A Montauk fisherman accused Deepwater Wind of bribing East Hampton Town to grant its offshore wind farm permits and an East Hampton Town trustee told Deepwater Wind officials to show them proof that wind farms don’t harm the environment during Monday night’s meeting of the East Hampton Town trustees.
The meeting featured a presentation by Deepwater Wind officials of the environmental and technical details of the project along with a proposal for financial incentives it would provide to East Hampton Town, plus a contentious public question-and-answer session.
Those financial incentives, dubbed a “community benefits proposal,” include up to $1 million for water quality improvements in Wainscott, the hamlet where Deepwater Wind is proposing landing its transmission cable. It is also proposing giving $100,000 to a “fisheries habitat fund,” $500,000 to a “marine environmental improvement fund” and $200,000 to an “energy sustainability and resiliency fund.” Additionally, Deepwater Wind would also pay a sum of money determined by an appraiser in exchange for access to the public easements, and would restore any roads disturbed in the process of burying the transmission cable.
“People want to understand that this is going to be good for the local economy,” said Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president for development.
The financial package led Hank Lackner, a Montauk fisherman, to say during a public question-and-answer session, “Those are bribes, when you really get down to the definition of it. What are you going to do for the fishermen? … When I can’t fish where I have historically fished for way more than decades and I have to change my business operation … what are your intentions to subsidize the fishermen of Montauk?”
Mr. Plummer responded by saying any “displacements” would be handled “on a business-to-business basis.”
“Our goal is not to be putting anybody out of being able to fish,” he said. “We believe that we will be able to operate continually alongside the fishing community.”
Chris van Beek, Deepwater’s president, said several years of data collected during construction and operation of the Block Island Wind Farm, the company’s first east coast project, showed that “so far the conclusion is that the fish habitat is as good as it was or perhaps a little bit better. Fishing is allowed in the wind farm. Fishing is spectacular.”
He said Deepwater has “the full science” on how the marine habitat recovers after careful installation of a wind farm. “If you do that, our conclusion is that construction can be successful in a complex environment,” Mr. van Beek said.
That statement prompted East Hampton trustee Rick Drew to request the body of work substantiating Mr. van Beek’s claims.
“This board would absolutely have to see that information,” Mr. Drew said.
For almost two hours, members of the fishing community and other East Hampton citizens hammered Mr. van Beek and Mr. Plummer with questions about the logistics, financials and potential impacts of the wind farm, with heavy emphasis on the fishing implications.
“We want to go to work. We just don’t want it messed with,” said Dan Lester, a bayman. “We want to go to work every day. But in the future is there going to be something to help us if we are put out of business?”
Mr. Plummer said the plan is still evolving and Deepwater would continue taking input from the community to shape it.
“Our primary focus is doing everything we can to keep you working, and to have zero — as minimal impact as possible — on what you’re doing,” Mr. Plummer replied. “We need that input from you to make sure it’s being done in the right way.”
Deepwater Wind is proposing a 15-turbine, 90-megawatt, $740 million wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. The cable would be buried six feet into the sea bed and would be covered by concrete “mattresses” where burial to that depth is not possible.
Mr. van Beek also explained the process to install the wind turbines themselves is a careful one that involves monitoring for the presence of marine mammals to ensure the noise does not harass them. He said the company voluntarily ceases construction during certain months because of marine mammal migration.
“There are other developers that think they can construct the whole year,” Mr. van Beek said.
Deepwater is proposing to land the energy transmission cable underneath the beach at Beach Lane in Wainscott, using a technique known as horizontal directional drilling to bypass disturbing the actual beach to hit the roadway well past the beach. The cable would then be buried along all of Beach Lane, portions of Wainscott Main Street and Sayre’s Path and then along Wainscott Stone Road. It would tunnel underneath Montauk Highway to Hedges Lane and up to the Long Island Rail Road right-of-way to the nearest power substation. Roadway construction would take place after Labor Day and before Memorial Day, Mr. Plummer said.
But news of the construction in Wainscott isn’t sitting well with everyone in that hamlet, according to Si Kinsella, a Wainscott resident.
“I do empathize with the fishermen,” he said during the meeting. “In Wainscott, we do feel a bit the same because there hasn’t been much information coming forward. … I think it’s important that the trustees hold their ground and not grant the easements until they are satisfied with all the information.”
Mr. Drew said the wind farm will be further discussed at Harbor Committee meetings on Thursday and on January 11; at the trustees’ next meeting on January 8; and during a public hearing later in January. Deepwater engineers are expected to come with more specific data on the science of wind farms.
“Shortly thereafter, the trustees will be taking a vote on this matter,” Mr. Drew said.