The first environmental impact assessment for a major offshore wind energy project in federal waters got underway this week.

The South Fork Wind Farm, Deepwater Wind’s plan for 15 turbines east of Montauk, N.Y., was the subject at a round of scoping meetings held in Long Island and southern New England by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

It is the first step in developing an environmental impact statement for what will be the second commercial East Coast wind project, following Deepwater’s Block Island Wind Farm, the five-turbine demonstration project that came in line in Rhode Island in late 2016.

Wind energy proponents are looking for the South Fork project to usher in a wave of wind developments, now planned from south of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to Virginia. Skeptics and outright critics – including many in the commercial fishing industry – are looking for BOEM to demand much more from wind developers.

“We know this is our last, best hope,” said Brad Loewen, chairman of the East Hampton Town (N.Y.) Fisheries Advisory Committee, at a Nov. 5 meeting in Amagansett, N.Y., reported.

At the insistence of fishermen, maritime transportation advocates and the Coast Guard, BOEM is making moves to set aside vessel transit corridors through designated and potential wind energy areas.

During public sessions across the New York Bight region in September, BOEM officials said they are considering setting aside an offshore tug and tow transit corridor from Cape May, N.J., to Montauk Point on the eastern tip of Long Island. That corridor could include traffic lanes five miles wide, plus two-mile buffer zones on either side to maintain a safety buffer between passing tows and turbines.

Even as it announced plans to offer an additional 390,000 acres for lease southeast of Martha’s Vineyard, BOEM put wind developers on notice that the agency was heeding demands for safe transit lanes through wind turbine arrays.

“The fishing industry has raised concerns with the ability to safely transit the existing and offered leases, particularly with their ability to quickly and safely return to port during inclement weather,” BOEM officials wrote in an Oct. 19 notice in the Federal Register.

It remains to be seen how BOEM will respond to fisheries-related concerns. The region where South Fork could be the first in a series of large wind developments supports a wide range of seafood harvests, including sea clams, scallops, groundfish trawlers and the Rhode Island squid fleet. It is “the whole shopping cart,” as Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association has called it.

That was much on the mind of the crowd in Amagansett, with calls for deep study of potential construction and operation impacts on fish and wildlife.

The broad potential for impact was outlined by a four-year study that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center delivered to BOEM last December. But in August, experts gathered at the annual American Fisheries Society conference in Atlantic City, N.J., said much more must be done.

“In a few years, we’re going to have a lot of construction, and that doesn’t give us a lot of time to get the baseline down,” said Kevin Stokesbury, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.