Both of East Hampton’s elected government bodies this week gave their stamps of approval to the landing of the South Fork Wind Farm power supply cable at Beach Lane in Wainscott — and the $29 million the agreements will bring the town.
Some members of the Town Board and the East Hampton Town Trustees praised the step as putting the town’s imprimatur on the first step toward a new era of energy production in the United States that they said is critical in the fight to slow climate change. Others offered their endorsements only with a healthy dash of warning that there are still a lot details to the project to be worked out that could impact the local community — commercial and recreational fishers, in particular —and that their respective boards must continue viewing the project with a jaundiced eye. Only one, town Councilman Jeff Bragman, objected — as he consistently has for nearly three years.
The agreements, which are contingent on the 15-turbine project as a whole receiving approval from state and federal regulators early next year, would grant Ørsted US Offshore Wind a lease to the Beach Lane beach and easements for the power cable and several school-bus-sized underground mechanical vaults to be buried beneath a little more than 2 miles of town roadways through Wainscott to the LIRR tracks, which the cable will then follow to the LIPA power substation in Cove Hollow.
In exchange for the two contracts, the town will receive a hefty “host community agreement” compensation package totaling some $29 million over the next 28 years. Most of the revenues will be split between the town and the Town Trustees, with the town receiving 60 percent and the Trustees 40 percent. The first two payments, of $500,000 each, the first of which is due within 90 days of the agreements being signed, will be split evenly.
On Monday night, town officials revealed for the first time a component of the agreements that would create a dedicated fund with $5.5 million from the first payments the town will receive once the 15-turbine wind farm is constructed that will be earmarked solely for capital improvement projects in Wainscott. The money will come from Ørsted in two lump sums of $2.75 million each, in the run-up to the wind farm becoming operational.
The announcement of the dedicated Wainscott fund had not been previously revealed — even as the Town Board has been roundly criticized by residents of Wainscott over its support for the Beach Lane landing site — because the details of the revenue sharing agreement were still be worked out right up until Monday’s meeting of the Town Trustees, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said.
“It was always our goal to dedicate a certain portion of the community benefits to the community of Wainscott,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “Both boards worked hard to iron out this agreement. It’s been a long but fruitful process.”
The Town Board was the first to give the agreements their endorsement at its meeting last Thursday, January 21 — those who supported the agreement defending it against accusations that the town had not dissected the developer’s proposals thoroughly enough to sign the easements.
“I am more than satisfied with the exhaustive review that has taken place, as these agreements are comprehensive and highly detailed documents that have been adjusted, amended and fine-tuned over the course of several years,” Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said. “For me, landing the cable at Beach Lane in Wainscott is the best, most practical landing site for our community, as it is the shortest route and will cause the least impact on the town of East Hampton as a whole.”
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who has been a vocal champion of the wind farm project, nodded to the sacrifice that is being foisted upon those who live along the routes the cable will follow on land because of the construction that will take place over two October-to-May off-seasons.
“I want to say a special thank you to the those who will be inconvenienced,” Ms. Overby said. “I know this project will bring some unwelcome disruptions. I believe the easement mitigates those disruptions as much as possible. I thank those in Wainscott who asked … the hard questions, who challenged the project. Through their involvement, I believe we have a better easement agreement.”
But those who will be inconvenienced may not be going quietly toward that unwelcome disruptions. The Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, a group of wealthy Wainscott homeowners, have pledged for months to take the town and the Trustees to court if the two boards signed the easement and lease agreements before the state Public Service Commission has completed its own review. The group has hired a team of engineers and consultants to make its own case to the state that landing the cable in Amagansett or Montauk would be less disruptive of the Wainscott site, despite being at least twice as far from the power substation.
A spokesman for the group said on Tuesday that there was no announcement to be made yet about the prospect of a lawsuit.
The CPW has also demanded a referendum on incorporating Wainscott as an independent village, a move proponents have said may be another avenue to halting the use of Wainscott’s primary ocean beach access and narrow roadways for the burying of the cable.
They have consistently found a champion in Councilman Jeff Bragman, who on Thursday was the only member of the two boards to vote against signing the agreements. Mr. Bragman has said he is in favor of the broader shift to offshore wind power, but has found himself agreeing with the various criticisms about details of the South Fork Wind Farm project specifically, it’s high costs for the electricity it will produce and, in particular, the town’s move to sign the agreements with the developers before the state and federal review were completed.
Mr. Bragman has argued that there are a number of details of the construction plans that have not yet been enumerated specifically, and that the town would cause no delay to the project by waiting until a state review of the cable landing plans is concluded later this year.
“I cannot join in voting for the resolution on the grounds that I have stated previously that I think our action should await the Public Service Commission findings,” Mr. Bragman said on Thursday before voting against signing the easement and abstaining from a vote on the host community agreement. “I think we’ve seen the time we’ve taken to get to this point has helped us better understand the project and I think that would continue.”
Councilman David Lys, who had voted with Mr. Bragman in 2018 against an earlier “memorializing” resolution in support of the wind farm proposal, said that he would support signing the easements but harbored concerns about the full breadth of the offshore wind development that is in the pipeline for the waters southeast of Montauk — a critical region for Montauk’s commercial fishing fleet.
“It is the cumulative effects of all the offshore wind projects that I am concerned with,” he said, rattling off a list of wind farm projects slated for the northeast that could ultimately total some 2,000 of the 700-foot-tall turbines and the concerns for noise impacts they may have on fish migrations and the hazards they pose to fishing boats. “This is not the end of the process, But that is no reason to delay taking a vote today … We have to listen to the peel we agree with, but also the ones we don’t. I believe that offshore wind, commercial fishermen and other ocean users are capable of coexisting together.”
Members of the Trustees board said the agreements diligently protect the interests of town residents throughout the 25-year expected life of the wind farm, leave the Trustees ample recourse should problems arise with the cable landing at Beach Lane in Wainscott, and will bring the Trustees more than $9 million in revenue over the years for use on environmental projects. The lease approved by the Trustees gives Ørsted and its partner in the project, the New England energy company Eversource, the right to tunnel beneath the ocean beach to bring the electrical power cable ashore from the wind farm 50 miles to the east. The lease demands that the conduit through which the cable will be threaded run at least 30 feet below the beach and seafloor to a point at least 500 feet from shore. The conduit is expected to emerge about 1,500 feet from shore to connect to the 50 mile cable from the wind farm, which will be laid in a 6-foot-deep trench.
The attorney the Trustees hired in 2018 to represent them in negotiations with the developers, Daniel Spitzer, said that the Trustees have played a key role in both the sprawling federal review of the wind farm’s construction in the ocean 35 miles southeast of Montauk and in the plans for bringing the cable ashore in Wainscott, beneath Beach Lane beach.
Mr. Spitzer fiercely defended the Trustees’ endorsement of the Beach Lane landing site in the lease agreement. He harshly criticized opponents of the plan as having misrepresented a broad number of facts about the options for landing the cable in making their case to the state that landing the cable in Amagansett or Montauk was feasible and would be less environmentally disruptive.
“Nothing that came up in testimony indicated anything other than that you had made the right choice,” Mr. Spitzer said.
When the Trustees hired Mr. Spitzer in 2018, the board itself had a number of members who were deeply skeptical about the wind farm proposal — some vehemently opposed and highly critical of the developers at the time, Deepwater Wind.
Foremost among the skeptics was Trustee Rick Drew, who helped craft a long list of grave concerns the Trustees had about the project. Mr. Drew spearheaded the board’s representation to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is the overseeing agency reviewing the applications for the South Fork Wind Farm and several other much larger proposals in the ocean south of Nantucket, and on Monday night Mr. Spitzer and others said that Mr. Drew’s advocacy — which had an unabashedly hostile tone to it early in the project — was instrumental in securing several major components of the project, including a $5 million study of fisheries in the region, setting aside millions in security funding that can be tapped at the Trustees behest if erosion ever threatens to expose the power cable and a pledge by the company to reach a compensation agreement with fishermen for losses in revenues or gear they may suffer because of the construction work or entanglement with underwater components of the wind farm.
“Rick, the effect you’ve had on [the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management], I would never have expected we’d have the say we’ve had with the federal government on this issue,” Trustee Francis Bock, the board’s clerk, said.
Mr. Spitzer recalled a particular instance when Mr. Drew’s needling had frayed the nerves of the federal regulators.
“I knew we were having an impact, and Rick in particular was doing a good job, when the general counsel of the agency complained to one of my partners about Rick,” Mr. Spitzer said with a wry snicker. “I said ‘Well, we’re doing something right.’ I think that’s the best compliment you can get, Rick.”
Mr. Drew said he appreciated the applause and voted in favor of the project, along with all eight of the other Trustees. But after Monday night’s vote, he said that while the process has nudged the project in the right direction, there is still important pushing back to be done.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm early on for a project that was not well understood at all from a scientific impact perspective,” Mr. Drew said, himself praising the work Mr. Spitzer and Trustees attorney Chris Carillo did throughout the process. “When you look back at the project as originally proposed, there were no safeguards for the environment, for erosion mitigation, for siting at Cox Ledge or EMF or fisheries studies. It was a bad deal for our community. So I wanted to make sure we were going to bring the full force of our board and that we are going to continue doing that.”