The developers of the South Fork Wind Farm have reached an agreement with a group of current and former fishermen to build and lease a new operations facility near a seafood dock the fishermen own in Montauk.
Developers Orsted and Eversource last week announced the agreement with Inlet Seafood on East Lake Drive in Montauk, an operation that’s partly owned by Dave Aripotch, one of the region’s most active commercial fishermen who has consistently criticized the offshore wind-energy projects as “wind-scams.”
Aripotch in an interview Monday said he didn't sign the agreement and he pledged he would not take any of the lease money from it. The agreement, if approved, would allow the companies to build a facility and lease it back from Inlet Seafood for up 30 years.
“I’m not happy with it, but I’m not going to stop my partners from doing it,” said Aripotch, who is married to Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, who also has opposed offshore wind.
Aripotch said he wasn’t alone among his partners in opposing the wind farm, but business realities swayed his partners.
“My partners don’t want the wind farms either, but the dock needs the money,” he said. “Just because the dock takes the money doesn’t make you a proponent of wind farms.”
Aripotch said he didn’t consider dropping out of the partnership. “I’m going to stay partners,” he said. “I love these guys. I have no intention of changing anything."
Lease-option agreements often include nondisparagement clauses that could limit the parties from criticizing the project.
Local fishermen's representatives said the deal would not help their clients who could be impacted by the project.
“It smells fishy,” said Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton attorney who has represented local baymen and inshore fishermen. “I’m deeply disturbed by the relationships involved here. Who is standing up for the other 95 percent of Long island commercial fishermen?”
Gary Cobb, who has represented East End baymen in concerns about wind-farm cables in local waterways, among other things, said the agreement “doesn’t do a thing for fishermen.”
“It’s not going to help anybody but the partners who decided to take money from them,” Cobb said. “In my opinion it’s got nothing to do with fishermen … It’s a business relationship between waterfront property owner and foreign company. It’s nothing to do with fishermen at all.”
Brady in an email suggested the lease deal benefiting her husband’s partners doesn’t mitigate larger commercial fishing issues with wind farms.
She said Orsted “must work to fairly mitigate and compensate all Montauk and East End federally permitted commercial fishermen, plus state-permitted East End fishermen along the transmission cable line, who will be impacted by this project.”
Mitigation, she said, should include multiyear scientific analysis of specific areas that will be impacted by the wind farms and “disruption payments” to fishermen if surveys or construction impede their fishing. It should also include long-term payments to fishermen if fishing grounds are “made barren by construction and operation,” or their ability to catch fish in "their traditional fishing grounds is impeded by turbines or cabling,” Brady said.
Orsted said the lease option agreement would place the operations and maintenance facility “adjacent to the commercial fishing and packing operation” of Inlet Seafood. It will serve as a location for vessels to transport workers to and from the wind farm off the Massachusetts/Rhode Island coast.
“The design of the O & M facility is being carefully developed to ensure the South Fork Wind Farm vessels do not impact the existing commercial fishing fleet or the packing operations that operate out of that dock,” the companies said in a statement.
There are six partners in Inlet Seafood, which also includes a seafood restaurant at Montauk Inlet.
Bill Grimm, one of the co-owners of Inlet Seafood and a former commercial fisherman, said in a statement provided by Orsted that it’s “critical that offshore wind developers work with members of the commercial fishing industry to ensure we can all coexist. This agreement outlines how we can work at the dock alongside each other.”