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Fishing, bird groups want deeper review of the impact of Empire Wind 

A commercial fishing boat is dwarfed by a

A commercial fishing boat is dwarfed by a turbine in Deepwater Wind's Block Island wind farm. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

Bird lovers and commercial fishermen want the federal government to dig deeper as it begins a two-year environmental review of a massive wind farm planned for the waters off Long Island's South Shore.

During three public sessions that concluded Thursday to set the agenda for the review, representatives of bird and fishing interests urged the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to look beyond the standard studies to determine how the 174 turbines up to 951 feet tall would impact bird and fish migration and development. Fishermen also called for a compensation fund to make up for lost grounds and gear.

The so-called scoping meetings held by the bureau were an opportunity for individuals and groups to suggest directions and information to guide the environmental review of the project, which is proposed for about 79,000 acres of the Atlantic Ocean 14 miles from Long Beach.

The project array, described by one federal official as shaped like a pizza slice pointed at Long Beach, also would feature two offshore substations and cables that will enter the grid in Brooklyn, Long Beach and a state park in Lido Beach.

Developer Equinor has released a voluminous construction and operation plan on the BOEM website, one that includes video simulations of the visual impact from Jones Beach and New Jersey. The company also gave a detailed presentation during the BOEM public meeting June 30.

Laura Morales, director of permitting for Equinor, noted the operations and maintenance center for both phases of the array would be built in Brooklyn, where Empire Wind 1 will land its cable.

Morales noted the undersea cables would be 15 feet or more under the sea bed in federal waters and 6 feet in state and other nonfederal waters before reaching land. The project recently reduced the number of underwater foundations to 176 from an initially planned 242, she said. The arrays will be lit and marked for aviation and navigation, Morales said, and there will be a one-mile setback from shipping lanes.

At Tuesday's session, Shilo Felton, a field manager for the National Audubon Society, called current aerial surveys planned to study potential bird impacts of the wind farms "a starting point" that needed to be enlarged because they "do not cover enough of the area surrounding the wind energy areas."

She asked BOEM to employ "collision detection technology" to further study the potential impacts on birds, and said monitoring should include the broad range of avian species that may be impacted by offshore wind, including marine birds with high collision and displacement vulnerability, nocturnal migrants" and endangered birds. Bird conservation groups recently sued New York State over its siting process for projects such as offshore wind.

David Wallace, a representative of the surf-clam fishing industry, called for Equinor’s construction and operation plan to be rejected because of concerns about the turbine layout and its impact on safe navigation for fishermen. He also criticized its lack of a fisheries compensation plan to mitigate the loss of fishing grounds and potential gear loss for fishermen who fish the area called the New York Bight.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, echoed the concern about the lack of a compensation plan for fishermen, and added that when she’d previously advised BOEM to remove areas of "fishing importance" from the potential lease area, "nothing was done."

Brett Sparks, a representative of the scallop industry at the Fisheries Survival Fund, said Equinor's construction plan showed the developer had a "fundamental misunderstanding of how our industry" operates, and he urged BOEM to consider an alternative site. He also asked for deeper study on the potential impact of the turbines on scallop settlement and growth and urged BOEM to review the cumulative impacts of many offshore wind turbine projects planned for the Atlantic. Such a study had stalled projects under the Trump administration, but the Biden administration has put them on a fast track.

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