By the narrowest of margins, and with board member Sylvia Overby proclaiming that “now is the time to show leadership; it cannot be put off until later because later is too late,” the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday showed it was ready to allow the proposed South Fork Wind Farm’s power cable to come ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott and run under local streets to an existing LIPA substation on Cove Hollow Road.
Town Board members one-by-one stated their positions after months of meetings and public debate at a work session on Tuesday, after a summary presentation on the issue by staff. Putting their cards on the table, they showed they were split 3-2 in favor of granting the cable easement.
While many environmental organizations have favored the wind farm as a renewable energy alternative, commercial fishermen have pleaded with the board to delay a decision until more protections for them have been put in place, including possible compensation measures for reduced catches and lost income.
After outlining the reasons for their positions, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and council members Kathee Burke Gonzalez and Sylvia Overby announced they would vote to grant the easement to Deepwater Wind, the Providence-based company that is planning the 90 megawatt, 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm on leased sea bottom about 30 miles east of Montauk.
Council members Jeff Bragman and David Lys said not enough was known about the impacts of the cable or the wind farm on the environment, on ratepayers or on fishermen and called for a more thorough review. They said they would vote no.
The company initially told the Town Board it would not proceed with the permitting process on the state and federal level for wind farm unless the board first granted the cable easement. Councilman Bragman pointed out on Tuesday that turned out not to be true; the company eventually admitted it was merely its preference to secure the easement first.
The wind farm is designed to serve East Hampton town and generate enough electricity for 50,000 single-family homes a year, Deepwater says. LIPA, which owns the electrical grid, entered into an agreement with Deepwater in 2015 to buy the wind farm’s power output and distribute it in its grid.
A formal Town Board vote was expected Thursday, July 19, when the board meets at 6:30 p.m. in East Hampton Town Hall.
The cable plan also needs approval from the East Hampton Town Trustees, who own and manage wetlands, waterways and beaches in the town. They have been reported to be split over the issue.
Trustee Clerk Francis Bock said on Wednesday that his board’s members were divided on whether or not to vote at all on the Deepwater application. He said some want to postpone any action until after the company goes before the PSC and BOEM.
“At the moment we’re trying to figure out a timeline to have a public discussion among the trustees and then decide if or when we’re going to have a vote,” he said. First the members need to gather for an executive session to discuss a “lease agreement,” he added, but so far they have not found the time to do so.
The town includes the trustees and Deepwater in recent months have negotiated an $8.45-million “benefits package” that the company would provide if it won the local permissions it needs.
Among other benefits, the package includes $2 million for the creation of an Ocean Industries Sustainability Program; $1 million for an Inshore Fisheries Resources Assistance Fund; the burial of existing utility lines on Beach Lane and Wainscott Main Street from Wainscott Hollow Road to Sayre’s Path, a project said to be worth $2.5 million; $1 million for Wainscott public water improvements; $75,000 a year for 20 years for a Marine Infrastructure Management Improvement Fund; and $200,000 for an Energy Sustainability and Resiliency Fund.
Councilman Bragman, explaining his opposition, said the package made him “a little but uneasy” because it suggested a quid quo pro for fast action on the cable application.
He said granting the cable easement was “putting the cart before the horse” because — if the town declined to approve it — Deepwater would still be going before the state’s Public Service Commission, which he said had the resources to conduct a more thorough and specialized environmental review than the town.
He described the town’s review as “sporadic,” with much of the information collected no more than whatever Deepwater had told the town. He said an “orderly and deliberate” review should be conducted of all the issues, which would have take place if the town simply let the PSC handle the case with the town engaged as an intervener.
“I don’t see why this board would even consider granting a real estate right” to Deepwater before the PSC hearing, he said.
Councilman David Lys said he favored renewable energy but added, “I still don’t think this is the complete application I’d like to see.” There is no protocol for the removal of equipment after the completion of the project, he said. Referring to local fishermen, he added, “We have to think about how this will affect them.”
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc agreed the town “is in no position to conduct a full environmental review” of all the ocean impacts of the project but he said that would be the job of the PSC and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
“I don’t think we disagree on how we move forward. I think it’s more a matter of timing,” Mr. Van Scoyoc told Councilman Bragman. If he were a developer, he added, he would not make any investment in the upcoming extensive PSC and BOEM review process without “an easement to go back to” for the cable.
He cited the many environmental organizations that have endorsed the wind farm proposal and — addressing Mr. Bragman’s concern about inshore winter flounder during the cable installation next winter — noted that fishery has all but disappeared.
He said there was a major transmission cable to the west of East Hampton that has had no impact on fisheries.
Ms. Burke Gonzales noted that Deepwater would have to bring the cable ashore onto state land along the Napeague Stretch if the town refused to grant an easement at Beach Lane. That would mean major traffic disruptions while the cable is being run under the highway right of way.
Ms. Overby noted she was the board’s liaison to its Energy Sustainability Committee, which explored solar power and learned it could not provide enough energy for even 1,000 houses unless 30 acres were covered with solar photovoltaic panels. “We don’t have that land,” she said.
“Later is not necessarily the answer,” she said, quoting writer Thomas L. Friedman’s observation that “later is over. Later is too late.”
“Now is the time to show leadership. It cannot be put off until later because later is too late,” she said.
Deepwater Wind spent $300 million to put a five-turbine wind farm into operation off Block Island last year. The first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, it produces 30 megawatts, enough to power all of Block Island and still produce power for mainland Rhode Island. For the South Fork project, the company plans to erect 15 wind turbines on the sea floor producing up to 90 megawatts on a site has leased from the federal government.
Deepwater recently submitted a construction and operations plan for the South Fork wind farm to BOEM, the federal agency that oversees leasing and offshore wind farm development. Before even considering whether or not to approve it, the agency must determine that the plan is “sufficient and complete.” Once it does so, an environmental review process must be initiated.
The developer also must seek approval from the New York State Public Service Commission for the transmission line route under the terms of Article 7 of the New York State Public Service Law. Both reviews could take two years.