Developers of the South Fork Wind Farm began laying undersea cable for a wind farm project designed to bolster the East End's growing energy needs. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Developers of the South Fork Wind Farm on Wednesday began laying the 56-mile undersea cable for the $2 billion project designed to bolster the East End's growing energy needs.

A cable-laying ship was moored about 800 yards off a Wainscott beach early Wednesday morning as workers pulled a messenger cable attached to the power line through a conduit 80 feet beneath the beach to duct vaults on Beach Lane. The offshore cable will be spliced to a land cable already set in place.

The Netherlands-based ship will lay cable in two 28-nautical-mile lengths, to an offshore substation that will be installed about 30 miles northeast of Montauk.

Construction on the 12 tower foundations is scheduled to start in May. If all goes as planned, the 130-megawatt wind farm will be producing energy before year's end, said Jennifer Garvey, head of New York market strategy for Denmark-based Orsted. The project is contracted to LIPA, whose customers will pay an average of $1.58 a month for power from the turbines, which can energize up to 70,000 homes.

Orsted and its partner, Eversource, have already secured other contracts with the state, including the 924-megawatt Sunrise Wind project, which will make landfall at Smith Point in 2025, and they're proposing another project called Sunrise Wind II for the state, Garvey said.

Beach Lane was relatively quiet as the work progressed Wednesday, but Wainscott is home to a vocal group of opponents of the cable through their neighborhood, including waterfront homeowner and billionaire Ronald Lauder. They'd requested the 4.1 mile land cable be set farther east. Garvey said the land-based cable part of the project is largely complete.

East Enders largely favored a wind farm away from their own coast to fill a widening power gap in the Hamptons identified by LIPA half a decade ago, one for which new power lines from the west have largely addressed the shortfall or soon will.

Other opponents on the East End included commercial fishing advocates who were concerned about lack of access to traditional fishing grounds and potential power line impacts on fish migration and behavior.

Ed Grimes, deputy clerk for the East Hampton town trustees, watched on Wednesday as the offshore cable was pulled onto land. Trustees will receive 40% of a $29 million benefits package negotiated by the town and developers, for use primarily on restoring waterways under their purview, he said.

Grimes said trustees' main concern about the project was addressed when developers agreed to lay the land-based cable 80 feet or more beneath the beach. That also addressed a second concern about the cable's potential impact on fish and patterns of migration. "All that we put in as conditions seem to be getting accommodated," he said.

Grimes said potential impacts of turbine construction, including damage caused by pile driving, was outside trustees' jurisdiction given that it's happening in federal waters off Rhode Island. But he said recent groundings of a dozen whales in the region was "troubling" and he believes the causes should be thoroughly vetted.

"Maybe this smaller project can be a good test," he said. "I'd rather see the 12 turbines [for the South Fork] done and if there's a bump in things in this area, then maybe before moving on to bigger projects this is a chance to see if there are impacts" and address them.

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