The Long Beach City Council Tuesday night proposed what appeared to be an innocuous resolution: a pro forma request that it maintain control over a portion of the Ocean Beach Park in the event that the international energy company Equinor is granted approval to construct underground power lines to operate wind turbines in the Atlantic.
City Council members said they simply wanted to send a request to Gov. Kathy Hochul that Long Beach be given the authority to decide what may be done with beach property should the $3 billion Empire Wind project get a green light from county, state and federal authorities.
That, all agree, is a long way off.
But the mere mention of Equinor sparked a two-hour-long, often raucous response from a standing-room-only crowd in the City Hall meeting room, with many condemning the project, some demanding that it be brought to a halt even before it begins, and others charging that Empire Wind is a “done deal” that the council made without appropriate public hearings.
Council members denied that, arguing that they were simply trying to make sure the city maintains control over the property, and that they were not voting on whether to allow underground transmission lines or any other aspect of the project’s construction.
According to the Norway-based Equinor’s plan, Empire Wind project will have two parts — Empire Wind 1, which will supply power to the Brooklyn area, and Empire Wind 2, which will power the Long Beach area and connect to the E.F. Barrett Power Station in Island Park.
Stations housing the wires that will transmit energy from the wind turbines to land will be built 15 miles to 30 miles offshore. A total of 147 turbines, each 886 feet high, will be three to five miles farther out.
Acting City Manager Ron Walsh, who is also Long Beach’s police commissioner, said the council was simply requesting a Home Rule message, to be approved by the State Legislature and signed by the governor. Home Rule grants autonomy to local government, and states that each level of government has a separate realm of authority. The Legislature is expected to act by the end of its current session, in June.
“We are taking steps to take control of this process,” Walsh said. “If we don’t do this, the state can give (Equinor) permission to take the land. This is about giving the city a say in the process.”
The council unanimously approved the resolution, but the vote came after vociferous calls from many in the audience who said they adamantly oppose the project.
“We don’t want to get radiated,” resident Ron Paganini said.
“To my knowledge, Equinor has not run (underground) cables like this before” in the U.S., another resident, Tim Cramer, said, adding, as did others, that Equinor is a foreign company, and claiming that the project would be of no benefit to anyone but the company. At the same time, Cramer and others said, they favor making the transition away from fossil fuels.
“We all want progress to get to zero emissions,” Cramer said. “But why are we letting foreign nationalists take control here?”
Six Equinor executives sat in the front row at the meeting, listening intently. Afterward, Susan Lineau, the company’s community engagement coordinator, said she was not surprised by the attendees’ reaction.
“People have concerns,” Lineau said. “People do have questions. We remain open” to hearing from the public, she said. “It’s a complex process.”
Equinor has held several public hearings on the project, in Island Park and Long Beach. The state’s Public Service Commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing on Zoom on Thursday, after the Herald went to press.
City Council President John Bendo acknowledged that many of the components of the turbines would not be made in this country. But, he added, “Equinor hopes to start a windmill industry here. We’ll see what comes of it.” Bendo noted that turbines are already in use off the coast of New England, and there are plans to build more elsewhere in U. S. waters.
Attendee Kevin Martinsen said that there has been “no transparency” about the planned project. “Nobody knows about this,” he said, to applause from the crowd. “We don’t trust a company known as Equinor.”
Several others expressed concern that the underground cables could present health problems for residents.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, was among the few supporters of the project. “This is a big project,” she said. “This is new science and new technology that is new to America, but not to the world. If we say no to wind, we say hello to fossil fuel.”
Casey Petrashek, of the New York League of Conservation Voters, also voiced his support.
But the nays far outweighed the yeas. “I want to know if, at the end of the day, this (project) is going to make anything better?” Terry Braddock, of Lido Beach, said.
Councilman Roy Lester responded, “There’s so much that has not been disclosed yet. We are not even discussing (transmission) routes.”