The East Hampton Town Trustees this week agreed to support the proposed dossier of agreed-upon caveats to the South Fork Wind Farm’s cable installation plans, even though the Town Board will not give its own stamp of support to the document.
The Trustees voted unanimously on Monday night to sign the “joint proposal” to the Deepwater Wind South Fork application to the state Public Service Commission, thus becoming only the 10th of the more than 70 interested parties that negotiated with wind farm developer Ørsted US Offshore Wind to agree to the list of conditions.
The Trustees own the beach beneath which the cable will have to run and their demands for assurances about the protection of the physical beach and the livelihoods of commercial fishermen who work the near-shore waters steered many of the conditions in the joint proposal Ørsted submitted to the state on September 17.
By signing on to the proposal, the Trustees are acknowledging that they are satisfied with those assurances of the project’s details that are in the joint proposal, the attorney who has helped the Trustees with their negotiations over the last three years, told them.
“What you are voting on is the proposed conditions to a permit,” attorney Dan Spitzer said on Monday. “That doesn’t mean that these will be the conditions to the permit. It’s expected that the residents of Wainscott will submit other conditions, like alternative locations … but this was the list of conditions that were in response to the concerns of the state agencies, the Trustees and the town.”
The South Fork Wind Farm, if ultimately approved, would comprise as many as 15 wind turbines built about 35 miles southeast of Montauk and rated to generate up to 130 megawatts of electricity.
The power supply cable would run along the sea floor more than 50 miles to Beach Lane in Wainscott, where it would be pulled through a conduit bored 30 feet below the sand beach, and then beneath roadways and the LIRR right-of-way to the LIPA substation in Cove Hollow. Construction is expected to take up to two years.
After a year’s “pause” in the application while the company re-examined its turbine placement plan, and further delays because of the coronavirus pandemic, the final permits are now not expected to be issued until 2022, and construction unlikely to get underway until at least 2023 — the year after the wind farm was originally slated to come online.
The joint proposal lists some 200 stipulations about the installation of the cable that Ørsted has said it will make mandatory components of the installation and long-term maintenance plan — all of them contingent on the project being granted the necessary approvals from the state and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The provisions of the joint proposal include nods to Trustees’ concerns, like monitoring of the emissions of electromagnetic frequencies — which critics of the project fear will scare fish off traditional migration routes — and financial and logistical assurances that the cable’s depth below the sand is maintained for the 25-year expected life of the wind farm.
There are also preconditions on the hours the drilling or digging of the cable conduit may be conducted and other details of the work, as well as assurances that roads and beaches will be accessible by residents throughout the installation process.
The Town Board has not signed on to the joint proposal, however, and Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said at a work session last month that it does not plan to, as a matter of negotiating position. He reiterated the point this week, but applauded the Trustees for doing so and said that their position going forward in the face of opposition by Wainscott residents is different than the town’s.
“There are myriad things that come into it for us, whereas the Trustees component is more straight forward,” Mr. Van Scoyoc, who has been a staunch supporter of the wind farm proposal, said on Tuesday. “Their portion of the cable route is minuscule by comparison to the town’s — the beach is important, it is critical to everybody, but they are not going to be dealing directly with the homeowners who the town will need to protect from undue noise and disturbance. There will be a whole process of basically litigation now and that could turn up some things that weren’t previously in the discussion. So, we think that remaining as an intervenor leaves us in a better position to address whatever may turn up.”
There was some lingering wariness among some Trustees, precisely because of the town remaining on the sidelines thus far.
“I’m a little concerned that the town hasn’t weighed in on this and have given another soft vote of support,” Trustee Rick Drew said. “I don’t want to see our board hanging out here as the lone ship on the ocean for this project.”
Mr. Spitzer, who the Trustees have credited with rebooting the negotiations for financial compensation that grew from less than $8 million to nearly $29 million, assured the Trustees that their vote for the joint proposal does not send a message that the Trustees support the project.
“You’re not voting on whether this is a good idea,” he said, “you’re voting on whether the joint proposal gets into the concerns that you had.”
Opponents of the wind farm project, primarily from Wainscott, have been quick to note that none of the New York State agencies that played key roles in the settlement discussions have signed on to the joint proposal thus far.
Mila Buckner, one of the Trustees’ advisers for the project, said on Monday night that she thinks the state agencies are simply waiting for the town and Trustees to agree to the conditions first.
“They don’t want to support a project that doesn’t have the support of the landowners,” she said.
Electrical service provider PSEG Long Island has signed on to the joint proposal, but the Long Island Power Authority, which signed the original contract that spurred the South Fork Wind Farm toward reality, has not.
Ørsted sent out a statement just minutes after the Trustees vote on Monday night.
“The Town of East Hampton continues to show incredible leadership on clean energy,” the statement sent by an Ørsted spokesperson reads. “We’re grateful for the East Hampton Town Trustees’ unanimous support of the Joint Proposal conditions for South Fork Wind’s transmission cable route from Wainscott Beach. The Joint Proposal reflects collaborative discussions between a wide range of stakeholders over the last 10 months, including extensive input from the Trustees themselves. Their support is just another example of the continued consensus in East Hampton and across New York about the importance of advancing this project.”
The Trustees and Town Board announced last month that they had reached an agreement in principal with Ørsted and Eversource on a new host community agreement after two years of negotiations that would see the developers pay the two entities a little less than $29 million in total over 25 years in exchange for a lease to the underground portion of the beach through which the cable will be run and easements along the town-owned roadways along the path the cable will follow from Beach Lane to the LIPA substation near Buell Lane in Cove Hollow.
Mr. Van Scoyoc has pressed for the Town Board to sign the agreement quickly, while Councilman Jeff Bragman has implored that the board should wait until the conclusion of the state application review.
A group of Wainscott residents has proposed incorporating the hamlet as a village, which could then seize ownership of the roadways and potentially halt the project. They have also proposed other alternative landing sites for the cable and argued that Ørsted has not fully explored all the options for landing sites.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that the alternatives they have introduced, which have still not been made public, only convinced him that Wainscott landing site makes the most sense.
“There are infinite alternatives, “ Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “The applicant spent plenty of time trying to figure out what was the most efficient route. My review of what’s been proposed as alternatives only reinforced my belief that this is the best route.”