OCEAN CITY – Public opinion on Ocean Wind 1, a proposed wind farm from Danish power company Orsted, remains deeply divided as over 250 fishermen, activists, politicians, Ocean City locals, and New Jersians showed up Nov. 14 to give feedback on whether Orsted should run power cabling through a small slice of county-owned land in Ocean City.
Commenters rarely stuck to the script. The night was primarily moderated by Alan Belniak, who constantly reminded the public not to make comments of too broad a scope. Speakers were asked to only comment on the proposed use of Green Acres county land – under an acre in total – despite the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ (BPU) decision in late September of 2022 to allow the project to continue without the consent of Ocean City.
Katherine Perry, a permit manager for Ocean Wind 1, said that Ocean City will be minimally affected by the cabling once the installation is complete. The cables, to be installed under Ocean City’s 50th street beaches, will be put into place with directional boring that, according to an Orsted presentation given before public comment, will have minimal impacts on the beach’s surface.
On-land cabling elsewhere will run alongside county-owned roads, but Dave Hinchey, a senior manager with Public Service Enterprise Group, said that construction will take place during the off-season. A single manhole will be the only long-term impact on the roads, he said.
Orsted has offered to pay for 15 times the land value of the Green Acres parcel through which the cables would run; Ocean City and Cape May County would not bear any of the costs associated with the project.
Despite constant reminders to stick to the subject of this Green Acres land use, it was perhaps appropriate that comments focused on the Ocean Wind 1 project as a whole given a recent BPU approval that allows the cabling to proceed, barring any litigation. The BPU’s ability to trump local municipal consent comes from an interpretation of a 2021 state law that previous Herald reporting called “strict and narrow.”
Suzanne Hornick, an Ocean City local and a frequent character at Ocean Wind 1-related meetings, said that this decision to overturn home rule “isn’t fair for the people in Ocean City.” She said, “we don’t want this here in any way, shape or form.” She stressed that Orsted has not done proper research into alternate cabling routes that would avoid Ocean City and Cape May County land.
She also said that the wind farms will be “bad for reef fishing” and that the farms will “destroy shellfish and benthic life” on which the shellfish industry depends.
The public hearing was originally slated to take place in person at the Flanders Hotel Oct. 3 but was delayed due to coastal flooding in Ocean City; the meeting was moved online over a month later. Hornick, and others, expressed frustration at the shifting dates and confusing process by which Ocean Wind 1 seeks government approvals.
Brooke Croston, a New Jersian who spoke at the hearing, said that she supports the project overall but was similarly confused by the evolving explanations provided by Orsted.
Alice Andrews, an Ocean City local, expressed vehement approval of the project. She said that her family has had a house in Ocean City for over a century. “We are completely in favor of the wind farm project and these easements,” she said. “Our country needs energy from many sources.”
Doug Bergen, Ocean City’s public information officer, said that the project will ultimately disrupt Ocean City’s beach and wetland ecosystems; he spoke on behalf of the city when he said that “this is a usurpation of the city’s rights.”
Despite stiff opposition from Bergen, Hornick, and many other locals, fishermen from Cape May County and other parts of New Jersey came out in support of the project.
Paul Eidman, a fishing boat captain and member of Anglers for Offshore Wind Power, said that the threats brought about by ocean acidification and climate change are far greater than any impacts the wind farm could bring. He said that ocean acidification is already a noticeable threat to New Jersey’s bivalve populations.
“It’s time to make the connection between offshore wind and more fishing opportunities,” Eidman said.
Captain Chris Carschon, a fisherman from Avalon, said that he looks “forward to fishing on these structures.” He said, “as a fisherman in Cape May County, I already see fish populations moving north as a result of changing temperatures… Power sources with less environmental impact are critical and needed.”
This was a trend among those who support the farm: they stressed the importance of moving the project forward and stressed the consequences of inaction. Climate activists, professors, labor representatives, and concerned citizens from around the state spoke at the hearing in support of the project and urged those in opposition to observe the already detrimental changes taking place in the Atlantic Ocean as ocean temperatures rise.
Still, local opposition to the project remains stiff. Most Ocean City locals – but not all – spoke out against the project and expressed dismay at the state’s decision to overrule the city. Michael DeVlieger, a former Ocean City council member, said that the legislation that allowed the easement approvals is “illegal.” In reference to Orsted, he said that the city has endured “three years of being tortured by these guys.”
The battle is not over for Ocean Wind 1. The project still seeks key approvals from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and Ocean City politicians have hinted that a lawsuit challenging the easement approvals could be on the way. And if the high participation in the night’s meeting – over 250 people tuned in at 6 p.m. on a Monday – is any indication, the public’s eye remains steady on the project.
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