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Wind Farm Debate: Wait or Make Haste? 

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 06:35

It may be years before the first turbine foundation is driven into the sea floor some 35 miles off Montauk, but the proposed South Fork Wind farm remains the subject of fierce debate. During public meetings this week, the East Hampton Town Board and the town trustees both aired the easement agreements they have separately negotiated, but not yet finalized, with the wind farm's developers. 

The wind farm was also debated at the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee's meeting on Saturday, and discussed last Thursday during a webinar hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters.

The developers, Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource Energy, are to pay the town some $29 million over the next 25 years in exchange for access to install an export cable at least 30 feet under the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott. The cable would run under the sand at a depth greater than nine feet before taking a subterranean path to the Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton. 

The wind farm developers have also promised to protect the commercial fishing industry and spur economic development, including building a support facility and transfer vessel base in Montauk. They will be required to pay town property taxes on all onshore infra-structure, about $4 million more over the 25-year life of the project.

 The agreements will take effect only if the project obtains all federal, state, and other pending approvals.

Sixteen people called in to the trustees' meeting on Monday and 26 to the town board's session Tuesday. Supporters outnumbered opponents, although some people called in to both meetings.

Supporters urged the town to execute the agreements with all due speed so the approvals can proceed and the state's first offshore wind farm can be operational by the end of 2023. Among opponents, many sounded resigned to the 15-turbine installation's construction but urged the town and trustees not to sign off on agreements until the State Public Service Commission completes its review concerning the siting of major utility transmission facilities. 

Adding a wrinkle to the proceedings of the two governing bodies is the effort by some Wainscott residents to incorporate that hamlet. A group called Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, formed to oppose the cable landing at the end of Beach Lane, submitted a petition to Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc on Dec. 30, seeking to create a 4.4-square-mile Wainscott Village. That set in motion a process that could culminate, in early spring, in a vote among residents of the proposed village. Should they vote to incorporate, it could complicate the cable-landing plan. C.P.W. is countered by Wainscott United, which opposes incorporation. 

Gouri Edlich, chairwoman of Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, accused the town board of focusing on "appeasing the wind farm developers" and seizing "an opportunity to grab some dollars." Alice Tepper Marlin of Springs, meanwhile, told the trustees that the incorporation effort was a "foolhardy campaign" that would undermine "your excellent work." Timing is of the essence, she said. "Should that ill-intended campaign succeed, the effects could well be dire, making null these provisions. Worse, it would delay the date when the wind power comes online, undercutting our contributions to slowing climate change." Should an incorporated village succeed in thwarting the cable's Wainscott landfall, she added, the project's construction phase would inconvenience many more people in any other location. C.P.W. has suggested Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett as an alternative. 

"You are really setting the pace," Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment told the town board, "for the future of renewable energy in New York State." 

Judith Hope, a former town supervisor who is a wind farm proponent, told the trustees that they are "in a remarkable position, a rare position where you can take an action that will live long, long, beyond your endurance on this planet," affecting "the well-being of your town, of your state, and of the atmosphere that we breathe." 

Addressing Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Jeff Bragman, respectively the town board's incoming and outgoing liaison to the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, Carolyn Logan Gluck, the committee's chairwoman, promised to write to the board asking that it not finalize easements along town streets and roads to the LIPA substation until an environmental review has been completed. The hamlet's residents, she said, "have concerns, maybe legitimate, maybe not, but they are their concerns about impacts to the environment and other impacts. . . . We want renewable energy too, and we've never said anything otherwise. But what we don't agree with is the speed, may I even say haste, with which you want to move forward." 

Ms. Overby disagreed, noting that the board has been examining the developers' proposal and negotiating the agreement since Larry Cantwell was supervisor. Mr. Cantwell stepped down at the end of 2017.  

And Michael Hansen, a Wainscott resident, called out his neighbors who say approvals are being rushed. In fact, he told the town board, the review has been "exhaustive." Opponents, he said, know this, "because we have been in the same meetings" concerning the P.S.C.'s review, "and yet they repeat their arguments: Wait, wait, wait. The time for waiting is over. The time to act is today. This modest project is a step forward to a clean energy future." 

The town board, Mr. Van Scoyoc said Tuesday, will collate and review comments received and address the questions raised at its work session on Tuesday. The trustees, who received an additional 13 comments the day after they met, will continue to take written comment through Friday, Jan. 22.


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