By Stephen J. Kotz
Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that plans to build a 90-megawatt wind farm about 30 miles off the coast of Montauk, held the first of what company officials said will be a series of public presentations on the scope of the project on Thursday in East Hampton Village.
Clinton Academy, the site of the open house, where 10 Deepwater representatives stood with maps and charts of the project, was a mob scene, with environmentalists there to praise the project, fishermen there to oppose it, and even a handful of local politicians putting in appearances in advance of the campaign season.
Anyone who attended expecting to hear a succinct overview followed by a polite question-and-answer session was bound to be disappointed. Instead, they were confronted with a cacophonous scene, where small knots of people discussed points of contention or tried to learn more about the $740 million project.
Despite that, Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski, who estimated that at least 150 people had stopped by to check out the project, said he was happy with the event. “We want to educate folks about the project and get their feedback.” He said the open house format allowed those with specific questions to speak one-on-one with a project manager or engineer, whereas a more formal presentation would not allow as many people to get their questions answered.
Mr. Grybowski promised that Deepwater would continue to give people an opportunity to weigh in on the project. “We anticipate having some formal presentations and having some more informal sessions,” he said. “There is no one magic way to do this. This is a process.”
Deepwater plans to build between 12 and 15 turbines in federal waters off of Block Island. A buried cable would run from the wind farm around Montauk Point, coming to land either at Promised Land on Napeague or at Dennistoun Bell Park at Fresh Pond in Amagansett. Once operational, the wind farm is expected to generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.
In 2014, the town adopted a goal to obtain all of its electricity from alternative by the year 2020. Although the South Fork Wind Farm will not go on line until late 2022 at the earliest, it will allow the town to essentially meet that goal.
“If it wasn’t for our goal and the work of our committee and the support of the people in East Hampton, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Frank Dalene, a member of the town’s energy sustainability committee, which lobbied for the town to embrace wind and other alternative power sources.
If Mr. Dalene and others on the environmentalist side of the aisle were excited about the prospects for New York State’s first offshore wind farm, there was a handful of others in the room — fishermen from Montauk — who had a decidedly less sanguine view of the development.
One of those fishermen, Shaun Jones, said commercial fishermen were worried because the South Fork Wind Farm is slotted for a productive area, known as Coxes Ledge. He worried Deepwater would not be able to guarantee it could bury the cable to a sufficient depth to prevent draggers from catching their nets on it. If that were to happen, “a good day turns into a bad day quickly,” he said.
He said that at the recently completed Block Island Wind Farm, which Deepwater put online late last year, there were places where the cable could not buried and was left on the ocean floor covered by concrete. He complained that fishermen had not been informed of that potential hazard.
Bonnie Brady, the director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, who has criticized the Deepwater project in the past, did not mince words. “This whole thing is slitting the throat of this town’s fishing industry,” she said.
She criticized the town for being in a rush to push a “green” project while overlooking the existing $55 million commercial fishing industry based in Montauk. “They never once met with the fisheries advisory committee,” she said of the town and Deepwater.
Ms. Brady said fishermen were worried about the impact pile driving to erect the turbines would have on fish and animals in the area and said scouring of the bottom to lay the cable would destroy fish habitat and suggested that the low level electromagnetic currents emitted from the cable could drive some species away.
Mr. Grybowski said Deepwater was committed to answering fishermen’s questions. “I very much respect their position because they are businesspeople who are trying to make a living,” he said. “Our job is to give them the information that explains why we think we can coexist.”