Closed-door settlement talks to finalize terms for a contested offshore wind-farm cable in East Hampton have accelerated in the past month, even as opponents of the likely landing site in Wainscott mount a counteroffensive.
Negotiations have centered on increasing a community benefits package from its initial $8.5 million and addressing concerns about commercial fishing, construction and environmental issues. All are expected to be addressed before the Town of East Hampton and the separate East Hampton Town trustees, who manage the town’s common lands, give final approval for needed road permits for the site on Beach Lane in Wainscott, officials said. Specific terms are confidential, they said.
East Hampton Town had already given a tentative nod to the Wainscott landing site a year ago, but the project has increased in size and the state Public Service Commission, which will ultimately approve the cable route, has held hearings on the matter. Now, town officials say, talks to finalize needed permits with the town are active.
“The movement [of settlement talks] is likely to accelerate,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said last week, adding the recent election provided him and the town board with a larger electoral mandate and “greater confidence that this is what the public wants and they’ll be much more willing to move forward with this to resolve any outstanding issues.”
If the town and trustees ultimately move to approve a benefits package and road permits for the shortest land route for the cable in Wainscott, there are signs that influential neighbors in that community who oppose the Beach Lane route will take action to stop it.
“All options are on the table,” said Mike McKeon, a spokesman for Waintscott neighbors, some 1,700 of whom signed a petition to reject Wainscott’s Beach Lane as the cable route.
Locals say the Wainscott group may have a war chest of upward of $1 million to battle the cable landing site, and that litigation, if pursued, could tie up issuance of permits for months or more.
"By their actions, they [Orsted] have practically begged residents to sue if they don't like their subscale project," McKeon said. "Orsted won't be disappointed."
Approval for the cable landing site is one of numerous items developer Orsted needs to complete the project for LIPA by the end of 2022. Last year, an official for the former Deepwater Wind, which was acquired by Orsted, had said the company hoped to have the cable landing site locally approved by July 2018.
“We’re trying to put something together in the very near future,” said Francis Bock, clerk of the East Hampton town trustees, which must approve the location if it’s at Beach Lane, a prospect trustees favor. “Wainscott is the preferred landing site for the trustees and the town. We own that and that’s what’s keeping us in the negotiations.”
One of the big issues for locals is possible disturbance of the Wainscott beach. "It's the iconic Hamptons beach," said Richard DeRose, who walked his dog there one afternoon last week. Like others in Wainscott, he supports offshore wind, but "if I had my druthers I'd rather see the cable landing in Montauk."
Late last week a group calling itself Citizens for the Preservation of Waintscott began running online ads attacking the South Fork wind project overall, noting Orsted is a "foreign company" that got a "sweetheart deal" to produce energy that will "the most expensive in the state." The online petition, at truthaboutorsted.com, urges the state Public Service Commission to "reject this deal."
But other organizations such as citizens' group Montauk United and Win With Wind, a green-energy advocacy group in East Hampton, say Wainscott is the shortest, most direct route with the least impact on the environment and commercial districts.
“Common sense seems to be prevailing,” said Judith Hope, a former town supervisor and founder of Win With Wind. “Even though the good people of Wainscott have mounted a ferocious opposition. It seems to me the preferred site remains the preferred site,” in Wainscott.
Hope said it’s now time for the town to finalize an agreement. “It would be a great help in moving the project forward,” she said. “It would be a great help if they’d negotiate terms under which they’d allow the developer to lay the cable along a town road. It’s one simple procedure.”
An Orsted spokeswoman declined to comment, but Jennifer Garvey, Long Island development manager for Orsted Wind, said at a forum in Woodbury Friday that community opposition is part of every large building project, not just wind farms.
“There’s no such thing as a project without opposition,” she said.
“Sometimes, we face NIMBY-style opposition: ‘Hey, can’t you just take this project elsewhere?'" she continued. "We can’t do that anymore. We worked hard to find the best places to land our cables. We do count on the communities to help us get these [projects] over the finish line because these are [climate] goals we want to achieve together.”
With James T. Madore