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Fishing, energy interests spar over possible LI wind farm lease

Tensions between ocean fishing interests and offshore-wind-energy planners were evident at a meeting in Montauk Tuesday as federal regulators set the stage for leasing hundreds of miles of the Atlantic for wind farms.

Regulators at the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management got an occasional earful from local fishermen and -women who worry the plans could damage or close off large swaths of fishing grounds.

"Any adverse impacts these windmills have are going to come out of fishermen's pockets," said Dan Farnham, a Montauk tile fisherman, adding that potential effects are largely unknown.

Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for the bureau's renewable-energy programs, emphasized that Tuesday's meeting was designed to address such concerns. She acknowledged more information is needed to understand the impacts and encouraged fishermen to stay in contact with the bureau as the leasing process proceeds.

But some potential effects are already known. Scallop fishing would be curtailed by a wind-farm project proposed in the South Shore waters off western Long Island by the Long Island Power Authority, Con Edison and the New York Power Authority, according to maps shown at the meeting. Two other energy firms also are bidding for that lease, which hasn't yet been awarded.

"We're very concerned about it," said Andrew Min-kiewicz, an attorney representing scallop industry interests. "We will use all means at our disposal to fight" the loss of fishing grounds, he added.

A 256-square-mile lease already has been awarded for waters off Rhode Island to Deepwater Wind, which proposes selling energy to LIPA. Bornholdt said similar wind farm proposals are being considered in waters of nearly every state along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida.

Larry Penny, a biologist and former East Hampton Town natural resources director, suggested the bureau scale back those plans to "do a few of these and see what the impacts will be."

Bornholdt said the step-by-step process of approvals and monitoring would help prevent unforeseen problems. "We can build in some monitoring capability . . . and stop project activity once we approve a plan," she noted.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, an industry group in Montauk, expressed concern about wind farms' impact on sea bottom.

"You're blasting [wind towers] onto the ocean floor," she said, potentially creating "mini dead zones" where fish cannot live.

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