Cable Under Gardiner’s Bay Sparks Debate

Trustees, baymen talk wind farm landing sites
Commercial fishermen are concerned that an offshore wind farm and the transmission cable connecting it to land will negatively impact their livelihood.

When officials of Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that plans to construct an offshore wind farm 30 miles from Montauk, presented its plans to the community at Clinton Academy in East Hampton on March 9, several commercial fishermen in attendance voiced opposition, fearing a negative impact on their livelihood. That concern resurfaced on Monday night, when the East Hampton Town Trustees heard from several residents.

If all goes according to plan, the wind farm, which would be the second in the United States, could be operational in 2022. Deepwater Wind’s five-turbine Block Island wind farm went online on the electrical grid in December.

Gary Cobb, who lives in Springs and is a member of a Facebook group called Save Our Baymen, told the trustees that a cable to be buried under the sea floor, which will transmit electricity from the wind farm to the land, was worrisome. The cable, which may come ashore at one of two locations on Gardiner’s Bay, will be laid in a trench to be plowed through the seabed. Landing sites at Fresh Pond and the old fish factory at Promised Land are being considered, but no decision has been made.

Mr. Cobb wondered “what jet-plowing is going to do to the bottom of Gardiner’s Bay.” The Air Force veteran, who studied avionics systems technology, also questioned “the proximity of these transmission lines to not just significant coastal wildlife habitat, but essential fish habitat.” An undersea transmission cable, he said, might be akin to “creating a dog fence, if you will, below the bottom that could affect migration patterns of fish species that our local baymen have depended on for the last 300 years for their livelihood.” The lobster fishery, he added, might also be affected.

On Tuesday, Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, said that the method of plowing the sea floor would not be determined until surveys were completed, permit applications approved, and public hearings held. “In the offshore environment, the cable is installed using a form of marine plow that will install it to a target depth around six feet beneath the sea floor,” he said. The plow opens up a temporary trench — “I mean, momentarily,” Mr. Plummer said. “The plow is only creating a very small opening that the cable is laid into. The seabed closes round it immediately following installation.”

With regard to the construction, “the community will have an opportunity to provide input to the regulatory authorities as to what factors should be considered,” Mr. Plummer said. He called the suggestion that an electromagnetic field from the cable could alter fish migration patterns “pseudoscience.” The sea floor has no small amount of cabling now, he said. “There is nothing special about a submarine cable for offshore wind that’s any different than cables for other forms of power transmission.”

Mr. Cobb had asked the trustees whether they had taken a position on the wind farm and whether they could assert jurisdiction over the bottomlands in question.

It appears that the point at which the cable will come ashore “was carefully crafted to stay out of trustee jurisdiction,” said Bill Taylor, one of the trustees’ deputy clerks. “We want to speak with our counsel as to whether we have jurisdiction or not.”

Richard Whalen, the body’s attorney, was not at the meeting, but John Courtney, its former attorney, was. Under the 1686 Dongan Patent, which established the trustees as East Hampton’s original governing body, “you’re protecting the right of hunting, fishing, hawking, and fowling,” said Mr. Courtney, who was not reappointed when Democrats gained a majority on the board after the 2015 election. “If this has an impact on fishing, whether it’s inshore waters, offshore waters, I think you have the right to say something, and you should say something.”

Jim Grimes, a trustee, said that he had put the wind farm on the meeting’s agenda. He was worried, he said, that it would harm fishing at Cox’s Ledge, which “has always been a prime codfishing area.” The transmission cable was also troublesome, he said. “Unfortunately, our town board seems to have embraced this with open arms. Subsequent to that position, I think there’s stuff coming out about this project that certainly should be carefully considered, evaluated, before anybody jumps aboard.”

In what may have been a preview of the Nov. 7 election campaign — all nine seats on the trustee board will be contested — Mr. Grimes, a Republican, chided Tyler Armstrong, a Democrat, for statements the latter has made on social media about the wind farm and fishing. “Part of the reason, Tyler, that this is on the table tonight is the lecture that you proceeded to give the commercial fishing industry over the past week on Facebook,” he said. 

Mr. Armstrong, who in a March 17 post wrote that many fishermen he knows support renewable energy and Deepwater Wind’s efforts to construct offshore wind farms, objected. “That’s not true,” he said. “We had a good discussion about it. . . . I sure did not ‘lecture’ fishermen about it.” The post prompted dozens of additional comments, including from Mr. Cobb.

“Before we took a position that could possibly be antagonistic to our local fishing interests, I would hope each and every one of us would think twice,” Mr. Grimes said.

Mr. Armstrong countered that he was not speaking for the board. He did not, in fact, know the other trustees’ views on the wind farm, he said, as the subject had not been discussed before. “I think it’s a good step forward in the world, and I’m glad that we’re part of it out here,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of precautions to take and a lot of things to consider.”

Also at the meeting, the trustees authorized payment to Bistrian Materials Inc. for dredging and excavation of Accabonac Harbor and the culvert under Gerard Drive in Springs. The project began on March 15, six weeks after several baymen told the trustees that dredging was urgently needed in order for boats to continue to navigate the east channel where the harbor opens to Gardiner’s Bay.

The excavated material, or spoil, was placed on the beach in front of three contiguous properties on Louse Point Road in Springs, whose owners had sought to construct a rock revetment to protect their properties from erosion. For the transport of the spoil to the beach, which is beyond the beach-nourishment site authorized by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, they agreed to pay $20,000 of the project’s overall $41,100 cost. 

Mr. Taylor said that excavation of the culvert had been interrupted by weather conditions. That work was still in progress on Tuesday.

As part of a dredging and excavation of Accabonac Harbor, the culvert under Gerard Drive was also excavated. The work continued in a driving rain on Tuesday, as inclement weather had interrupted the project. Durell Godfrey