As construction of the onshore portion of the South Fork Wind farm proceeds in Wainscott, a lawsuit filed in United States District Court last week seeks to halt that work, claiming its potential to spread the perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, that were detected in nearby groundwater.
The wind farm’s export cable is to make landfall at the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane and travel underground to a Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton. Ongoing onshore construction includes the trenching and installing of a conduit along that route, at present on Beach Lane and on Wainscott Northwest Road between the Long Island Rail Road intersection and Montauk Highway and between Bathgate Road and Two Rod Highway. The contractor for the wind farm’s developers, Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource Energy, also planned to make shallow cuts in the roadway to outline the trench area that will be opened along Sayre’s Path and Wainscott Main Street.
Plaintiffs in the suit, Pamela Mahoney, Michael Mahoney, Lisa Solomon, and Mitch Solomon, name as defendants the federal Department of the Interior, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the United States Army and the federal Army Corps of Engineers. BOEM is an agency within the Department of the Interior. Approval of all defendants was required in order for the wind farm’s construction to proceed. In Janurary, BOEM approved the 15-turbine wind farm’s construction and operations plan, the final federal approval needed for the project’s construction to commence.
A ceremonial groundbreaking for the wind farm’s construction happened at LTV Studios in Wainscott last month, with participation by Gov. Kathy Hochul, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and members of the East Hampton Town Board and Town Trustees.
A memorandum in support of the complaint asserts the plaintiffs’ support for the wind farm and its generation of renewable electricity. However, it states, the defendants “did not reasonably analyze the last piece of the puzzle — how to run the high-voltage export cable from the offshore facility to the local power grid. Instead, the agencies approved a route that will . . . trench through areas known to be contaminated” by PFAS. That trenching, they say, “will likely spread the PFAS contamination to other properties” including the plaintiffs’ properties “and will likely contaminate private and public drinking water wells in and around East Hampton.”
The memorandum notes that the cable, and trenching to install it, will move up Beach Lane alongside the Mahoneys’ property and eventually up Wainscott Northwest Road alongside that of the Solomons. “The excavation and trenching necessary to install the cable will spread the existing PFAS contamination, including to Plaintiffs’ properties and their wells,” the memorandum claims.
Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS can be toxic to humans and wildlife. Those detected in groundwater in Wainscott, believed to have originated in firefighting foam stored and used at East Hampton Airport, have been shown to interfere with the hormonal system, the reproductive system and the development of the fetus, impact the immune system, reduce responses to vaccines in children, and promote certain cancers.
New York State adopted drinking water standards for public water systems in 2020 that set maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion each for two kinds of PFAS, both of which were detected in groundwater in Wainscott.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is moving to address PFAS pollution across the country, the complaint states, but its “sister federal agencies approved the PFAS-spreading route for the export cable with literally no analysis of the environmental consequences.” That, it continues, “was the very opposite of the ‘hard look’ mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, which governed the agencies’ final decisions.” Consequently, the plantiffs say, the court “should enter a preliminary injunction against any further construction of the onshore portion of the South Fork export cable.”
The Hicks Thomas firm, out of Houston, is representing the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ action is the latest attempt by some Wainscott residents to thwart placement of the wind farm’s onshore component in Wainscott. Previous efforts included an unsuccessful attempt to force a vote to form an incorporated village in a portion of the hamlet.
A spokeswoman for the developers declined to comment on the lawsuit.