First Approvals Issued For South Fork Wind Farm; Wainscott Residents Vow To Continue Resistance

New York State has approved the landing of the South Fork Wind Farm power cable at Beach Lane in Wainscott. Residents of the hamlet have vowed to continue fighting to force it elsewhere.

The commissioners of the New York State Public Service Commission last week unanimously approved the proposal to land the South Fork Wind Farm power cable in Wainscott — saying that the approval was a “bold” first step in the state’s race to source more of its electricity from offshore wind turbines.

The commission brushed aside claims by opponents of the proposal that said the Wainscott cable landing was not the best option for a landing site, and concerns that the project would pose other environmental hazards or impact commercial fishing.

“Nothing in the record supports disrupting the joint proposal in favor of any of the proposed alternatives,” Anthony Belsito, the administrative law judge who oversaw the two-year PSC review process, told the four PSC commissioners during a virtual meeting of the commission via Zoom on March 18. “Based on the record, the proposed alternatives are either likely not viable due to the inability to obtain necessary property rights or would increase overall impacts relative to the project as proposed.”

“This order marks a milestone in New York’s bold initiative to decarbonize its electric grid, through the development of offshore wind resources,” Commissioner John Howard said, noting that the commission expects to be presented with several similar cable landing agreements in the coming years as other, much larger, wind farm projects come up for approvals. “While we have years of work ahead of us, today’s approval … moves New York closer to its goal.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has made the rapid expansion of offshore wind energy production a key component of his administration’s agenda, and several pro-wind energy environmental groups applauded the approval on Thursday.

“New York is on the precipice of building an economy that is centered on clean energy and fighting climate change,” Julie Tighe, the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement released following the widely anticipated PSC approval. “That effort hinges on the success of offshore wind. By advancing the South Fork Wind Farm, the Public Service Commission is both encouraging the growth of renewable energy, establishing New York as a hub for this emerging industry and positioning Long Island as a hub for family-sustaining green jobs.”

The decision was met with decidedly less enthusiasm in the community that stands to play host to the most visible — and audible — portion of the multi-billion-dollar construction of the South Fork Wind Farm.

The alternatives Mr. Belsito referenced were among the many objections to the project raised by the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, a residents group that has spearheaded the opposition to the Wainscott cable landing.

Consultants and attorneys hired by the group had submitted hundreds of pages of data and testimony to the PSC proposing that landing the cable in Hither Hills State Park or at Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett would have less environmental footprint than the Wainscott landing site and would be disruptive to fewer town residents, since both alternative routes would rely primarily on the LIRR right of way for the underground cable path.

They also have argued that the construction plan presented to the PSC by the wind farm developers, Danish energy giant Ørsted and New England utility company Eversource, is lacking details about the impacts of noise and pollution that could be caused by the burying of the cable and the school bus-sized “vaults” that will have to be buried intermittently along the route.

The group was quick to pledge that it will continue its fight to derail the Beach Lane landing — including in court.

“For now, fervor for wind triumphed over facts about the best route,” the group said in a statement released shortly after the vote. “In the rush to be ‘first’, this route has been pushed through the ‘approval’ process on an accelerated basis with indifference to whether the developers used the best available route. Unfortunately, Judge Belsito, in recommending the developer’s cheapest rate to the Commission, wholly relied on the developer’s representations regarding alternatives without any serious testing of the underlying assumptions. Given that to date this route-selection process has been tainted and highly politicized by the positioning of the East Hampton Town Board, Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott has been left with no recourse other than to seek further administrative redress and then, if necessary, seeking redress by the courts.”

The group has already commenced a legal challenge against East Hampton Town, seeking to nullify an easement the Town Board signed with Ørsted in January allowing the company to bury the cable under town-owned roads.

The CPW has also led a drive to incorporate Wainscott as a village, in the hope that a new municipality would allow its government to rescind the easements and force the cable to be placed elsewhere. That effort was knocked off course last month when Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc determined that the petition the group submitted did not meet several state requirements for proposing the creation of a village.

Last week’s approval by the state commission pertains only to the portion of the 50-mile power cable connecting the wind farm to land that is within the state’s boundaries: from where it enters state waters on the sea floor 3.5 miles from shore, to where the cable will run beneath the ocean beach to the shore connection buried beneath Beach Lane in Wainscott and then continue beneath 4.1 miles of town roads and the LIRR right-of-way to a new substation bank to be constructed at the existing LIPA substation in Cove Hollow.

East Hampton Town and the East Hampton Town Trustees have already approved the easements with the wind farm developers to allow the power cable to be buried beneath the beach and town roads — in exchange for $29 million in annual lease payments over the next 28 years.

The cable from the wind farm will be buried about 6 feet below the surface of the seafloor for most of its length from Cox Ledge, a little more than 30 miles southeast of Montauk Point, to Wainscott. When it reaches a point about 1,700 feet from shore, it will dive into a conduit that is to be drilled horizontally from the Beach Lane parking, at least 30 feet underground, through which it will be pulled to its on-shore connection. The cable will then be buried beneath about 2 miles of Wainscott’s narrow roads and up the Long Island Rail Road right of way to the LIPA substation in Cove Hollow.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is still conducting its review of the application to construct the wind turbines for the wind farm in the ocean south of Block Island. The federal review process is expected to conclude late this year or early next year and the company hopes to be able to begin construction on the project in the spring of 2022 with the wind farm coming online in late 2023.