Concerns Are Many as Wind Farm Impacts Evaluated

A full house greeted officials of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Deepwater Wind at the American Legion Hall in Amagansett on Monday as the bureau took comments on Deepwater’s construction and operations plan for the 15-turbine wind farm it proposes to construct and operate approximately 35 miles from Montauk.

The session was a chance for people to weigh in on issues they think should be considered in an environmental impact study of the plan, which Deepwater sumbitted to the bureau in June. A 30-day public comment period began on Oct. 19. The plan is available for review at public libraries in East Hampton Town and on the bureau’s website. After the comment period is up, the agency can approve the plan, disapprove it, or approve it with modifications. 

A draft environmental impact statement on the plan is expected next summer, and a final document in the fall of 2019. Separately, the State Public Service Commission is reviewing an application from Deepwater Wind under Article VII of the public utilities law, for which another round of hearings will be scheduled next year. 

Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island company, built and operates the nation’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island. 

While many in the audience asked questions and delivered comments on topics ranging from commercial fishing, impacts on marine life, and utility rates, a succinct-yet-lengthy litany of concerns was read into the record by Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilman David Lys along with Francis Bock and Rick Drew of the town trustees. With individual comments limited to two minutes, they took turns reading from a joint statement that asked for more detailed studies and answers to lingering concerns.

As affected property owners and stewards of the environment, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, the town board and trustees are both legally and morally responsible “for protecting the local environment and safeguarding the values of the community.” While past studies will inform the environmental impact statement process, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, he and others pressed bureau officials to identify and evaluate the unique ecosystems to be impacted by the proposed wind farm, particularly the habitat of some 50 species of commercially valuable fish. “We insist that the Deepwater E.I.S., rather than relying on studies of similar or neighboring areas, conduct an individual review of the species present in and adjacent to East Hampton,” he said. 

Given the likelihood that the South Fork Wind Farm will ultimately be one of several offshore wind farms along the Eastern Seaboard, “greater emphasis must be given to the issues of cumulative impacts and the growth-inducing impacts of this project, given that this project may encourage and facilitate other actions that could significantly affect the environment,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. 

Deepwater’s plan states that the wind farm’s construction will minimize impacts to harder and rockier bottom habitats to the extent practical, the supervisor said, but does not explain how the impacts will be mitigated. 

Mr. Lys said that the environmental impact statement must evaluate pollution, particularly via sediment disturbance in construction and operations; ecosystem impacts on individual species, stocks, spawning, and migratory patterns, and impacts on birds, sea turtles, whales, and other marine life. He also asked for an evaluation of navigational risks posed by the wind farm’s turbines, loss of fishing gear to entanglement with the installation, and transit lanes. 

The environmental statement, he said, should also identify and evaluate impacts on near-shore fish and other species; impacts on land species due to installation and maintenance of the wind farm’s transmission cable, and interference with public recreation during the cable’s installation, maintenance, and decommissioning. It should also address any health effects of the cable’s electromagnetic field on beachgoers and those living in proximity to its underground route from the wind farm to the Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton. (Deepwater Wind has chosen the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott as the preferred landfall site for the transmission cable.) 

Short and long-term impacts of the project may not be initially known, Mr. Bock said. “Accordingly, protocols must be developed for baseline data collection and the ability to adjust operating procedures based on the occurrence of unforeseen negative impacts.” The environmental impact statement should consider measures including routing the transmission cable to avoid sensitive habitat areas and attenuation or elimination of electromagnetic fields from the cable, he said, and the costs and benefits should be weighed against alternative courses of action. 

“There are clear gaps between the submitted information and what is minimally acceptable,” Mr. Drew told the officials, returning to a complaint he has voiced repeatedly as a deputy clerk of the trustees and member of its harbor management committee. 

Questions and comments from the audience mostly pertained to the wind farm’s environmental impact, its impact on commercial fishing, the need for additional electricity generation, and the potential for hundreds or even thousands of turbines to follow the 15 under consideration at Monday’s meeting.

Many were skeptical. Noting the importance of an environmental impact statement, Brad Loewen, chairman of the town’s fisheries advisory committee, complained about the two-minute limit on comments. “I view this as stifling of public comment,” he said. “We fishermen know the high cost to our businesses and families, our heritage, our way of life. We’re not unsophisticated climate deniers. . . . Why should we be the only ones who sacrifice ourselves for Deepwater Wind and their profit?” He asked that the wind farm be sited away from the fishing grounds at Cox’s Ledge, and that Deepwater Wind be liable for compensating fishermen for negative impacts to their livelihood. “Fisheries are bearing the full weight of this and future wind farm projects all by themselves,” he said. 

But Don Matheson, a member of the Long Island chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, said that the environmental impact statement will have to compete with last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasting catastrophic climate change as early as 2040 absent a radical and unprecedentedly rapid decline in fossil-fuel emissions. Climate scientists, he said, are telling us that, “to avoid creeping chaos, we need to disassemble 58 percent of the Industrial Revolution in 12 years. . . . This creeping chaos is going to creep over the town, the fishing industry, in terms of acidification of oceans. We don’t have a choice. We and communities like us all over the world have to make a decision to name our poison.” He thanked the Deepwater Wind officials for taking the financial risk “to take a baby step forward to fight climate change” and asked those in attendance to “look at this E.I.S. on fishing and the town in the context of the E.I.S. provided by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] from thousands of scientists all over the world.” 

Krae Van Sickle referred to “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters report that asserts a vast migration of fish toward the poles as the oceans warm. That report states that in the North Atlantic, “fisheries data show that in recent years, at least 85 percent of the nearly 70 federally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, when compared to the norm over the past half-century.” 

“I know fishing is a way of life and I appreciate that,” said Janet Van Sickle. But, she added, citing acidification and warming of the oceans, “this way of life is far more endangered by climate change” than it is by a wind farm. 

The bureau also held a public scoping meeting last night in New Bedford, Mass. Another is scheduled for tonight in Providence, R.I.