Alarming Concerns about Proposed Wind Turbines:  Opinion
    by Jim Papa
 
When the first news articles about LIPA’s proposed offshore wind turbine facility  began to appear in the local press last year, most people were caught unaware. Few had any idea  that LIPA and partner Florida Power & Light (FPL) were eagerly rushing forward with plans to construct an 8.3 square-mile field of forty-story turbines within 3.6 miles of shore in the waters just off Robert Moses, Gilgo and Jones Beach State Parks. Since then, awareness has grown as groups such as the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Jones Beach and the Central Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation (a national, non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through conservation, activism, research and education) have worked hard to inform people about the project’s true nature. Over the past year, concern about the project has grown and opposition to it has intensified. Recent editorials in Newsday have been critical of both the  project and Richard Kessel’s “cartoonish” campaign to convince Long Islanders of its worth. Local elected officials are also beginning to go public with their doubts. At a recent Mineral Management Services (MMS) scoping meeting designed to identify the parameters for an environmental impact study (EIS) for the project, Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone and State Senator Owen Johnson warned federal regulators to look very carefully at the project’s many costs--environmental, economic, and aesthetic-- compared to its very nominal benefit, at best a contribution of 2% of Long Island’s current energy needs.

At civic and governmental meetings from Bay Shore to Bellmore, and from Massapequa to Melville, I’ve heard hundreds of people speak about the project. Some have been in favor of the project, at least in theory, but many more are passionately opposed and with good reason. On an island crowded with strip malls, housing developments, jammed roadways, radio towers, and industrial parks, Long Islanders from Merrick to Montauk cherish the Atlantic’s  open horizon, a gift given to them in the form of oceanfront state parks. “Beauty is its own excuse for being,” wrote Emerson, and those drawn to the ocean’s edge know this is true. What’s more, they know that beauty can be irrevocably lost.

Every time another leafy Long Island glade falls prey to developers, every time the lights of another newly constructed box store wash out a few more stars, every time another egret disappears from a wetland that’s been filled in, something of Long Island’s beauty is destroyed. Perhaps we’ve been naive to believe that the sea off our most beloved beaches is somehow safe from this kind of desecration.  Wild and wooly, expansive and free, it has always there for us to turn to, a wilderness in our backyard. But we can no longer take the pristine seascape beauty for granted. Our little corner of the Atlantic is under attack by corporate interests determined to industrialize it.
 
When confronted for the first time by hundreds of south shore residents  opposed to the project at a civic meeting at Amityville High School in autumn of 2005,  Richard Kessel showed himself an artful fear monger, threatening people with powerplants in their backyards if the project is defeated. He just about wrapped himself up in the American flag when he referred to the rising cost of oil as “economic terrorism,” suggesting opposition to the project was somehow unpatriotic. But in using fear and threats to bully Long Islanders into accepting this facility, Kessel has taken a page from the terrorists’ handbook. Rather than address other alternatives to reduce our need for oil, such as upgrading existing power plants, supporting practical and reliable public transportation on Long Island, or developing new building codes that would ensure houses use less energy, Kessel has taken the sea off our oceanfront parks hostage, and he will not it go.

On July 10, at the first of two MMS scoping meetings, Kessel continued with his bald-faced attempt to peddle fear, referring to recent spikes in the price of oil, and threatening again to build power plants along the south shore. Sadly, various Long Island environmental groups, such as Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment (CCE), some of which have received substantial contributions from LIPA and perhaps FPL as well, have taken to following Kessel’s lead, chanting a frightening mantra of catastrophic outcomes should the offshore turbines be defeated. At recent scoping meetings held by (MMS), admittedly idealistic young people working for CCE repeated a limited litany of environmental threats sure to occur if FPL’s towers aren’t allowed to rise from the sea. To hear them talk,  rising sea levels will submerge our beaches within a generation as a result of global warming and only these forty towers can stop it.

Meanwhile, other more independent environmental groups specifically concerned with the health of our coastal environments have grave reservations about this project. Responding to the Army Corps of Engineers’ call for public comment on this project,  Clean Ocean Action says the LIPA/FPL proposal for the offshore turbine facility is “premature, incomplete, and lacks scientific justification.” Worse, they note that the project is “proceeding without regulations to govern offshore wind development. There are no criteria, rules, management, monitoring, maintenance, decommissioning, or other guidelines for offshore, ocean-placed wind turbines.” Though MMS is in the process of drawing up such regulations for future offshore projects,  Mr. Kessel and FPL have in fact rushed this project through the regulatory process, lobbying successfully for fast-track approvals that would exempt it from any regulations now being considered.

The American Littoral Society (ALS), another well respected environmental group watching out for the ecological health of our coastline, notes that LIPA and FPL “acknowledge that the proposed project is inconsistent with a majority of the marine resource protection and multi-use policies of New York’s Coastal Management Program (CMP).” Of particular importance regarding the 40 miles or so of ocean front parkland from which the turbines and their staging platform will be visible, is ALS’s concern that “the project will significantly impact a State-designated scenic resource or area that, pursuant to CMP Policy 24, is unique and widely recognized and appreciated by the public for its aesthetic values-values that by this policy are to be protected from impairment.” In what is hardly an act of good faith, LIPA and FPL have chosen to locate the project  3.6 miles from shore, where Federal waters begin, in a slick attempt to evade the environmental agencies of New York State, as well as the will of Long Island residents.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is concerned about possible dangers to “rare, threatened and endangered species, including the piping plover, red knot and roseate tern,” as well as potential harm to “a very productive surf clam industry.”

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has extensive and significant concerns about the risks the project poses to the marine and coastal habitats both within and adjacent to the proposed facility. Fish and Wildlife notes that the project has “the potential to adversely affect many natural resources,” and that “a portion of the project area is designated as a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat (SCFWH) as determined by the New York State Department of State, in consultation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)."

These environmental concerns, as well as many more impossible to mention here, should give us pause, but the project also threatens to destroy the aesthetic experience now enjoyed by the millions of yearly visitors to Robert Moses State Park, Jones Beach, Gilgo State Park, Gilgo Beach, Tobay Beach,  and the Fire Island National Seashore. Michael T. Reynolds, Superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore, has raised official concerns  about “impacts to the historic view shed” of the Fire Island National Seashore. And the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, has said that LIPA’s proposal “does not contain sufficient information to fully evaluate the potential impact this project may have on historic and cultural properties,” especially regarding the view shed.

Kessel and his cronies at FPL like to tell us we’ll hardly see the turbines in summer, when the horizon is frequently hidden by haze. But I don’t believe him and neither should you. Sitting on my surfboard just this morning in the waves off Gilgo Beach, with air temps in the low 80s and no wind to speak of, the distant summer sky had its typically gauzy look. Yet when I gazed east I could easily make out the Fire Island lighthouse and the water tower at Robert Moses State Park at least seven miles away. They may have been dull gray columns in the haze,  but my eyes had no trouble seeing them. Meanwhile, Kessel and LIPA claim that the turbines, 2 ½ times the height of the lighthouse and only 3.6 miles from shore, will only be visible half the time in the summer. I suppose the charitable explanation here is that the years have dulled Mr. Kessel’s vision, in more ways than one, and he can no longer see as far as he once did, if he ever could.

At the MMS scoping meeting in Babylon on July 10, Kessel called for two additional scoping meetings on the North Shore and the East End, implying that south shore residents are simply parochial NIMBYs. Perhaps Richard Kessel is unaware that New York State parks are also dot the coast on the North Shore and the East End. Does he think residents elsewhere on the island don’t understand that if LIPA and FPL are given the go ahead to desecrate the seascapes off Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park, not to mention off the Fire Island National Seashore, that no place along this island’s coastline will be safe from similar projects, no less than seven of which are currently seeking permits?

This nation has a long and generous history of setting aside in the public trust some of its most unique and beautiful spaces for people to experience and enjoy.  As early as the 1840s, America’s visionaries began calling on the American people to preserve America’s dwindling wilderness for the people’s benefit. By the late 1800s, long before Earth Day and the ecology movment, we had created our first national parks. But it isn’t simply remote wilderness  we find necessary. Even portions of our greatest cities have also been permanently set aside as parks where people might have the opportunity to reflect, enjoy nature, or engage in various outdoor pursuits. Those of little means, who can’t afford to escape the cities they toil in, find such places priceless.

Robert Moses, whatever his faults, believed in this American ideal and had the vision, the determination, and the political savvy to create for New Yorkers an incredible state park system, encompassing mountains, forests, rivers, and ocean shores. Jones Beach State Park, considered Moses’ greatest achievement, is known around the world as a place where average folk might breathe clean sea air, swim in the surf, or gaze upon an unspoiled ocean.

For the past year LIPA and FPL have tried to convince us that we have become so desperate a nation, and fallen into such dire economic straits, that we must sacrifice not only the ideals of the last 175 years-- ideals championed by such great American thinkers as Henry Thoreau, John Muir, and Frederick Law Olmstead-- but that we must desecrate Jones Beach State Park, Robert Moses State Park and the western portion of the Fire Island National Seashore  by industrializing the parks’ seascapes. They tell us we must do so in order to keep TVs blazing in 44,000  Long Island homes. They tell us that we have no choice but to fence in our oceanfront parks with forty story turbines.

Well, I and others have news for Richard Kessel and FPL. We will not be frightened into believing we have no other choice. We will not be frightened into believing that America’s parklands are suddenly expendable and up for corporate grab. We will not be frightened into abandoning our duty to protect Jones Beach or any other state or national park from the kind of industrialization people go to parks to escape. We do not believe, as Mr. Kessel claims, that turbines are as beautiful as seabirds or an unspoiled ocean horizon. We do not believe the sanctity of our parks is temporary. We will not be fooled by a Trojan horse painted green.

Since their creation, our public parklands, both national and state, as well as our environment, have come under repeated attack by those who would exploit or damage them for profit and gain. That we have so far continued to defend against such attacks attests to the best of who we are as a people. Our fight to save our parks and coastal environment from industrialization isn’t ours alone. If LIPA and FPL win here, it will set a dangerous precedent whereby other parks and sensitive coastal regions will fall victim to the same sort of industrialization.

LIPA and FPL argue that this project is outside the boundaries of our oceanfront state parks, but these parks were created with the horizon in mind.  Industrializing the waters adjacent to these parks will destroy the rationale behind their creation: that people might have a chance to experience the mystery and the beauty of a wild, unspoiled sea.