East Hampton Town’s two elected boards are rushing toward signing agreements with the developers of the South Fork Wind Farm without independent expert guidance or even a fully-developed work plan for the installation of the underground power cable, critics of the town’s plans said in a variety of forums on the looming decision this week.
Critics, primarily from Wainscott, where the cable has been proposed to come ashore, said that neither the Town Board nor the East Hampton Town Trustees have ever had an independent engineer work with the town to ensure the work plan for the drilling of the cable landing conduit and the burying of the cable under town roadways has been thoroughly laid out.
Moving ahead with the signing of the agreements while the state Public Service Commission, which will have the ultimate say in nearly every detail of the on-shore cable route, still likely has months of review ahead of it is irresponsible and pointless, critics said. Signing the agreements now only ties the town’s hands with significant details of how the drilling and roadwork will be conducted unknown.
The project was the main topic of discussion in the past week at four separate meetings: an informational forum hosted Thursday evening by the developer, Ørsted, and its development partner, Eversource; the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Saturday morning; the East Hampton Town Trustees meeting on Monday night; and the Town Board work session on Tuesday afternoon; all of which were held remotely either on Zoom or broadcast on LTV.
“Whether you do it now or after [the wind farm] is approved doesn’t make one bit of difference,” said Michael Mahoney, a Wainscott homeowner, during the Trustees discussion on Monday. “The longer you wait, the better you are going to be able to negotiate.”
On Saturday, Wainscott residents blasted the easement agreements as lacking many details about exactly how the months of driving and underground work will affect their neighborhoods.
The Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, a group of Wainscott homeowners who have bankrolled a well-organized campaign in opposition to the Wainscott landing as well as a drive to incorporate the hamlet as a village in hopes of heading off the wind farm plans, has threatened to sue the town and Trustees if they sign the agreements before the state has completed its review.
But some members of the Town Board and Town Trustees have said they are comfortable with the three agreements — one a lease from the Trustees to run the power cable beneath the public beach at Beach Lane, one an easement with the town for burying the cable and its related equipment beneath town roads and the third a “host community agreement” that pledges $29 million in payments to the town over 25 years in exchange for the community playing host to the $2 billion project’s power supply.
The wind farm is expected to get its final permits a year from now — about two years behind schedule — and engineers for Ørsted said that the company would hope to get started on some of the pre-construction work, like burying overhead power lines and some other steps that spring, before starting the drilling and roadwork in earnest the following winter.
If Ørsted’s plans are approved, the wind farm will be built near Cox Ledge, 35 miles southeast of Montauk and about 18 miles off the Martha’s Vineyard coastline, and connected to shore in Wainscott by a 50-mile long power cable.
The cable will come ashore through a 2-foot-wide conduit to be bored 30 to 50 feet — and potentially as much as 80 to 100 feet, some officials have said — beneath the beach using a “horizontal drill.” The drilling will be conducted over a winter season — from October 1 to April 30 — and would mostly be done on a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule, though at critical stages 24-hour drilling may be required, representatives of the developers said on Thursday.
The cable would then run beneath 2 miles of Wainscott roads and along the LIRR tracks to Cove Hollow, where the LIPA substation is to be expanded to accommodate the new power inputs. Along the route, as many as 10 “vaults,” each the size of school bus, will have to be buried every 2,000 feet, engineers said during Thursday’s webinar.
But critics have noted that Ørsted has not even submitted it’s construction and work plan for the on-shore work yet, and the town still does not know details about the drilling and things like sound screening.
Councilman Jeff Bragman, who has opposed signing the easement agreement until the state review is concluded, acknowledged that the easement agreement is “not as tightly wrapped as it could be.”
“They talk about putting up sound baffling walls but there’s no detail about it,” he said on Saturday. “We have not used an engineer … and there’s no engineering detailing … they’ve never specified what they’re going to use as the lubricant in the drilling and their answer is that they don’t know until they see the soils, but the fact that they might use very small amounts of toxic chemicals is not very reassuring. That’s what happens with fracking.”
“It’s in-cautious to move forward and there’s just no reason for it,” Mr. Bragman said. “I think the money is too much of a driving force here.”
Gouri Edlich, co-founder of the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, told the Town Board that signing the agreements at this stage would violate state environmental laws, would pre-judge which landing site is most appropriate and is simply an attempt by the town to “grab some dollars.”
Most of the voices of support for the Town Board and Trustees moving ahead with the easements came from those saying that the advancement of the offshore wind industry is tantamount to America’s tackling climate change and is already long overdue.
“Not only is East Hampton on the front lines of wind power, you are on the front lines of climate change,” said Adrienne Espositio, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Long Island climate advocacy group. “We urge you to move this along — get this done.”
Ms. Edlch said that such exhortations are “nonsensical” when considering the impacts the signing of the easements would have on the relatively small South Fork Wind Project.
“No delay whatsoever has been caused by the agreements not being signed and it will not speed up anything one iota,” Ms. Edlich said.
Bonnie Brady asked the Trustees on Monday to withhold their approval of the lease for the town beach out of support for Montauk’s commercial fishermen, who she said still have not gotten firm agreements from Ørsted about protecting their industry for damaged or destroyed equipment or fishing areas lost during construction.
“To date, there is not an effective fisheries mitigation plan,” Ms. Brady, who also leveled strident criticism of the efficacy of offshore wind energy generation in general, said. “We do not want to see the ocean sullied because of a let’s-get-rich-quick scheme by a foreign company.”