For the third consecutive Long Beach City Council meeting, residents Tuesday night demanded that the city formally oppose plans by the Norwegian energy company Equinor to build a wind farm off the South Shore, saying they feared the environmental and health hazards of the electrical wiring needed to power the turbines, which would be routed underground through Long Beach.
Council members insisted that they have virtually no authority to block the project, Empire Wind 2, which is now being evaluated by the state Public Service Commission. Wind power also has strong support from Gov. Kathy Hochul and President Biden. The council has approved a home rule message saying it can raise objections to laying the cables beneath the city, but the state can seize the property through eminent domain.
Speaker after speaker condemned Empire Wind 2, with some saying that congressional and other officials in New Jersey are taking strong stands against a similar project in that state. One speaker peppered council members with questions about their positions on the project. Those who responded said they favored moving away from the use of fossil fuels, but expressed concerns about the cables and their impact on public health.
Council President John Bendo said he had been in talks with Equinor and state officials, and acknowledged that the company had done an “abysmal job” of communicating with the public about the project.
“Being a nuclear engineer, I’m no stranger to projects that are controversial with people,” Bendo said. “So, during my conversation with Equinor, which I would say was a rather cordial but forceful conversation, I effectively told them I thought they were doing an absolutely abysmal job of informing the public on this project.”
Bendo claimed that the company had responded by saying that it would “do better.” He has also reached out to Hochul’s office in an effort to persuade her to put more pressure on Equinor to be more transparent about its plans.
Bendo had “spoken to people in the governor’s office several times now,” he said, “and (I) have basically beaten up on them as well about the same thing, demanding that they come down on Equinor and tell them they better start doing a better job of informing our residents about the project. … They claimed they were going to help, and I’m going to hold them to that.”
Equinor has given presentations about Empire Wind 2 in Long Beach and surrounding communities, including Island Park, starting last year. The presentations have included question-and-answer sessions.
The wind turbines would be located 15 to 30 miles offshore, and would, according to the company, generate enough electricity to power up to 700,000 homes when the project comes online, perhaps as early as 2027. The cables routed beneath Long Beach would extend 3.3 miles to a substation in Island Park, which in turn would connect with the E.F. Barrett Power Station.
The city has hired a team of consultants to study and evaluate the project.
Resident Brendan Finn and others asked why the electric cables could not run through the inlets on the barrier island to the Barrett plant.
“With regards to the routes, that’s up to the company,” Police Commissioner Ron Walsh, the acting city manager, responded. “The route is not up to us.”
“The government is pushing this down our throats,” Finn said.
“Does the state want this? Yes,” Bendo responded. “The state has a very aggressive plan for wind farms. This is the direction they want to go, to wean themselves off fossil fuel. New York is looking to greener sources.”
Another resident, Tim Kamer, complained that Equinor is a foreign company that wants to expand in the United States. “Everyone will be at the mercy of foreign companies,” he said.
Kamer also expressed concern about the project’s potential negative impact on marine life, and asked when Long Beach officials became aware of the project, and when they began educating residents about it.
Bendo said the project was “a state project. Any news we got was from news sources. We had no briefings.”
John McNally, a spokesman for the city said, “There have been no less than 27 posts (about the project) on our website.”
Attendee Irene Price, who said that her daughter died of breast cancer, added that she worried about the health impacts of the project. “I’m for clean energy, but not at the risk of our health,” she said. “As our elected council, serve and protect us. Please make the right decision. Don’t sell us out.”
Charlie Price, who is also opposed to the development, said, “Do not allow this project to move forward,” and added, to applause, “The current route is a disaster.”
Bill Phillips asked council members for their opinions. “I am still looking into this,” council member Roy Lester said. “I do not want anything unsafe for this town.” Phillips asked Lester.
“What is most important to you?” Phillips asked him.
Lester said he felt it was important to stop global warming.
“We do need to transfer away from fossil fuels,” Bendo said, but he added that he was “concerned about the cable routing.”
Phillips noted that New Jersey legislators are fighting wind turbine projects there, and asked Long Beach officials to do the same here.
“I have called the governor’s office several times to beat up on them,” Bendo said.
“Empire Wind has held over 100 meetings with a wide range of elected officials, community members, organizations and local small businesses in the area, including many with the City of Long Beach,” Lauren Shane, the director of communications for Equinor, said in a statement. “We invite community members to join or two upcoming open houses — on May 3 in Island Park and June 8 in Long Beach. This will be a good opportunity to ask questions, sort through misinformation and learn facts about the project.”
North Park bulkhead updates
Late last month, iron gates were erected in Long Beach’s North Park section, signaling that work had finally begun on mitigating the flooding that regularly affects the area. Meeting attendees got an update on the city’s plans for the project.
Tom Schaefer, of D&B Engineers and Architects, in Woodbury, the product engineer, gave a half-hour-long presentation on what the company is calling the Critical Infrastructure Flood Protection Project. The work was initially approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2013, the year after Superstorm Sandy, and Schaefer and D&B got involved in 2014.
Schaefer shared the company’s key goals for the project. “Number one is, we want to fortify that short shoreline to protect against that chronic flooding and erosion that’s occurring,” he said. “It’s the only portion of Reynolds Channel that is currently unprotected.”
The second objective, Schaefer said, is to better manage stormwater runoff in the area. He explained that what’s happening now is that anytime the existing stormwater outfall on Riverside Boulevard is submerged by high tides, the collection system is not forcing that water out, because there’s not enough pressure.
“Number three,” Schaefer said, “all those utilities that are beneath Water Street, along Reynolds Channel, along the shoreline, have not been upgraded since most likely when they were originally installed. So, as part of the project, we’re going to upgrade all those utilities. We’re starting by the boat ramp by the dog park.”
Schaefer said he expected the bulkhead installation to start in July, and continue through August. The installation of a new pump station would begin in October, and be completed a year later.
In other news, Walsh and the City Council appointed Dennis Cohen Long Beach’s new corporation counsel. Cohen is a former Suffolk County attorney, deputy and chief deputy county executive and district court judge.