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Energy giant to hold forum with fishermen over cross-Sound cable route

A barge finishes laying replacement electrical cable off

A barge finishes laying replacement electrical cable off Connecticut in 2008. Equinor is proposing a power cable route that will extend across the Long Island Sound. Credit: AP/Bob Child

A European energy giant on Wednesday will hold a forum for concerned North Shore fishermen to outline the plan for a power cable route that will extend across the Long Island Sound.

What to Know

  • Equinor’s Beacon Wind undersea cable will run from the Massachusetts coast to an electric station in Astoria.
  • The power line will traverse the length of the Long Island Sound.
  • Some fisherman say it could impact their work, but others say it’s not a problem.
  • It will be buried from 4 to 6 feet under the sea bed.

The meeting, which is closed to the media, will address concerns by some fishermen that the route could complicate trap and trawl fishing in the Sound and elsewhere, Newsday has confirmed.

The route, as proposed by Equinor, the Norwegian energy giant, will extend more than 150 miles from windmills in the waters off Massachusetts to an electrical station in Astoria, Queens, traversing the entire Long Island Sound. It will cross over or under a dozen other power or communication cables that have operated in the waters for decades with few problems, Equinor said. Some longtime fishermen acknowledged this, saying the buried cable is unlikely to pose problems. The cables will be buried 4 to 6 feet deep for the entire route, Equinor has said.

This week, Equinor released a map of the proposed route for its latest project, known as Beacon Wind. The company says the route was hammered out after meeting with individual or small groups of fishermen over the past half year. The 1,260-megawatt project, awarded a contract by New York State in January, promises to power more than 1 million homes.

Fishermen weigh in

One of the fishermen who has met with Equinor in the past about the cable route, John German, who fishes from Mount Sinai Harbor, said he doesn’t believe there will be conflicts.

"I don’t see how it’s going to affect us," said German, who is president of the Long Island Sound Lobsterman’s Association. He said the new cable will run approximately parallel to a fiber-optic cable installed in the waterway nearly two decades ago. "They’re not putting the windmills in the Sound."

Arthur Kretchmer, a Mattituck fisherman who operates a trawler on the Sound, said he had not become aware of the planned cable until a few weeks ago. "Anything they put in the water is a problem," he said. He's opposed to wind turbines on the water, which could force impacted fishermen to compete in the Sound. "I’m asking them not to put these windmills up."

Phil Karlin, a Riverhead fisherman who fishes in conch pots and with trawl nets, said he had never been contacted and was opposed to the idea of cables impeding where he might fish. But he said the fact that the cable will be buried up to 6 feet beneath the surface would mitigate his concerns. "If it’s 6 feet [under the sea bottom] I don’t think it’s going to bother anybody," Karlin said.

Longtime wind-energy opponent Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, accused Equinor of holding back information about the cable route, information she said is essential to help avoid conflicts with fishermen during survey and cable-laying work, as well as after it has been installed.

"The problem is they’ve already come up with the pathway and fishermen be damned," she said. Asked how this cable would be different from at least three other high-voltage electric cables already installed across Long Island Sound, from Long Island to points in Connecticut and Westchester, Brady said she’d look into it.

Equinor 'Open' to refining route

Scott Lundin, director of permitting for Beacon Wind, said meeting with fishermen has been difficult during the COVID pandemic, but that the company continues to refine the route.

"As we learn more, there’s every expectation that we can get information" that could refine the cable route, he said. "The only way to do that is to talk to people and collect data. With COVID, it’s been a little harder."

He noted that the project, slated for completion by 2025-27, will entail years more planning, survey work, permit applications, public forums and approvals.

Julia Bovey, director of external affairs at Equinor, said the company has been meeting with fishermen in small groups for months, and their input helped shape the cable route. She said Equinor is "very much open" to altering the route, and has not finalized, much less filed, its construction and operation plan.

Long Island Sound, once a thriving lobster fishery, has become considerably more lucrative for whelk, black sea bass and other bottom fish. The lobster fishery is closed part of the year and considered in poor condition, at least in points west of Mattituck. Indeed, German, the Long Island Sound Lobsterman’s Association leader, said his bigger concern lately is the state’s plan, with little notice or input, to put size limits on whelk for the first time in the fishery’s history.

"We’ve had the same conch regulations for 300 years," said German, who noted whelk are considered a predator species that prey on threatened Long Island Sound lobsters. At one point fishermen were forbidden from returning caught conch to the water, he noted. "I don’t know why they need to change the regulations now."

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