More than 150 people crowded into Clinton Academy in East Hampton last Thursday for a look at the future of electricity generation, as representatives of Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island company, presented its recently approved plan to construct a wind farm 30 miles offshore.
Those in attendance, including officials in East Hampton Town and Village government, were generally enthusiastic about the project. However, members of the commercial fishing industry, some of whom were at the meeting, continue to criticize the plan, fearing its impact on their livelihood and accusing both Deepwater Wind and local and state governments of ignoring their concerns.
Upon its anticipated completion in December 2022, the South Fork Wind Farm is expected to provide 90 megawatts of electricity to the South Fork, where demand is projected to continue to increase sharply. The installation, up to 15 turbines placed in federally leased waters, is expected to produce energy sufficient to power more than 50,000 residences.
The Long Island Power Authority authorized its chief executive to sign a 20-year contract with Deepwater Wind to buy the energy generated by the wind farm in January. The agreement includes a five-year extension option.
On Thursday, Deepwater Wind officials including Jeffrey Grybowski, the chief executive officer, and Clint Plummer, its vice president of development, said that a cable connecting the wind farm to the Long Island Power Authority substation on Buell Lane in East Hampton would likely make land either at the defunct fish factory at Promised Land or the parking lot at Fresh Pond Beach, both on Gardiner’s Bay. The cable would be buried beneath existing roads to the substation, they said. Onshore surveys of the proposed route are to begin in the spring.
A power purchase agreement with LIPA will be finalized this year, the Deepwater officials said, and permit applications will be submitted to state and federal agencies in 2018.
The turbines will be situated at least one mile apart, the Deepwater officials said, allowing fishing vessels to move between them. Strict protocols will be in place during construction to protect marine life from harm, they said, adding that they have worked and will continue to work with commercial fishermen to address their concerns and minimize impact to fish habitat and migratory patterns.
Undersea survey work is to begin this spring and will include several vessels that will deploy sonar-based equipment in the water. Samples of the seabed, images of its contours, and measurements of the water including salinity, temperature, and depth will be collected and analyzed, Mr. Grybowski said.
The strong turnout at last Thursday’s event illustrated the “high level of interest” in the project, Mr. Grybowski said on Tuesday. “It was an excellent way for the community to start to ask questions and get educated about the project.”
Earlier last Thursday, Mr. Grybowski and Mr. Plummer said that some commercial fishermen based in Rhode Island who were initially skeptical of the Block Island Wind Farm, Deepwater Wind’s five-turbine installation that began operation in December, now support it. They predicted that the concerns of Long Island’s commercial fishermen would be similarly assuaged.
Commercial fishermen and their representatives who attended the event, however, remained unconvinced. “It sounds great,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, “but what happens under the water line really does matter. This is still an industrial project,” she said, one that “is not conducive to having fish and mammals and habitat survive. Anyone that calls himself an environmentalist should be extremely anxious at the thought that our East End waters are going to be compromised.”
Bruce Beckwith of Montauk, who fishes for multiple species from the Allison and Lisa, a 45-foot dragger, said that many questions remain unanswered and an offshore wind farm’s potential impact was yet another burden on fishermen already hindered by strict regulations and quotas. “What is all this activity on the bottom, and how much damage is it going to do to habitat?” he asked on Tuesday. The waters in which the South Fork Wind Farm will be constructed overlap Cox’s Ledge, which Mr. Beckwith said is “a known codfish spawning ground” and has long been fished for many other species. “The National Marine Fisheries Service has been on fishermen about essential fish habitat,” he said. “They’re going to start pounding these huge windmills into the ground. . . . What about the damage to be done just putting these in? What about electric current going through the water? There are a lot of unknowns.”
“Offshore wind is very compatible with fish spawning grounds,” Mr. Grybowski said. “These structures take up a very, very small percentage of the ocean where they’re located.” In fact, he said, “there is a lot of evidence that shows that projects like this are very beneficial for marine life. The basic assumption that somehow putting these in a spawning ground is detrimental to marine life is simply not consistent with the evidence.”
Aaron Williams, who fishes from the Tradition, a 63-foot dragger based in Point Judith, R.I., said that the Block Island Wind Farm’s turbines present a safety issue. He cited a recent mechanical failure that forced him to shut down the Tradition’s engine, “and we were about 200 yards away from one.” There have always been obstructions to navigate around, he said, but “these five windmills . . . God forbid you might have to drift through them. I’m all for alternative anything that could help us, but it’s the location of these, especially these five we’re dealing with firsthand.”
Moreover, Mr. Williams said, the cable connecting the wind farm to Block Island and the mainland is covered by concrete mats in areas where it could not be buried. “It’s easy, on Deepwater’s end, to say ‘We can just put a mat where we can’t bury it.’ That becomes a very big safety issue, too.”
He said that he knows of three fishermen whose gear has been caught on a concrete mat. “A boat ends up anchored to the bottom, the gear comes up different than normally,” he said. “It stops us, but we’re towing at 3 knots; scallopers are at 5.2, 5.5 knots. For a scallop dredge to hit one, they’d lose their gear, the wire would break.”
Mr. Grybowski acknowledged that several mats were used to cover “less than 1 percent” of the cable, but said Deepwater Wind has received no reports of fishing gear getting caught on them. “These mats are not dissimilar to rocks and boulders on the sea floor,” he said. “Commercial fishermen find ways to deal with the geology of the seabed already. This is a few pieces of concrete on the seabed in a really big ocean.”
Mr. Beckwith also complained that “they want to run this cable through Napeague Bay, right north of Montauk. We fish there from April through December. For the inshore fleet, that’s the main area we fish. When would they put this in? How will that affect the fish in that area? There are a lot of questions the fishermen have.”
“I don’t think any fishermen are against wind power,” Mr. Beckwith added. “I’m certainly not. It’s just that I think it’s a lot more cost effective with windmills on the land. Of course, the people that want them don’t want to look at them, but anybody that’s worked on water their whole life, or has a mechanical mind, knows that maintaining them on the water is a lot harder.”
Mr. Williams, who said that members of his family have fished for almost 100 years, echoed many of his peers in saying that fishermen had been left out of the wind farms’ planning. “I feel there was no interaction between Deepwater and fishermen,” he said.
Ms. Brady agreed. “These should only be built where living things aren’t,” she said of offshore wind farms, and Cox’s Ledge is not such a site. She criticized the state and the town, which has a stated goal of achieving all of its electricity needs through renewable sources by 2020. “The fact that the town had a hand in this from the beginning shows that they have no concern for the fishermen that, frankly, are one of the oldest professions in East Hampton,” she said. “It is unconscionable on so many levels.”