As 2018 approaches, so does Deepwater Wind’s plan to submit applications to more than 20 federal, state, and local permitting agencies for the South Fork Wind Farm, an installation of up to 15 turbines it plans to construct approximately 30 miles east of Montauk.
With a first-quarter deadline to submit those applications looming, commercial fishermen in East Hampton remain generally opposed to the project, and are focusing on aspects of the installation including the concrete mats that could be used to cover portions of the wind farm’s transmission cable, which is to make landfall in Wainscott. The specific concern voiced at the town trustees’ Dec. 11 meeting, and again at last Thursday’s meeting of its harbor management committee, is the prospect of trawl nets getting caught on them, which fishermen say would be both costly and potentially deadly. They also worry that the electromagnetic frequency emanating from the transmission cable would alter fish migration patterns.
At the same time, Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, told fishermen and the committee that the company will present, by year’s end, an environmental assessment of the Wainscott landing site, a preliminary summary of data pertaining to the wind farm’s proposed location, and a list of the studies it plans to conduct throughout the permitting process.
Rick Drew, a deputy clerk of the trustees and member of the harbor management committee, said on Tuesday that Deepwater Wind officials have also pledged “more fully fleshed-out documents” in the first half of January. Drew Carey, Deepwater Wind’s lead environmental consultant, will attend a Jan. 15 meeting of the committee, Mr. Drew said.
Last Thursday, Mr. Drew emphasized the comprehensive vetting that he said must happen before the trustees decide whether or not to support the proposed wind farm and grant an easement allowing Deepwater Wind to route the transmission cable under the ocean beach in Wainscott, over which they have jurisdiction. “They’ve got to start stepping up,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s getting to the point where we’re being asked to make a huge decision and we don’t seem to have details. My example is, I have a more complete folder on a phragmites application than on landing the cable, and that’s not right. . . . But we’ll see what they come back with.”
Mr. Plummer said via speaker phone at last Thursday’s meeting that there would be “multiple bites at the apple for the community to be able to assess” the company’s surveys and assessments. “We are simply here providing to the trustees and members of the East Hampton fishing community the ability to see those studies first and give us input,” he said.
Chris van Beek, president of Deepwater Wind, which is based in Rhode Island, said at the Dec. 11 meeting that around 5 percent of the transmission cable serving the Block Island Wind Farm, a five-turbine installation the company built and operates, could not be buried to optimal depth in the ocean’s bottom and was covered by the mats.
At the harbor management committee meeting, Dan Farnham Sr., a Montauk fisherman, warned that those mats pose a clear hazard and predicted that for trawl fishermen, transiting through the wind farm at night or in inclement weather would be too dangerous. “When you get hung up . . . on the bottom, especially in rough weather, it can be life-threatening,” he said. “You lose your maneuverability to control the vessel in heavy weather. If you were in the wind farm . . . and you get hung up, and your trawl gear is a third of a mile behind the boat, you have absolutely no control about where that vessel is going to drift to while you’re trying to get unhung.”
Deepwater Wind officials disputed assertions that fishermen have caught their nets on the Block Island transmission cable’s mats. But to alleviate that concern, Mr. Plummer said last Thursday, Capt. Rodman Sykes, a Rhode Island fisherman who is conducting surveys for Deepwater Wind, would take Montauk fishermen to the area in question to demonstrate that they are not impacting fishing. “We are currently gathering the schedule for Captain Sykes’s trawl surveys,” he said.
Deepwater Wind officials yielded to the insistence by Montauk fishermen that they, and not the company, select a fisheries representative for the South Fork Wind Farm. Jeff Grybowski, the company’s chief executive officer, said last week, “We’re seeking an active fisherman to fill that role, and we encourage members of the fishing community to nominate the person they feel is best suited to represent their interests and help us continue our dialogue with the fishing industry.”
Mr. Plummer proposed that “the fishing community, or each gear type, identify an appropriate representative of the community to coordinate with us,” attaching the condition that that person “has to be impartial, constructive, and willing to work with us to develop a constructive plan.”
Mr. Grybowski reiterated the company’s position that “we don’t anticipate any impacts to commercial fishermen during the construction or the operation of the South Fork Wind Farm.” If the permitting agencies determine that there would be negative impacts to fishermen, a compensation program would be implemented, he said.
A petition at the website change.org asking East Hampton and Southampton Town officials to renounce their support for the South Fork Wind Farm had 208 signatures as of yesterday. Gary Cobb, a Springs resident who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the trustee board this year and represents inshore fishermen in their efforts to scuttle the wind farm, started that petition, and at a number of trustee meetings has sharply questioned Deepwater Wind officials, particularly with respect to the transmission cable. A Facebook page called Stop the South Fork Wind Project had 71 followers, also as of yesterday.
Regardless of the South Fork Wind Farm’s outcome, fishermen see a far larger, longer-term threat to their livelihood, which they have called the industrialization of the ocean. The 256-square-mile lease area in which the South Fork Wind Farm would be situated could accommodate many more turbines than are planned at present, and waters from Maine to Delaware may one day be dotted with the structures.
“We’re not just looking at this farm,” Mr. Farnham said last Thursday. “There’s so many coming out of the woodwork now. To me, it’s mind-boggling, looking at how the ocean could be covered with windmills down the road.”