By Michael Wright
The first public hearings on the South Fork Wind Farm project brought residents from across Long Island to East Hampton on Tuesday to plead with the State Public Service Commission to make the smart choice when it comes to the Deepwater Wind proposal.
For some, that meant for the commission to give its stamp of approval to the wind farm developer’s preferred electrical cable route — through Wainscott, and then under town roads to East Hampton — so that the 15 wind turbines can be built with as little delay or interference as possible.
The wind farm is an important step toward reversing the effects of global warming in the United States, they said.
But for others — mostly residents of Wainscott — it would mean the PSC finding that the power cable connecting the wind farm to land would best be brought ashore in a state park in Montauk, and not at quaint Beach Lane, in their backyards.
Some — East Hampton Town elected officials, in particular — simply asked that, whatever the state commission decides as far as the cable route is concerned, it should ensure that the traditions, livelihoods and rights of South Fork residents are protected from unforeseen adverse impacts of the entire $1.6 billion project.
Dozens of speakers weighed in on the project during a pair of two-hour hearing sessions on Tuesday at the Emergency Services Building in East Hampton Village, with officials from Deepwater Wind answering questions about the project and a PSC magistrate, Anthony Belsito, overseeing the proceedings.
“We are glad for this hearing, because we will finally have someone who will decide where to land this cable, on the merits,” said John Finley, a Wainscott homeowner who has been among those spearheading a well-funded residents’ group opposing the proposed Wainscott landing site. “The residents of Wainscott only want one thing from the PSC: the best landing site.”
For most of those aligned with Mr. Finley, the best site would be through Hither Hills State Park in Montauk, which Deepwater Wind has said is its second choice for a landing site.
Bringing the cable ashore in one of the parking lots at the park campground would not require a major drilling operation to be set up for months near private homes, would not require small rural roads to be almost entirely ripped up as the cable is run underground once it reaches the shore, and would shorten the overall distance the cable must be buried in the sea floor by about 11 miles.
They noted that using state parks to land undersea cables has been common practice in other projects, including the Block Island Wind Farm, also built by Deepwater Wind.
The group of residents, calling themselves the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, say they have 1,300 supporters in their corner and were represented at Tuesday’s hearings by a team of attorneys and public relations experts with long ties to state government.
Deepwater Wind has said that its preferred option to bring the cable from the sea floor onto land is beneath the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott. Doing so would require several months of horizontal drilling, with equipment staged on narrow Beach Lane and drilling crews working around the clock at times.
From there, the cable would run beneath two miles of town roads, which the company has said would mostly remain passable during the work.
Officials from Ørsted U.S. Offshore, the entity that now owns Deepwater Wind, said on Tuesday that the work could be conducted over a single winter season, between November 1 and March 31, so as to not tie up summer traffic. The company has also pledged that access to the beach will never be impeded, and that roads would remain passable most of the time.
Jennifer Garvey, Long Island development manager for Deepwater Wind, said that the company had assessed the Wainscott route as not only cheaper but also less disruptive, because it would require the digging up of just two miles of lightly traveled roadways, rather than several more miles of the region’s main thoroughfare over two winter seasons. “We felt it was more beneficial to the entire community,” she said.
Another Wainscott resident, Jonathan Stern, said the company’s interests would appear to more likely be their own.
“The price is fixed no matter where the landing site is,” he noted, of the cost to the Long Island Power Authority to purchase power from the wind farm. “So the only one who has an economic stake in this is Deepwater, because it’s going to cost them a whole lot less.”
Deepwater has acknowledged that the long on-land route is more expensive for them, though it has not said how much more. The Wainscott proposal, since it uses town-owned roads, would come with an approximately $8 million “community benefits” package from Deepwater that includes the company paying for infrastructure upgrades, burying power lines in scenic areas of Wainscott, and funding fisheries support programs through the East Hampton Town Trustees.
But Katarina Mesarovich, also a Wainscott resident, said that adding the installation of the wind farm cable to the area would contribute to the “industrialization of Wainscott” and is not worth the benefits.
“We already have the airport, there is an industrial park being proposed, and now we have this large project, in this small community,” she said. “Why would we risk our most valuable asset — the beach — for the price of one house?”
Not all Wainscott residents sided with their neighbors in opposition to the landing site.
Frank Dalene, a former chairman of the town’s Energy Sustainability Committee, lashed out at his neighbors for their opposition.
“After it was announced that the cable may land on Beach Lane, there rose up in the community charlatans, purveyors of false information and fear-mongers,” Mr. Dalene said. “They … gathered a following, because the false information and fear-mongering fit the narrative of NIMBYism.”
Michael Hansen, a member of the Waincott Citizens Advisory Committee along with Mr. Dalene, echoed that sentiment.
“The opponents to wind power on the East End of Long Island want you to know they are for wind power, they are for renewable energy — but not now and not in my backyard,” he said, mocking opponents’ support for the project as long as the cable was elsewhere. “Wainscott is tough. We can take it. We endured [the Suffolk County Water Authority] digging up our roads to ensure clean water. We can endure one winter of digging up our roads to ensure clean energy.”
Others characterized the debate about the landing site as pointless fretting over something of little consequence.
“What we are doing is standing at the railing of a sinking ship, in our tuxedos, asking, ‘Is there a bathroom in the lifeboat?” said Don Matheson, imploring the PSC to “stop listening to whiners who are in search of a perfect solution that doesn’t exist.
“It’s time to stop dithering and build this thing,” he said.
Deepwater Wind South Fork LLC is seeking to build 15 turbines in the ocean about 35 miles southeast of Montauk in an area known as Cox Ledge. The wind farm would be connected to the South Fork by a 50-mile-long undersea power cable, 12 inches in diameter, which will come ashore at whichever site is ultimately decided on and then run underground to the LIPA substation near Buell Lane in East Hampton. The substation will undergo a substantial expansion to accept the cable.
To win permission for the project, Deepwater has to navigate a two-pronged review: with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management assessing the designs of the wind farm itself, which will stand in federal waters, and with the state PSC holding sway over the route the power cable will follow into New York State waters and on land. The federal review process has yet to move into the public hearing phase.
Deepwater-Ørsted officials have said they hope to have the permits in place by the end of 2020 so that construction can begin in 2021 and the wind farm can go online in 2022.
While the 15 turbines will constitute their own project, Ørsted and its partner, New England energy company Eversource, have dozens more turbines planned for construction in their wind lease area to send power to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Other companies have projects in the pipeline as well, and more than 200 turbines could be spinning in the waters between Montauk and Nantucket by 2025, with hundreds more planned for the New York Bight.
Fishermen have proven to be the main objectors to the wind farm in general and the ultimate scale of development proposed, with fears that the noise of the turbines or electromagnetic fields from the power lines could alter historic fish migration patterns and destroy traditional fisheries.
East Hampton Town Trustee Rick Drew asked the PSC on Tuesday to help ensure that fishermen are protected.
“We as a board have represented the rights of our community pertaining to fishing rights, access to our common lands and beaches and other rights … for over 350 years,” he said.
On behalf of the Trustees, he laid out a collection of additional protections that the Trustees would like to see imposed on, and paid for by, Deepwater conditional to any approvals: an independent engineering review of the construction plan, establishment of a performance bond to ensure issues with the installation of the cable under the beaches are addressed, continual monitoring of electromagnetic fields on the beach where the cable lands and a specific study of the effects of EMF emissions on striped bass and the baitfish they feed on. Mr. Drew also said that the community benefits package offered by Deepwater if it uses the Wainscott site should be valid regardless of where the cable lands in East Hampton Town.
For many of the speakers on Tuesday, however, the project’s long-term benefits outweighed any concerns about local worries. The Sierra Club mustered dozens of young Long Islanders to come and offer their support for wind power as the most important arrow in the quiver for rolling back the causes of global warming.
“The time is nigh to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” said Danny Morgan. “East Hampton has a great opportunity to set that standard. The answer is literally blowing in the wind.”
Adrienne Esposito, of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, spoke directly to those concerned that the drilling in their neighborhoods would be disruptive and nodded to the billions of dollars being spent across Long Island to protect against rising sea levels.
“All of those are mitigating climate change, but not one of them is addressing the problem,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy, and you might have to make a sacrifice. We’re in this together — it’s one island, one fight, and we’ve got to get it right or we’re not going to get another generation who gets to live here.”