A group of residents say local officials failed to properly assess environmental and safety hazards in granting an easement to build a power line through the town of Wainscott on Long Island.
LONG ISLAND (CN) — Plans to build the country’s largest wind farm off the coast of Long Island stumbled Tuesday after residents filed a petition to stop construction of a route to carry power from the turbines.
Residents of the hamlet of Wainscott claim the East Hampton Town Board approved a transmission cable running through the town, which would connect to the $1.6 billion wind farm, without first doing a full environmental or safety review.
The board acted “precipitously and on an ill-informed basis,” the petition states, pre-approving the project and granting an easement to allow construction off the eastern point of Long Island’s South Fork.
Petitioners, who formed a group called the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, say they “warned the board several times that proceeding to grant the easement at this time would be illegal … and proposed alternatives that would have materially reduced the environmental impacts.”
The cable’s landing route, and a proposed 2.37-acre substation outside the Village of East Hampton, are the focus of the petition — not the wind farm project itself.
Residents say that the board did not respond to the group or “consider the alternative landing routes” it presented, according to the 50-page petition filed in Suffolk County court.
The residents add that approving the easement was “driven by bad faith, authoritarian motives, and irrationality,” noting that Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc compared the 138,000-volt electric transmission cable to installing a water main.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the South Fork wind farm, one of two such projects for which construction is set to begin this year, during his State of the State address in January. The pair of plants are set to become the two largest in the country, located 20 miles from Jones Beach and 60 miles from Montauk Point, respectively.
“Don’t worry,” Cuomo said in his address, “neither will be visible from the shore.”
Together, the two wind farms are expected to produce 2,400 megawatts of power. A typical coal plant produces about 600 megawatts.
Cuomo’s proposal was met with praise from renewable energy advocates like Anne Reynolds, executive director of the nonprofit Alliance for Clean Energy New York.
“It is impressive that New York now has contracts for half of the 9,000 MW of offshore wind energy we are aiming for,” Reynolds said about the wind turbine plans.
To transmit all that power throughout New York state, Cuomo proposed building a “green energy transmission superhighway” connecting power plants to parts of the state that require the most energy, like New York City.
But building transmission routes through residential communities is the wrong approach, residents of Wainscott say in their petition. They claim that the route would create risks of electrical fires, water contamination and electromagnetic fields.
Materials like petroleum, which would be used in construction, pose additional risks, the residents say.
On the environmental front, the high-voltage cable would require drilling under the beach, including beneath environmentally vulnerable dunes. That leaves the possibility that beach erosion from storms will require replenishing sand to maintain the cable — thus disrupting the ecology of the beach.
Gouri Edlich, chairperson and co-founder of the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, said the town’s board and supervisor “appeased the developer and put Wainscott at risk in the process.”
“A competent town board would have hired environmental and transmission experts to evaluate these plans, to ensure that the developer is properly accounting for every possible issue and grill the developers to ensure this project gets done right,” Edlich said in a statement.
“We all support renewable energy, and we want to see that goal completed,” Edlich said. “But there are better ways to accomplish this important goal.”