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Offshore Wind

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Long Island’s fishing industry may have dodged a bullet this hurricane season, although the official season for the Atlantic Basin does not end until Nov. 30. Yet stormier seas may be brewing for the years ahead.

Local fishermen sounded an upbeat tune after a sequence of intense tropical cyclones did not make landfall. While precipitation disrupted some local events in recent weeks, fishing operations have gone along without interruption.

Eric Huner owns and operates Captain Fish Port Jefferson, a fishing charter boat based in Port Jefferson that transports tourists and locals for fishing charters.

“For me personally, it didn’t affect me at all,” he told TBR News Media. “I can’t say there’s any real loss, probably for any private fishing boat like myself.”

On the commercial fishing side, the experience was relatively similar, according to Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.

“As far as those guys that were fishing, most guys were out fishing the next day” after Hurricane Lee brushed past the Northeast, she said. “There wasn’t really much of an impact, thank goodness.”

Difficult past, uncertain future

Those interviewed suggested the Long Island fishing industry had averted a major threat with these storms avoiding landfall.

Reflecting upon the commercial impacts of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Brady remembered it as “particularly vicious” for the shoreline, with consequences for the fishing industry as well.

However, Huner said that irregular winds and tidal patterns are increasingly commonplace, complicating matters for his business. With projections for more frequent and intense storms, Huner said his line of work is becoming less predictable, noting the increasing difficulties in deciding which days to fish and selecting departure times.

“This year was the first time I took notice of the weather patterns being very difficult to predict,” he said. There was “a lot of volatility in the wind patterns, difficult to find windows of opportunity to go out,” adding, “It was not a normal, stable summer.”

More broadly, Brady expressed reservations about the regional trend toward offshore wind, saying this infrastructure could disrupt the local fishing industry.

“Offshore wind is going to, from our perspective, industrialize the ocean beyond any kind of repair,” she said. “It’s a very frightening time for our ocean, and that’s why we’re fighting so hard against it.”

Optimistic outlook

Huner said that the fisheries remain well populated despite the climactic challenges, a positive indicator that conservation efforts are working.

He also stated that the nature of the trade requires frequent adaptation to changing conditions. “The local fisherman is a pretty experienced person on the water,” he said. “I’m constantly reviewing what the weather forecasts are, what the wind forecasts are — and that’s a big part of my job.”

He added, “It takes a little more work, and if this is going to be what we call our ‘new normal,’ then we’re just going to have to be really on top of it.”

Adding to these sentiments, Brady said local fishermen are used to adapting “to changes in the water every day.”

“Those who are good at this trade tend to be experiential learners,” she said. “Every day, the ocean can change. The tides change. The moon changes. So they learn to adapt based on living it.”

Rendering of the planned Sunrise Wind headquarters located at 22 Research Way in East Setauket. Photo by Sunrise Wind

Though it still requires formal agreements with local government, the Sunrise Wind offshore wind farm project is talking specifics on landfall for its electrical lines, adding even more emphasis on Brookhaven town.

Sunrise Wind now plans to make landfall at Smith Point before going up William Floyd Parkway to connect to the Holtsville Substation. Image by Sunrise Wind

Sunrise Wind plans to create a 110-turbine, 880-megawatt wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. During an online community open house Nov. 16, representatives of the project, which is being duel-headed by Denmark-based Ørsted and East Coast-based Eversource, explained plans for having the electrical lines make landfall at the parking lot of Smith Point County Park on the South Shore. Those lines would then feed under the Smith Point Bridge and then under William Floyd Parkway. 

The cables will extend north beneath the William Floyd Parkway for 3.8 miles, crossing under the Long Island Rail Road tracks before going west toward the Holtsville electrical substation.

A complete construction and operations plan will be made available in 2021, according to Sunrise Wind reps. The project could be operational as soon as 2024, as long as current timelines hold.

Ken Bowes, vice president of offshore wind siting and permitting for Sunrise, said they do not currently have a formal agreement with either Suffolk County, which owns Smith Point County Park and William Floyd Parkway, or the Town of Brookhaven for its roadways the underground electrical cables will need to use with the electrical substation. He said they look to have two formal agreements “that will compensate each fairly for the use of the facilities” in the near future.

“The town — we’ll hopefully be partners with them for the next 20 years,” he said. 

The project has touted the Port Jefferson and Setauket areas as its main base of operations once the wind turbines are operational. Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) told TBR News Media last month that Sunrise Wind had purchased a site in East Setauket as its main office space, which is also to be used as a training center for the people who service the turbines. 

This empty building located at 22 Research Way in East Setauket could be Sunrise Wind’s new office site, as well as a training center for those meant to go out on boats to work on the offshore wind project. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sunrise Wind released a statement saying the nearly 60,000-square foot, multi-purpose Research Way facility will house members of the permanent staff of Sunrise Wind and South Fork Wind, among other teams, including positions such as technician, warehouse coordinator, contract manager, head of site, and other offshore and onshore jobs. The facility will be renovated to include custom office and warehouse space to handle marine coordination, contract and site management, as well as spare parts storage, among other activities. 

Workers and equipment will be loaded and unloaded on its over-260-foot repair vessel at a special dock to be constructed in Port Jefferson Harbor.

“The deep-water harbor in Port Jefferson, combined with the talent pool and resources on Long Island, make the area ideally-suited to serve as a regional O&M hub for our Northeast offshore wind farms,” Ørsted Offshore North America’s Head of Operations, Mikkel Maehlisen said. “We’re eager to begin our work there and become members of the local community.” 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who originally proposed to the offshore wind corporations that Port Jeff be used as a home base for Sunrise Wind, said he was “delighted that Ørsted and Eversource have decided to strategically locate their Sunrise Wind Operations and Maintenance center near both the deep-water harbor that is Port Jefferson and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University.”