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Jun 18, 2019 3:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Montauk Pushes Back Against Wainscott Efforts To Move Wind Farm Landing Site

Jun 24, 2019 4:25 PM

The notoriously vocal residents of Montauk have begun to raise alarm over the electric transmission cable landing from the South Fork Wind Farm and its potential to disrupt their routines, in the wake of the revelation that wealthy residents of Wainscott have enlisted a platoon of attorneys and well-connected public relations experts to try to push the site onto state parkland in the easternmost hamlet.

Objections to the Hither Hills option as a landing site for the 12-inch-thick, 138-kilovolt cable were few at last week’s public hearings on the cable route held by the New York State Public Service Commission in East Hampton Village.

But Montaukers said that until that hearing, they had not learned some of the details of what a Hither Hills landing site would entail—or that such a well-organized and well-funded movement was underway to get the wind farm’s developer, Deepwater Wind, and its parent company, Ørsted, to reconsider a long-preferred landing site at Beach Lane in Wainscott.

“This idea of two years of construction along Montauk Highway—that would be very disruptive,” said Jay Fruin, a Montauk resident. “You have a lot of tradesmen coming to Montauk every day from the west, and a lot of people from Montauk going to East Hampton to work every day. You have teachers and, you name it—it would be a lot of disruption for a lot of people.”

Deepwater Wind representatives speaking at last week’s public hearings said that bringing the power cable ashore in Hither Hills, beneath the state park’s campground and into a parking lot adjacent to Old Montauk Highway, would require about 11 miles of underground routing once onshore, an effort that would require months of roadwork over two offseasons.

The cable would have to run through the Napeague Stretch, Amagansett and East Hampton Village. The preliminary routes shown thus far would have it follow Montauk Highway for most of that length.

The Wainscott landing site would have the cable connection to land on narrow Beach Lane and following a route running north under town roads—and tunneling underneath Montauk Highway so as not to require any disruptions on the busy section of highway—until it meets the Long Island Rail Road tracks, which it would then follow for two miles to the LIPA power substation near Buell Lane. Deepwater Wind staffers said that work would take just one offseason, working between November 1 and March 31.

“The idea of digging up the main highway through Napeague and Amagansett, over two years, is not something that anybody thinks is smart,” says Paul Monte, the president of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce. “This move by Wainscott residents, it’s kind of jumped up on everybody. We all thought it was going to Wainscott, so nobody had been particularly on guard about it.”

The Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee had penned a letter to the Town Board recently, making clear the committee’s express opposition to the use of the Hither Hills campground as the landing site, but made no official statement at the hearing with the Public Service Commission—the state agency that will have to approve the entirety of the cable route from the time it enters New York State waters to where it connects with the substation.

The East Hampton Town Board passed a resolution last year, 3-2, indicating that it intended to negotiate a lease for the use of town roads for the cable route with Deepwater, in exchange for about $8 million in “community benefit” payments by the company to the town for infrastructure improvements and funding fisheries improvement programs. No such leases have been inked yet.

Even with the substantial community benefit payment included, Deepwater has said the Hither Hills landing site would be more expensive than the Wainscott one. But the company has had the Hither Hills site as its second preferred choice since early on—though initially that option had seemed to guard against the town denying the company permission to come ashore in Wainscott.

Since January, a group of Wainscott residents calling itself the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott has been quietly lobbying Deepwater officials to reconsider their plans for routing the project through the tiny, still-rural hamlet. Last month, the head of Ørsted U.S. Offshore, the company formed by the Danish energy giant Ørsted when it purchased Deepwater Wind last year, wrote to the Wainscott group and said that their advocacy had spurred the company to take a closer look at the Hither Hills alternative option, though it has not backed off Beach Lane being its preferred choice.

This week, the Wainscott group sent a pointed questionnaire to the 12 candidates for the East Hampton Town Trustees in next Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary, asking for their positions on the Deepwater Wind project in general and whether they would support the Beach Lane landing site.

The questionnaire says the group is nonpartisan and will not endorse one candidate over another, but will post all the candidates’ responses to the seven questions on its website, Wainscott.org, and notes that it will point out any candidates who do not respond.

At a meeting of the Wainscott CAC earlier this month, some members of that committee had encouraged others to vote against any official who has not expressly opposed the Wainscott cable route.

The Montauk CAC has formed a subcommittee that is in charge of exploring the Deepwater project, and its members said they expect a renewed vigor to the discussions at upcoming meetings in the wake of the Wainscott efforts to push the project out of their hamlet.

“I’m a little surprised that the Wainscott folks weren’t more engaged earlier in the process,” said Sue Farnham, the co-chair of the subcommittee. “It’s a complex issue, and before we all start throwing each other under the bus, we should all unite and make sure it’s the wind farm company that is accountable for anything that might happen, no matter where they are. We, in Montauk, are trying to do our homework and decide what is best.”

With deep pockets behind the effort to derail the Wainscott landing site—billionaire Ronald Lauder owns several properties at the southern end of Beach Lane—Montaukers say that their push will have to be weighted in numbers, and in the logical analysis of the two options, with the most practical choice made based on reason, not emotion.

“The NIMBY-osis is incredible,” Mr. Fruin said. “When you take the combination of cost, and time and environmental disruption, it seems like a no-brainer that Wainscott is the better choice. And that’s not just NIMBY-osis on my part.”

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