Offshore wind farm developer Ørsted says it is resuming plans to conduct soil and archaeological samplings along town roads in Wainscott, pending a second approval from the East Hampton Town Board, as part of a plan to land an offshore cable at the end of Beach Lane.
After getting approval from the Town Board to dig test pits along the roadways last winter, the company shelved the work in what its president called a “gesture of good faith” toward Wainscott residents who have organized in opposition to the company’s proposal.
Ørsted, which purchased Deepwater Wind and the South Fork Wind Farm in 2018, said on Friday that it has renewed its request to the town to proceed with the test digging in March.
The plans call for the company to take six sample drill borings from beneath Beach Lane, Wainscott Stone Road and Wainscott-Northwest Road to examine the soil make-up in the areas where the company has proposed bringing the power cable from the South Fork Wind Farm ashore.
The second portion of the work is digging, by hand, a series of 4-foot-deep holes every 50 to 100 feet for the entire length of the approximately four-mile-long route the cable would follow from a vault on Beach Lane, where the cable would connect to shore, to the PSEG Long Island substation near Buell Lane in Cove Hollow.
The company said on Friday that the hand-dug pits are an effort to determine whether there are any signs of human artifacts or remains that could presumably derail a specific path.
“These small, hand-dug pits will allow us to examine whether any potential archaeological resources are present along the proposed Wainscott cable route,” Ørsted and its partner company, the New England electrical giant Eversource, said in a statement. “We expect this work to start as early as March, depending on weather and ground conditions, and take no more than 14 days to finish. Our work will not interfere with road or pedestrian access.”
The pits would be dug along the side of Beach Lane, Wainscott Main Street, Sayre’s Path, Wainscott Stone Road, Wainscott-Northwest Road, Daniels Hole Road, Stephen Hands Path and Buckskill Road, the company said.
When the proposal was first brought to the Town Board last year, it was not met with universal support. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwomen Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Sylvia Overby voted in favor of it, but Councilmen Jeff Bragman and David Lys voted to reject the request, citing a desire to first learn more about the project through the expansive review process that was just getting underway at the time.
That review process, and concerns about opposition from the community, also led to the company not carrying out the testing at the time as planned. At about the same time the town approved the borings, a group of Beach Lane homeowners formed the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, which sought to raise alarm in the Wainscott community about the plans to land the cable there.
As the group collected hundreds of petition signatures, Ørsted U.S. Offshore President Thomas Brostrøm penned a letter to the Wainscott residents saying that the company was slowing its work on the Wainscott landing site, and taking a closer look at the potential of landing the cable at Hither Hills in Montauk. Putting off the test digs, and letting the approval from the Town Board expire, was a specific bow to the objections raised, he said.
Mr. Brostrom said in the letter that he hoped the group’s members would express support for the project as a whole at a July hearing before an administrative judge from the New York State Public Service Commission, which is overseeing the review of the cable landing portion of the wind farm project, even as they expressed their desire to see the cable come ashore elsewhere.
In the months since, a similar chorus of opposition to the cable landing has risen in the Montauk and Amagansett communities. Residents of those hamlets said that a Hither Hills landing site, and the miles of trenching along Montauk Highway it would require, would be vastly more disruptive to thousands of members of the community than doing the work on the lightly traveled roads of Wainscott’s sparsely populated neighborhoods in winter.
Another citizens group, Win With Wind, which formed in response to the rise of the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott’s advocacy efforts, has sided with the Montauk residents to keep the cable out of Hither Hills, presenting their own petition that says the Wainscott landing site would be the best for the community.
Ørsted, for its part, has maintained throughout that Wainscott is the preferred landing site for the cable, as it would provide the shortest route and least disruption of main roadways.
The test pits and boring proposal seems destined to be met with a similarly mixed reaction from the Town Board as it was last year. Mr. Van Scoyoc and Ms. Overby, who have been steadfast supporters of the project at almost every turn, recently were reelected in landslide victories.
Mr. Bragman this week said he remains in favor of the wind farm project in general but does not support the town allowing Ørsted to proceed with work before the review process is completed.
“I think we should let the environmental review go on, and once the decision is made then they can do the borings,” Mr. Bragman said. “I think that allowing them to do borings is a way of directing the conclusion of the review toward Beach Lane.”
The application review is currently in what is called a “settlement” phase, which has spanned several meetings behind closed doors between the company and the more than 75 individuals, municipalities and organizations that filed as interested parties to the application. The meetings, which are strictly confidential, are intended to identify certain points of contention that can be eliminated through consensus-building.
In the meantime, the town is also working on the details of easements that Ørsted would need to use the town roads for the underground power cable. The town has hired Certilman Balin, a Long Island law firm that specializes in the Public Service Commission process and the sort of easement contracts that industrial-scale utility projects require.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said earlier this month that new negotiations with Ørsted and Eversource would revisit the “community benefits” financial package that the company is expected to have to pay in exchange for the easements it would need, should the Wainscott route be approved.
The company had originally offered what it claimed was $8.5 million in benefits to the South Fork, including more than $2 million directly to the Wainscott community in the form of paying to bury overhead utility wires along Wainscott Main Street and contributing $1 million to the cost of water main infrastructure upgrades.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that with the guidance of legal experts familiar with the PSC process, the town expects the benefits due in exchange for the use of town roads will be reconsidered.
“The $8.5 million was their offer,” the supervisor, who had frequently highlighted the original offer from Ørsted as one of the reasons for his support of the Wainscott landing site, said in a recent conversation. “Since none of us have negotiated anything like this before, we felt it was necessary to bring in outside expertise, to sort out what are benefits and what are mitigations that they would have to undertake. And we’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last two years looking at what kind of requirements we would place on an easement, what kind of conditions we’d want to put on it.”
Mr. Bragman again said the town should wait until the review process is completed to advance the negotiations on details of the easement — nodding to the number of changes that have taken place since the board passed its much debated “memorializing” resolution in the spring of 2018 that offered support for the Wainscott landing site. Since that meeting, the project has been purchased by one of the world’s largest energy companies and has grown in output from 90 megawatts to 130 megawatts, and community sentiments have ebbed and flowed.
“We’ve learned so much more about the project than we would have if we’d taken the initial offer,” Mr. Bragman said. “There is no reason to rush back into negotiations. It’s mostly beneficial to Ørsted and not beneficial to protecting the town’s interests. Our position improves with time.”