The East Hampton community got a sneak peek at what could power the town for years to come at a community forum hosted by Deepwater Wind at the Clinton Academy on Thursday night, March 9.
The company that plans to build 12 to 15 wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Montauk welcomed local residents to the first floor of the historic building on Main Street and had eight representatives for the South Fork Wind Farm project speak to attendees about its preliminary plans. The turbines would cost about $740 million and would generate 90 megawatts of power to distribute to East Hampton Town and parts of Southampton Town, where the Long Island Power Authority expects to have a power deficit in the near future.
On Thursday, Deepwater representatives spread around the room with displays detailing elements of the wind turbine project—of offshore survey work the company would perform to examine the ocean floor, the location of the planned wind farm on an ocean map, and the numerous organizations Deepwater will be relying on to secure permission for the project. They include the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One of those speaking with attendees was Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind.
“I think that having our eight people around the room for people allows more questions to be answered,” Mr. Grybowski said. “With the sitdown style, you get 10 questions answered out of 800 questions that needed answering.”
He said he was well aware of concerns people have regarding the construction of the wind turbines: how and where cables that would transfer power from the turbines to an East Hampton substation on Buell Lane in East Hampton would be buried, how the underwater power cables would affect marine life, and how the cables would affect boaters, especially fishermen.
Mr. Grybowski said Deepwater is still in the preliminary stages of planning out where the cables will be buried, both in the sea and underground on land, but hopes to have the cables start on land somewhere near Napeague Bay.
Two of the displays at the forum showed possible options for specifically where the cable could enter land, either at Napeague State Park or at Fresh Pond Beach in Amagansett. Mr. Grybowksi said these locations could change, and that Deepwater is looking to have as much community input on this project as possible.
“This is the first of many public forums we’ll be hosting for the community, and as we get further and further along this process, we’ll have more specific plans,” he said.
At least five attendees represented the local fishing community, which has been vocal in its opposition of wind turbines disturbing species that live 30 miles off Montauk, including cod, yellowtail flounder and scallops.
Wesley Peterson, a sea scallop harvester living in East Hampton, referred to the construction of the wind turbines as “another slap in the face” to the commercial fishermen who make a living catching fish off Montauk. “This will be a complete failure on our traditional fishing area,” he said. “Driving these things into the ground explodes the fish’s air bladders and causes the rest to scatter. They say that people don’t want to see [turbines] on land—but why does what people don’t want to see have to hurt our business?”
Chris Miller of Montauk said he supported this alternative to fossil fuel energy, but added that he had one main question he had a hard time finding an answer to at the Clinton Academy. “Why did these people choose one of the most productive fishing areas in country to plant wind farms? They know how important the fishing industry is to the community,” he said. “I don’t think this will cause negative impacts on the environment, but it could damage the fishing industry.”
Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater, used the growing industry of wind farms around the globe as an example to show the benefits of this project. He referenced over 13,000 wind turbines in European countries, including France, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, all providing a substantial amount of power with functioning underwater ecosystems. He also brought up the successful discussions with members of the New England fishing community when Deepwater built the Block Island Wind Farm, which went into operation in December.
“We’re convinced that Deepwater Wind and this fishing community can work together, and we’re going to be spending the next year listening to them and the rest of the citizens here,” Mr. Plummer said.
One of the preliminary strategies Deepwater wants to execute to get more concrete data is to perform offshore survey work this summer. According to Irina Gumennik, a project manager for Deepwater’s engineering department, two boats would scour the sea floor near and farther offshore Montauk to determine its condition.
Ms. Gumennik’s display detailed the boats’ use of a multi-beam depth sounder to determine water depths, side-scan sonar to create images of the ocean floor, and sub-bottom profilers to identify and characterize layers of rock under the sea floor.
“This mapping of the sea floor helps with how we’re designing the turbines and telling us about any of the sensitive habitats,” she said. “We really want to know what’s down there, and this is step one in figuring out how we can work in that area.”
The benefits and concerns of having wind turbines were tossed around throughout the night. In the opinion of Manny Vilar, vice president of the New York State Park Police Sergeants Association and a possible candidate for East Hampton Town supervisor, that’s the best way to handle this process.
“Everything needs to be weighed between the environmental aspects and concerns of the fishermen,” said Mr. Vilar. “There really needs to be a thorough vetting of how these turbines are going to affect the fishing community and to make sure we’re not putting them out of business.
“The Town of East Hampton needs to be the advocate for our community in this process,” he said.