Federal officials in charge of leasing ocean bottom land to offshore wind farm companies got an earful at a meeting with commercial fishermen Wednesday — and much of it was R-rated.
There isn’t merely significant opposition to offshore wind farms; there is 100-percent agreement among the fishermen that the wind turbines will eventually put them out of business.
The anger is palpable, and representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management took the brunt of it, enduring a tirade of complaints. “This is how we talk on the docks,” one salty speaker exclaimed.
At issue is a federal directive — fueled in part, some say, by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo — to award leases for two more tracts of ocean bottomland that will eventually be home for wind farms. So far, 13 leases have been awarded to developers.
Brian Hooker, a fisheries biologist, David Nguyen, a project coordinator, and Isis Johnson, an environmental protection specialist, tried for close to four hours to get through a prepared program. They are charged with choosing two locations from within four giant swatches of ocean bottom off the coasts of Long Island and New Jersey. The fishing industry reps don’t think there should be any offshore turbines, period.
Deepwater Wind, which has a project slated off the coast of Montauk called South Fork Wind and runs the Block Island Wind farm, was the subject of much of the ire and criticism, though that company may or not come into play on the tracts of ocean bottom being discussed.
Once BOEM identifies parcels that can be leased, any company that wants to do so can express interest; if more than one does, there will be an auction.
Hooker made an introductory presentation, pointing out that the wind companies that win a lease will pay for the lease plus a rental fee, plus royalties.
“They are stealing our fishing grounds by placing them on our place of work. They are industrializing the ocean floor,” said Bonnie Brady, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.
That, said lobster boat captain Anthony Sosinski, is the crux of the problem. Any discussion about mitigating the effect the wind turbines have on fish so they can coexist is ludicrous, he charged. “It’s like putting a junkyard in the middle of a farm field,” he said. “The noise and sounds aren’t natural to what has been going on for a million years.”
Ryan Fallon said he has spent his life on the water. “Everyone is against [the wind farms]. This is my life, my daughter’s life. I almost brought her here so you could look her in the eyes,” said Fallon, whose father was a commercial fisherman and bought him his first boat. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12. I’ll die before I let you take it away.”
One individual didn’t wait around for an introduction. “You people make me sick!” he yelled as he stormed into the meeting. “This is bull***t. F*** you!”
Several speakers wondered why, if the powers-that-be wanted wind power, they couldn’t mount the turbines on land. Others suggested putting all the wind turbines on the ocean in one spot so the disrupted area would be smaller.
“We work hard to ensure all of this information gets out,” Johnson told those assembled, but the BOEM official admitted the meeting was not being taped, so the discussion that was transpiring wasn’t on the record. However, those in attendance were asked to submit written comments either online or by mail. The deadline is July 25. More information is available by phone at 978-281-9180.
Four areas are under consideration to site wind farms. Fairways North off the South Fork of Long Island, and Fairways South, to its southwest, are separated by a channel approximately three-miles wide. Hudson North, off the coast of New York, and Hudson South off the coast of New Jersey are the other two.
The idea of siting the wind turbines away from fishing grounds is indicative of the lack of knowledge the BOEM planners bring to the table, according to Sosinski. “The whole ocean is moving. Fish move. Whatever is on the ocean bottom will be blown to bits” when the turbines are installed, he added.
David Airipotch concurred. The BOEM has designed corridors it insists fishermen can navigate without being disturbed by the wind turbines. But Airipotch said there are navigational issues. “Fishing isn’t like driving down one street and then up another,” he said.
He also broached for the first time at the meeting, the matter of compensation, which then became a rallying cry. Airipotch said if he earns $350,000 fishing in a certain location, he should be compensated if wind turbines are installed and the fish leave the grounds. “You close it, you pay me.” Hooker acknowledged fishermen would not be able to operate near the wind farms during the installation phase and said he was not opposed to lobbying for compensation under the right circumstances.
Steve Gaugher was one of many who spoke about the adverse environmental affects that are never mentioned by wind farm proponents. He said as more wind turbines are built, “It’s just a matter of time before some oil freighter slams into one of them” and the oil washes up on Long Island beaches.
Fish aren’t the only species in peril, noted Patrice Dalton, who urged the BOEM representatives to read the New York State Wind Master Plan. The study concludes dozens of bird species will experience “high” collision rates with wind turbines and many of them will have a “medium to high” displacement rate, meaning they will disappear from their habitat if wind turbines are built there.
“Based on the review, these things will pillage birds that spend most of their time at sea. Gulls, terns, almost everything. It’s shocking,” Dalton said.
The BOEM was established in 2010 as an agency within the Department of the Interior. It is responsible for overseeing renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf in an environmentally sound manner. Governor Andrew Cuomo asked federal officials to award two more leases in the New York area by the end of the year.
Jim Gilmore of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also attended the meeting. Julia Prince, a Montauk resident and former East Hampton Town Board member, stood in the doorway for some of the meeting. She is now a Deepwater consultant. At one point she was called a “traitor” and a “sellout” when she tried to interject a comment.
No one from the East Hampton Town Board attended the meeting. The town board and town trustees are scheduled to vote on an application from Deepwater that would allow the company to run a cable from its proposed South Shore Wind Farm onto land in Wainscott.