Deepwater Confronted

Fishermen ask trustees to fight offshore wind farm
Clint Plummer of Deepwater Wind described his company’s plan to construct the South Fork Wind Farm 30 miles off Montauk to the East Hampton Town Trustees on Monday. Christopher Walsh

A representative of the Rhode Island company that is planning a 15-turbine wind farm 30 miles off Montauk faced sharp questions from fishermen and other residents at the East Hampton Town Trustees meeting on Monday, as well as from the trustees themselves. A lengthy presentation and a subsequent question-and-answer session occupied more than half of the nearly four-hour meeting, as fishermen voiced fears of disruption and even the outright destruction of their livelihood.

“We’re at the very beginning of what will be a very long process in developing this project,” Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, said.

The company built and operates the Block Island Wind Farm, a five-turbine installation that began operation in December and is the nation’s first offshore wind farm. That project, he said, took eight and a half years from start to finish, but the actual construction time was “only a few months.” The vast majority of the time, he said, “was engaging in the community, listening, trying to understand the particular concerns of that project, and then going through a very robust permitting process.”

The formal submission of an estimated 20 permitting applications for the project off Montauk will not happen before next year, he said, followed by a two-year review process during which all stakeholders would have an opportunity to comment.

According to Mr. Plummer, nowhere else in the world does offshore wind make more sense than the northeastern United States. He cited the population between Washington and Boston, and its outsize energy consumption; the abundance of wind off Long Island and New England, and the outer Continental Shelf, which he said allows for cost-effective construction of offshore wind farms.

In developing the Block Island Wind Farm, he said, Deepwater shifted the turbines’ location in response to objections from commercial fishermen. The company is now conducting post-construction trawl surveys, which it will compare with surveys before the wind farm was built to determine any impact on marine life, he said.

He anticipated construction of the South Fork Wind Farm to take place in the summer of 2021, and the laying of its transmission cable, which would make landfall somewhere in Gardiner’s Bay, the following summer.

Jim Grimes, a trustee, asked Mr. Plummer if his company had considered compensating fishermen “if you’re going to put them out of business for a year or more” during construction. “Our goal is to keep them fishing,” was the reply, with any disruptions temporary and limited. That was a minority view, however.

“Most of fishermen I know, we are against this project from the beginning to the end,” Terry Wallace said to applause. “The number-one reason is because I know I’ve been regulated so hard” by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Whatever method is used to bury the transmission cable will be “completely environmentally incorrect,” Mr. Wallace claimed, and pile driving through the sea floor to install the turbines’ foundations will “ruin all the cod spawning grounds.” The cable, he said, “goes through every fishing spot that I have from here to Cox’s Ledge.” Its installation will damage the sea floor in “that whole area where we tow eight months out of the year. . . . What if it doesn’t recover?” he asked, and fish do not return.

The cable’s route and installation methodology are still under discussion, Mr. Plummer said, and would not be made definite until surveys are completed and stakeholders’ opinions considered. “My job over the next couple years is to do the best anybody can do at trying to address your concerns.”

Brad Loewen, chairman of the East Hampton Town Fisheries Advisory Committee, criticized Deepwater’s effort to hire fisheries representatives here. “You can try to buy advice, you can try to buy trawl surveys, you can try to buy scientific data,” he said. “I would suggest . . . that you don’t necessarily listen to somebody that was hired by them,” he told the trustees. “Listen to the people doing the job, somebody actually out trawling, running around that bay, trying to catch fish, and trying to make a living.”

Federal and state agencies were likely to approve the project, Mr. Loewen said, but the trustees have leverage because they own most of the town’s waterways and bottomlands. “They’re not doing this to help us. They’re doing this to make a boatload of money, and that’s exactly what they’re going to do. My suggestion to the trustees is that they charge these people to use our land. And I’m talking about six figures. . . . Then the trustees could help the fisheries, help the businesses that are injured by this project,” Mr. Loewen said.

Gary Cobb, who lives in Springs, was among the speakers who questioned the effect of electromagnetic frequency that would emanate from transmission cables on such species as cod and lobster. Along with essential fish habitats, he referred to eelgrass restoration and other projects in town waters and the potential impact of the cable’s installation. “We have demonstrated successful compliance with all the programs you refer to for the Block Island project,” Mr. Plummer said. “We understand we will have to go through all those with this project.”

Linda James, acting chairwoman of the town’s energy sustainability advisory committee, was one of two in attendance who spoke in favor of the wind farm. “I want my grandchildren to grow up and know this planet as I have known it,” she said. “I know what is threatening and challenging our planet. But what’s important to me is . . . what can we do about it locally?”

Her committee, she said, bears the responsibility of meeting the town’s 2014 mandate to meet its own energy needs from renewable sources. This is essential, she said, given the impact on marine life of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.

But Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, countered with a litany of environmental problems she said the wind farm would cause. “You don’t destroy the environment in order to save the environment. Pile driving the ocean floor destroys fish with swim bladders” and traumatizes other fish, she said. Jet-plowing the ocean floor kills larvae and creates sedimentation that would cover and kill more. “Then you juice it with low-level electromagnetic frequency, which apparently heats up the ocean floor pretty well,” both repelling fish and attracting sharks, she said. “It’s one thing to talk about climate change in a vacuum, but turn around,” she said, gesturing toward the audience. “Their lives depend on what’s out there.”