore wind industry that is relatively new to the U.S.

“Gov. Hochul supports the development of offshore wind manufacturing, which is vital to the state’s economy and ambitious climate goals,” Leo Rosales, a Hochul spokesman said. “The governor is aware that the Port of Albany has been working with federal agencies to resolve these issues and advance construction responsibly.”

A Corps of Engineers spokesman did not immediately have a comment on the progress of the permit review, which was extended in May to allow for more public comments to be submitted.

Back in March, the Port of Albany was granted a special waiver by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to begin tree-cutting and soil compaction at the site before the port had received all of its required environmental permits, most of which remain outstanding.

The waiver was needed, the port said, to keep the project on schedule for a December 2023 deadline for completion of the facility, which will include several buildings totaling more than half a million square feet of space.

Hundreds of construction and manufacturing jobs are expected to be created to build and operate the facility, which will supply the towers to Equinor, a Norwegian energy firm that is building several wind farms off Long Island in partnership with the state.

But the Corps of Engineers didn’t agree with that decision, and asked the port to hold off until all the required permits were obtained, according to an email sent to the port earlier that month by a senior project manager with the Corps of Engineers in Watervliet.

The port has since stopped all activities at Beacon Island as it awaits word on the dredging and other permits, putting the project months behind schedule. A group of Glenmont residents is also suing the port and the town of Bethlehem, alleging that they were never properly notified about the project and its potential environmental risks.

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