East Enders Air Concerns About South Fork Wind Farm

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East Hampton Town Surpervisor Peter Van Scoyoc speaking during a meeting at the Amagansett American Legion on Monday. Peter Boody photo

The potential for “industrialization” of the ocean by wind farm developers was among the worries aired Monday night when about 150 people packed the Amagansett American Legion Hall for a meeting hosted by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) as it begins to weigh the environmental impacts of Deepwater Wind’s proposed South Fork Wind Farm and its undersea transmission cable.

Michael McDonald of the environmental East End Resilience Network said he favored wind energy but the more he looked into the project and the potential for more wind farm developers to seek BOEM sea-bottom leases, “It appears as if we’re industrializing our town and our ocean resources.” He asked BOEM to limit any further offshore development after Deepwater “until we understand better” what its impacts will be.

The event was one of three “scoping sessions” BOEM is holding on Long Island and the southeast coast of New England to collect concerns, comments and questions about the environmental review process for Deepwater’s planned wind farm, which the company says will provide enough power for 50,000 “typical” homes on the South Fork. It will be located on ocean floor Deepwater has leased from BOEM about 35 miles east of Montauk, with an undersea transmission cable planned to come ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott or in Napeague.

The meeting was highly structured, apparently organized to limit the potential for conflict. Except for Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who was given four minutes because he was speaking on behalf of both the Town Board and the Town Trustees, speakers were limited to two-minute questions or comments by the “facilitator,” Meg Perry of the Washington D.C.-based organization Resolve, a private nonprofit that specializes in “collaborative problem solving,” according to its website.

On hand to answer questions were Mary Boatman, BOEM’s environmental impact statement coordinator, and Aileen Kenney, Deepwater’s senior vice president for development, as well as other BOEM and Deepwater representatives who staffed informational displays set up around the room.

Among the comments and questions, offered over the course of two hours, a man with a British accent said that, in Europe, “there’s nowhere left where you can’t see a wind turbine” offshore.

A woman said she’d heard there would be 200 turbines offshore, not just the 15 Deepwater proposes, which BOEM and Deepwater officials both said was untrue. But in answer to a later question, Ms. Kenney of Deepwater said other lease areas held by other companies near the South Fork wind farm site could contain a maximum of 100 to 125 more turbines, which she said the company would take into consideration in the environmental impact statement (EIS).

“We don’t want to live in a factory” for energy production, like the Gulf of Mexico, Ira Barocas said. The Gulf’s fisheries have been “retarded” by energy development, he added. “What will this mean for our entire future here?”

A Sagaponack resident, noting that a single voice isn’t loud but 15 people talking in a room create a kind of “harmonic reverb,” asked if the noise impact of the wind farm would be assessed cumulatively rather than on the basis of each individual turbine.

Si Kinsella of Wainscott asked if BOEM would question “the need for the wind farm in the first place,” given data that shows South Fork energy consumption declined 7.3 percent over the last decade and is forecast to decline another 3.7 percent over the next 10 years.

But a few speakers warned that climate change posed a far greater and more environmental immediate threat than the wind farm.

“I hear a lot of people talking about … protecting the character of the town. I’m here to tell you that ship has sailed,” said Don Matheson of East Hampton. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its own assessment of the impacts of global warming, has called for society to “disassemble and replace 58 percent of the Industrial Revolution in 12 years” to prevent “creeping chaos,” he said.

“That ain’t going to happen,” he added. So environmental chaos “is going to creep over the Town of East Hampton, creep over the fishing industry in terms of acidification of the ocean, so we don’t have a choice. We and communities like us all over the world have to make a decision to name our poison. I would like to thank Deepwater wind for taking the financial risk to perhaps take a small baby step forward to fight climate change and I would urge you to be sure that you look at this environmental impact on fishing and on the town in the context of the environmental impact statement provided by the IPCC from thousands of scientists all over the world.

There was as much applause for Mr. Matheson and Janet Sickle, who also raised the specter of impending environmental catastrophe from global warming, as there was for speakers critical of Deepwater Wind.

“We have a 10- or 11-year window to quit using fossil fuels or we will have tipped the planet over into an irreversible process,” Ms. Van Sickle said. “I know that fishing is not an abstraction while what I’ve just said is abstract. It’s very hard to believe because it sounds like science fiction — but it’s science actuality.” She added that “…  our children and our grandchildren, this way of leading a life, is far more endangered by climate change — the acidification and the warming of the oceans — than it is endangered by a wartime, emergency switchover to renewable energy.”

Deepwater Wind’s contract with LIPA-PSEG to sell its wind farm’s power into the grid here is “deeply flawed and I am not supporting that aspect of Deepwater Wind,” she added, “but we must switch to renewable energy as if our lives depended upon it.”

Bayman Brad Loewen, chair of the East Hampton Town Fisheries Committee, and a former town councilman, offered what he called “an official complaint about this meeting for the record.” He said unrestricted public comment was an essential element of the environmental review process and yet the meeting was set up with a two-minute speaking limit, which he “viewed as a stifling of public comment.” He added that “you guys have already made up your mind and just don’t give a damn what we say.”

Going on to a written statement, he said of local commercial fishermen, “We aren’t unsophisticated climate deniers who need to be told what’s best for us and our future. Why should we be the only ones who sacrifice ourselves to Deepwater and their profit?” Referring to Deepwater’s recent sale to the Danish wind-energy giant Ørsted, he asked, “Why should we believe them when they tell us they have everyone’s best interest at heart after having sold themselves to European big money people thousands of miles away who know nothing about us and our lives.”

Local attorney George Stankevich quipped, “Thank you for this project,” which he implied would blaze a trail for “the largest offshore oil drilling companies in the world” to move in and “in five years I’ll be representing” them. He added of BOEM and Deepwater officials at the meeting, “If you think they can control the supervisor with a flash card” showing his time is up they are “far removed from the reality of East Hampton.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc read a long-prepared statement that went into technical detail about the issues the Town Board and the Town Trustees want addressed in the BOEM’s EIS for Deepwater. After his four minutes, Councilman David Lys, Town Trustee clerk Francis Brock and Trustee Rick Drew continued reading the statement with their two-minute allotments.

Its most pointed requests came as Mr. Drew read it. Of documents submitted so far by Deepwater, he said that “the offshore electric and magnetic field assessment is based on a maximum 132-megawatt-sized wind farm. Yet the largest currently available turbines are 10 megawatts. NGE [Energies] is developing a 12-megawatt turbine meaning” the transmission cable “could well be asked to handle a 150- to 180-megawatt project. In addition, the existing noise study does not address the possible increase above 132 megawatts resulting from future repowering of turbines.

Also, he said, “The submitted studies do not appear to be coordinated.” A magnetic and electric field assessment study, he said, refers to a 138-kilovolt “South Fork export cable” while a more recent fish habitat assessment refers to a 230-kilovolt cable.

“That’s not a minor discrepancy,” he said.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”