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U.S. dedicates 81,000 acres off LI for commercial wind energy

WASHINGTON

The yearslong process of assessing and approving an expansive wind-farm off the South Shore of Long Island moved another step forward Wednesday when the federal government formally designated the site a “wind-energy area.”

It’s the latest move in a long, slow process that began in 2009, when LIPA, Con Edison and New York Power Authority first announced plans for a collaborative to explore the 200 turbine wind farm. The move sets the same site for competitive bidding by at least two other interested developers.

Federal officials have said they don’t expect construction to begin until at least 2022, if the site is ultimately approved at all. Commercial fishing interests widely oppose the site, which is in fishing grounds known as the New York Bight. It is also surrounded by busy shipping lanes.

On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced a change in the site’s former designation of a “call area,” to a “wind-energy area,” paving the way for a potential lease auction by the federal government, said Tracey Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is overseeing the process.

The 81,130-acre triangular site starts 11 miles south of Long Beach and extends eastward 20 miles south of Robert Moses State Park. In addition to LIPA and its partners, two other developers, Fishermen’s Energy and Energy Management Inc., have expressed an interest in developing a wind farm on the site, officials said.

“The area is large enough for a large-scale commercial wind project, which could make substantial contributions to the region’s energy supply,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the federal bureau, in a statement.

But fishing interests were quick to condemn the move, saying the government could have identified a much smaller segment or avoided the site entirely to protect vital fisheries for squid, monkfish, scallops and other species.

“We’re disappointed to say the least,” said Drew Minkiewicz, an attorney for the Fisheries Survival Fund, which represents 250 scallop fishing permit holders from Massachusetts to North Carolina. They face a combined loss of $5 million annually if the site becomes a wind farm.

Minkiewicz said the group would “use every means available” to stop the effort. The federal government “has to protect existing reasonable uses and they’ve done nothing of the sort so far. They’re clearly violating the law.”

With the new designation, the federal government will now begin an environmental assessment of the site in advance of an expected lease auction among the parties, if all are determined to be eligible. If no environmental issues are identified, the feds would then conduct the auction. Officials stressed that public outreach and input would continue to be part of the process.

If a lease is awarded, site characterization studies would be conducted by the lease winner, which would then submit a site plan. BOEM would follow that with deeper environmental and technical reviews, determining whether the plan should be approved, modified or disapproved. Several additional reviews and assessments would then follow, before construction could begin, perhaps by 2022.

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