Members of the East Hampton Town Trustees this week said that South Fork Wind Farm developer Ørsted needs to get fish population surveys started immediately, even though the actual proposal will not be finalized until later this spring, so as to be able to capture the full two seasons worth of data demanded by a fisheries study mandated in state approvals for the project.
As one of the agreed-to conditions to the approval of Ørsted’s cable landing plan, the developers pledged to fund and conduct 5-year study of fish migrations in the region — covering two years prior to construction, the one summer season through which construction is expected to last and then two years after the wind farm is operational.
The study, which was a key demand of the Trustees in signing off on allowing the wind farm power cable to be run beneath a Wainscott beach, will rely on trawl surveys by hired commercial fishing vessels and the tracking of acoustic signals from migrating fish that were previously caught and tagged with sound-emitting devices so they could be tracked by floating acoustic detection buoys.
“So we should have a really clear picture of what the marine environment looked like before this project, how marine species reacted during pile driving and horizontal drilling were going on and what things look like after,” Mila Buckner, one of the attorneys who helped the Trustees negotiate the agreements with Ørsted, told the board on Monday evening. “Does the ecosystem rebound, do you change migrations patterns, and so on.”
But with Ørsted expecting to have the project completed and operational by late 2023, the Trustees pointed out that meeting the data schedule for the study means the work will have to be in place during this year’s migrations, which are already well underway.
“There is no reason to hold this up and every reason to get moving on it,” Trustee James Grimes said. “The clock is running.”
The study work will be part of the environmental management and construction plans presented to the New York State Public Service Commission later this month. The project was given the green light by the PSC last month but the actual construction plan, which will contain a number of details about the construction work for burying the cable that Wainscott residents should have been aired before the approvals were issued, will not be finalized until June.
The study could still get underway before then, and needs to be meet the demands of the study, the Trustees said.
Trustee John Aldred said that he and the Trustees attorneys have encouraged Ørsted to move the study forward as soon as possible, but noted that there are a number of hurdles to clear that have prevented the developer from doing so. Commercial fishing boats must be enlisted to help conduct the trawl surveys and requirements for safety standards and certification of vessels is delaying the process. He said there have also been changes made to the equipment that will be used in the acoustic studies that will make collecting the data easier but has caused delays.
“I don’t want to be a defender of Ørsted, but a lot of what’s held this up has been requirements,” Mr. Aldred said. “
Ms. Buckner said that the study will rely substantially on tracking acoustic tags already placed in fish by scientists working on other studies and will still be able to collect data from this spring’s migrations. She said the work is certain to get underway before summer.
“It’s in their interests to start this work before the EM-CP is formally approved,” Ms. Buckner said. “Ørsted is ready to mobilize.”