“This is about us,” the speaker told a gathering in East Hampton last Thursday. “There’s a global issue, which we’re all aware of, but East Hampton is going to change dramatically if we don’t turn this around and start doing the right thing.”
“We won’t recognize our beaches,” he continued. “We won’t have docks to dock our boats at. The biodiversity is going to change enormously. The fishery stocks are going to be impacted dramatically by ocean acidification and many other factors. The whole dynamics of the marine environment are changing today, and it’s only going to get worse unless we do something about it.”
The speaker was former East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, the setting the residence of another former supervisor, Judith Hope. The gathering was an informational meeting for Win With Wind, a group that recently formed to advocate for the South Fork Wind Farm, a 15-turbine installation proposed in a federal lease area approximately 35 miles east of Montauk.
The local issue, like the global issue Mr. Cantwell referred to, is a looming climate crisis that scientists say is a consequence of unchecked fossil fuel emissions and will result in a warmer world in which coastal communities like East Hampton are threatened by sea level rise and more extreme weather, among other disruptions. A report issued last Thursday by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia, for example, states that global famine and drought may threaten human civilization by 2050 if action to curb fossil fuel emissions is not taken quickly.
As federal and state regulators consider the proposed wind farm — the Public Service Commission of the New York State Department of Public Service will hold an informational forum and public statement hearing on Tuesday at the Emergency Services Building in East Hampton, as detailed elsewhere in this issue — opposition to the project is intensifying. Commercial fishermen are almost uniformly against the wind farm, and a group called Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott has launched a website and petition drive to oppose Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind’s plan to land the wind farm’s export cable at the end of Beach Lane, which it has identified as its preferred site.
Hence Win With Wind, Ms. Hope told her guests. “We think it’s important to create a voice in this community that articulates the reasons that wind power is a necessary component of a mosaic of solutions to address climate change,” she said. “We’ll play our part to try to keep correcting misinformation because there’s a ton of it out there. We need all of you to help us do that. We need you to talk to your friends and neighbors, and we need you to be up front about the fact that wind energy is needed, that it’s a really essential component of the solution here.”
A group that included members of the town’s Energy Sustainability and Resiliency Committee and zoning board of appeals, the town trustees, the Accabonac Protection Committee, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Renewable Energy Long Island, the appeals, the town trustees, the Accabonac Protection Committee, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Renewable Energy Long Island, the Sierra Club, and Southampton Town’s Energy Sustainability Committee listened as Mr. Cantwell, who is on Win With Wind’s steering committee, urged those attending to join the group’s advisory council and volunteer their time and expertise.
Two events served as catalysts for the town board’s goal, adopted in 2014, to achieve 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources, said Mr. Cantwell, who was supervisor from 2014 through 2017. Superstorm Sandy, while dealing a glancing blow to the South Fork, was nonetheless a wake-up call, he said. At the same time, “we were confronted with PSEG wanting to build larger poles and transmission lines through the spine of the South Fork of Long Island” as well as “more fossil fuel plants in order to deliver that energy.” The utility, he said, “cannot provide enough electricity to support us today, and certainly not in the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
When Mr. Cantwell was sworn in, the Energy Sustainability Committee was “already working on coming up with a policy, backed by a very specific set of goals and objectives for the Town of East Hampton: to become 100 percent renewable.” Support for the South Fork Wind Farm evolved from that action, he said, “because they had the leases and were ready to move. That’s really how that came together: the policy of the town and the fact that we were opposing the traditional methods that the utility companies want to use in order to deliver power to communities like ours. So we supported the South Fork Wind Farm, and offshore wind was a major component of our plan to become 100 percent renewable. I think and hope we’re going to get there.”
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming also addressed the gathering. “I have been buffeted by this fear-based resistance to things over and over again in my years,” she said. “I feel for the folks on the town board in East Hampton and the difficulty they have. The kind of support you can give them is invaluable.”
The County Legislature recently authorized a rate alteration for the North Ferry Company, which transports people and goods between Shelter Island and Greenport, in part “because they have to raise their docks,” Ms. Fleming said. “We have localized flooding right here in Northwest Harbor, Noyac, Flanders. When there’s a full moon, the water table is so high that there’s nowhere for it to recede.”
Cate Rogers of the Energy Sustainability and Resiliency Committee gave a slide presentation for which she was trained by the Climate Reality Project, founded by former Vice President Al Gore. She and other climate activists are planning a rally at the Hook Mill on Tuesday at 5 p.m. — during the Public Service Commission’s information forum and public statement hearing — to advocate for the wind farm. “This is for us to show that there are people in this community like ourselves . . . that want to stand up and say that they support this,” she said.
The wind farm’s fate, and the electricity it would contribute toward the town’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy, is uncertain, Mr. Cantwell told the group. “The opposition to offshore wind is growing, and there’s some moneyed interests that are involved in that opposition, along with the fishermen and others,” he said. “It’s become a very contested political issue here.”
His father was a commercial fisherman, Mr. Cantwell said. “I have a lot of empathy and sympathy for people working in that business. But the docks in Montauk are going to be under water . . . in only 10 or 20 years. Literally, those docks will not be able to dock boats because they’re going to be under water. There will be no place to tie boats in the Town of East Hampton if sea level continues to rise the way it is.”
But, he said, in his experience, “there’s a moment in time when a community can make a difference. We can make a difference on this issue right now, and we need your help.”