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D.E.C. Asks Orsted for More Fish Info

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 12:45

‘The ocean is changing too quickly to use 1980s data to plan for development’

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has identified several of what it calls deficiencies — primarily regarding the effect on a variety of fish species — in Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind’s application to construct and operate a transmission cable connecting its proposed South Fork Wind Farm to the Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton, according to a letter sent to the State Public Service Commission on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the developer, however, said that requests from state agencies for additional information are to be expected in a review of multifaceted projects such as an offshore wind farm, and that the permitting process for the South Fork Wind Farm remains on schedule.

The D.E.C. letter summarizes its preliminary review of Orsted’s September 2018 application to the Public Service Commission requesting a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need under Article VII of the Public Service Law authorizing construction and operation of the transmission cable. The D.E.C. examined both Orsted’s preferred landing site, the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott, and an alternative site, state-owned land at Hither Hills in Montauk. Both sites have sparked opposition from their respective communities.

The D.E.C.’s review is specific to the approximately 3.5 miles of export cable that would be buried under state waters and the portion that would be buried underground from the landing site to the substation. The agency examined threatened and endangered species of fish and wildlife, invasive species, freshwater and tidal wetlands, protection of waters and pollution control, and coastal erosion management in its review.

The application by Orsted, formerly Deepwater Wind, “lacks certain information . . . to fully assess the nature and extent of the potential environmental impacts” of the project, according to the letter signed by Lisa Covert, a senior D.E.C. attorney, “as well as compliance with all applicable environmental statutes and regulations. Accordingly, at a minimum, Deepwater must provide such information,” and the D.E.C. “must assess such information, prior to the commission issuing any certificate for the project under Article VII.”

The application does not identify all the marine species that may be in the project area, the D.E.C. letter states, citing a 2018 ocean trawl survey that caught multiple species “in medium to large numbers” that should be included in Orsted’s impact assessment. These include butterfish, black sea bass, scup, summer, winter, and windowpane flounder, American shad, longfin squid; striped bass; Atlantic mackerel, smooth and spiny dogfish, northern and striped sea robin; silver and spotted hake; skates and rays, and forage fish including menhaden, Atlantic herring, and river herring.

Additionally, weakfish, bluefish, Atlantic sturgeon, monkfish, tautog, Atlantic cod, northern puffer, sand tiger shark, horseshoe crab, American lobster, and Jonah crab were caught in low numbers. Juvenile white sharks; dusky, thresher, and sand bar sharks; dolphins, and seals may also be in the area, the D.E.C. letter states.

Further, green sea turtles were detected in the project area in 2016, but Orsted did not note that 145 sea turtles of unknown species were detected. “The application fails to provide the most updated marine species data available,” the D.E.C. letter says, and the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation should be contacted for updated sea turtle stranding information. “The ocean is changing too quickly to use information from the 1980s to plan for future development,” it says.

Also missing is an evaluation of avoidance and minimization measures for finfish species, or of the impacts on three kinds of benthic habitats identified in the application. Also not included is an egg density analysis for cold water zooplankton and ichthyoplankton species found in late fall and early winter, or any mention of the presence or absence of corals.

The application should discuss measures to avoid interactions with fishing gear and to prevent potential exposure of the cable, and provide the locations and the extent of proposed concrete mattresses in areas where it cannot be buried under the sea floor, the D.E.C. letter states. “Concrete mattresses may conflict with fishing gear and need to be buried sufficiently below grade,” the letter adds. “If sufficient burial is not feasible, alternative measures need to be proposed and discussed.”

The application lacks an evaluation of alternatives to sidecasting of excavated sediments — the dumping of sediment alongside the path being excavated in which to lay the cable — and any impacts to marine life resulting from dredged material. Nor does the application have sufficient information on a temporary cofferdam, an enclosure pumped dry to allow construction below the ocean surface, including how it would be installed, dewatered, and the area restored after construction.

Orsted’s field surveys identified 18 invasive species onshore within or close to the Beach Lane route, most of them plants, and 19 at the Hither Hills site. A D.E.C.-approved invasive species control plan must be prepared for the project, the agency’s letter states. “There shall be no new or increase in invasive species as a result of the project.”

The D.E.C.’s letter noted the application’s failure to identify specific locations of rare, threatened, and endangered plant species, or to evaluate the potential year-round impacts on northern long-eared bats, which are active in the winter months on eastern Long Island, including at Hither Hills.

Five threatened or endangered shorebirds are identified in the project’s vicinity, but Orsted’s application “does not discuss measures to avoid impacts” such as an exclusion window from April 1 through Aug. 31 for work on or near the beach, including the horizontal directional drilling with which a tunnel would be bored to install the cable at the landing site, according to the letter. Also missing is an evaluation of the project’s effect on sea ducks.

The application should include an avoidance, minimization, and mitigation plan for wetlands and water bodies along the Hither Hills route, a full evaluation of impacts to Hither Hills State Park and Beach Lane, and a thorough evaluation of the effects of temporary beach closures from construction, operation, and maintenance.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc discussed the D.E.C.’s letter when the town board met on Tuesday. Though the town is not the reviewing agency, and its jurisdiction extends just 1,500 feet offshore, it is nonetheless “interested in following the review process to ensure that the concerns that town officials or residents have are properly addressed in the permitting process,” he said. “I know residents and the board are concerned about the issue of whether or not a cable could be disturbed or become exposed after severe erosion events.”

While the state is reviewing Orsted’s application, “we should take another look to see they are taking into account” all issues of concern, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. Those involved with fisheries “have direct knowledge of local waters,” he said, so comment from the town’s fisheries advisory committee, as well as the Natural Resources and Planning Departments, “is essential to protecting their interests.” 

Meaghan Wims, a spokeswoman for Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, said in an email yesterday that the company’s project team is reviewing the D.E.C.’s comments and preparing a response “to ensure the D.E.C. has the information it needs to complete its review. Requests for additional information from state agencies are common and expected,” she said, “in the review of complex projects like the South Fork Wind Farm.”

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