Long Island fishing industry mounts legal opposition to proposed wind farm

A dawn picture of the Montauk Point Light, which sits about 35 miles from the location of the proposed wind farm. Photo by Chris Peraino

By Chris Peraino and Joseph Caccavale

The local Long Island fishing industry is prepping a legal case against the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to halt an impending lease of a wind farm 11 miles off the coast of Jones Beach.

The two sides will meet in court by the end of spring or early summer, Andrew Minkiewicz, an attorney representing the interests of the commercial fishing industry, said.

“If you want to build a wind farm ‘that’s great,’ but let’s go through a public process first,” Minkiewicz said.

 

The coalition, spearheaded by a scallop industry trade group, the Fisheries Survival Fund, and comprised of a number of fishing associations and businesses, alleges that BOEM did not adequately consider potential environmental impacts on marine wildlife. Such impacts include possible sedimentation that would disrupt fish, shellfish and squid species, exposure of fish to barotrauma from pile driving practices conducted during installation of the wind farm and the endangerment of bird species that migrate through the area. In return, impediments to commercial fishing production would arise.

As a burgeoning industry, the ramifications of wind farms are just beginning to be realized. Critiques of Maryland and California farms have circulated, with critics citing negative environmental impacts and a decrease in property value of local residents.

“First thing for us is are you going to be destroying the fish,” Bonnie Brady, Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said. “Because if the fish aren’t there, it doesn’t really matter. And if it’s short-term, there is no proof once they do anything of this what are the generational consequences of your actions. That’s why they should be studying this and if they started back in 2000 when they were talking about this cockamamie idea, maybe we would have a better idea as to what’s going on.”

Any impact to New York’s sand ridges, that provide vertical relief up to 10 meters, could put the well-being of “more than 35 federally managed species of fish and shellfish” at risk, according to a February 2013 area assessment conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “These important habitats are likely to occur in the [wind farm’s] area and should be further evaluated prior to any potential project development,” the document states.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided earlier in the month not to grant a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit, finding the insurance of Statoil’s preliminary lease not strong enough to prove immediate, irreparable harm. But the case will continue, with BOEM arguing that the time to assess environmental impact would be further down the line of production, years from now.

“I think you’re supposed to assess them before you make a lease, call me goofy that way,” Brady said.  “But if I were Statoil, I would certainly want it taken care of before the lease is signed because then you just hand over the money and BOEM says thank you very much.”

Statoil, a Norwegian-based wind farm company, won the rights to the wind farm with a record-setting bid of $42.46 million. The previous record for an off-shore wind lease was $8.7, set in 2014 for development off the coast of Maryland.

“Do you not believe that money talks?,” Brady said. “I know there is a great deal of profit involved in the investor. I’m not sure if it’s four to six times more expensive there is any benefit to consumers, but I can’t imagine that destroying the ocean is up on anyone’s list. But that’s what will happen in these areas. These are industrial projects.”

“We take note of the court’s decision,” Peter Symons, head of Statoil’s U.S. media relations said via email. “This offshore wind farm could potentially provide New York City and Long Island with a significant, long-term source of renewable electricity that aligns with New York State’s far-reaching clean energy goals.  Working cooperatively with all stakeholders as we proceed with the study phase of this process is a high priority for Statoil.”

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