As planning for a $750 million wind farm off Block Island gets under way in earnest, development company Deepwater Wind is putting out a call for members of local fishing communities to work with its officials on tailoring the project to mitigate any impact it may have on that industry.
Deepwater’s directors say they want at least three members of the fishing community—one each from Montauk’s large recreational and commercial fleets, and one from among the small community of baymen and trawl boat owners who fish in Gardiners Bay—to serve as liaisons, bringing specific insights and concerns of fishermen to the company, and returning to their peers with answers from the company’s engineers.
The proposed wind farm would generate about 90 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 50,000 homes, according to PSEG’s and Deepwater Wind’s estimates. It would be just the second offshore wind farm in the United States, following the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm, completed by Deepwater off Block Island last fall. Those turbines sit 16 miles east of Montauk and are visible from Montauk’s beaches on a clear day.
The planned five-year offshore project has won strong support from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Long Island Power Authority officials as the first step of a massive shift to “clean” energy from renewable resources, and away from fossil fuels. However, even as it remains in its fledgling stage, members of the fishing industry have proven to be the most skeptical—even hostile—about the idea of constructing 600-foot-tall wind turbines in an area of the Atlantic Ocean renowned for its populations of cod, monkfish and scallops.
A smattering of fishermen have raised concerns about the construction of the turbines—it may involve hammering steel pilings into the sea floor, which they fear could scare fish away from fertile grounds. They’ve also voiced concerns that the 50-mile transmission line that will deliver the power to the South Fork could alter fish migrations because of electromagnetic pulses emanating from the buried cable.
Deepwater officials have said that the next 12 months of the process will focus primarily on deciding where, exactly, to place the turbines, and where to lay the transmission line. Those locations will be determined by balancing the results of months of surveying conditions on the ocean floor and bay bottoms with input from fishermen as to where the most important fishing grounds are, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, Clint Plummer, said this week.
“We have a lot of flexibility in how far apart we put the machines,” Mr. Plummer said. “The final siting is always based on a combination of bottom type and environmental factors. In the broader context, we are talking about a very small footprint overall and for each machine. “
The company has a broad swath of ocean floor—more than 150 square miles—on which it may build the 12 to 15 turbines it has planned for the South Fork Wind Farm, as the project has been named.
The turbines will each stand at least one mile apart, the company says, to ensure that wind disturbance from each doesn’t handicap the power-generating abilities of others. Mr. Plummer said the company has identified the southwestern corner of what it calls its northern lease area as the most ideal general location for the array of turbines. The area is the closest portion to Montauk of the two large overall areas leased from the federal government.
The region, however, also sits on the edge of Cox Ledge—a renowned location for recreational cod fishing, which is also fringed by popular commercial monkfishing and sea scalloping grounds.
During the federal review of Deepwater Wind’s leasing of the sea floor by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the most popular recreational fishing grounds, where Cox Ledge slopes from about 115 feet to 150 feet deep over a stretch of about a mile, were carved out of the lease area. Deepwater has said it would like to arrange the 12 to 15 turbines on the plateau just to the north of Cox Ledge.
Fishermen say the plateau does get some fishing pressure, though few seemed to see it as being a critical area to fishermen.
“There is some bottom up to the north, but not as much as on that southern edge,” said Rick Etzel, a Montauk charter boat captain who fishes the Cox Ledge area for cod in summer and fall. “It’s nasty bottom.”
Commercial fishermen said that some draggers do work in the area to the north of the Cox Ledge slope, fishing for porgies and flounder, and gillnetters set nets for monkfish.
“I fished up on the high side to the west, since there’s some pretty hairy bottom there, but I do have friends who fish there pretty heavily,” said Chris Scola, who trawls for sea scallops out of Montauk but used to set gill nets for monkfish. “In the spring, there’s a lot of monkfish gear there, from Point Judith and Westport, Massachusetts.”
Mr. Plummer said that the company and U.S. Coast Guard have agreed there will be no fishing or navigation restrictions around or between the wind turbines, which he says means fishermen will be able to work all the same areas they do currently, save for the actual footprints of the turbine bases. The bases of the Block Island turbines are 50 feet by 50 feet; the South Fork Wind Farm turbines are anticipated to be only slightly larger, Mr. Plummer said.
He said that the company, with the help of the liaisons it is seeking to recruit, will hold numerous open and focus group meetings with fishermen from Montauk and other ports to go over the specific portions of the ocean floor where placing the turbines might be least disruptive. He said they will also discuss times of the year when construction might have less impact on fishing.
The company plans to begin the two-year construction process in the spring or summer of 2020.
Fishermen who are interested in serving as liaisons must apply with the company by April 21, online at www.dwwind.com/fishing-reps. They will be compensated by the company for the time they spend away from fishing while attending project discussions.
“Although funded by Deepwater Wind, the representatives will be independent contractors, working on behalf of the fishing fleet,” the company’s advertisement for the liaisons says.