UPPER TOWNHIP - Township Committee in a unanimous vote last week introduced an ordinance amending the redevelopment plan for the former B.L. England power plant to include a substation for the Ocean Wind 1 project.
Controversy over the wind power project led some members of the public to speak at the Jan. 23 meeting, questioning the changes and raising concerns about the wider impact of the offshore wind power plan.
Township officials said a site plan for the proposed substation would also face review by the township Planning Board.
The plant shut down in 2019. Its new owners, the Beesley's Point Development Group LLC, have plans to develop the property.
The change now heads to the township Planning Board for review before returning to the committee for a public hearing and final vote Feb. 27.
Jim Maley, a consultant the township has hired as special counsel on the redevelopment of the sprawling property, said the change would put together zoning standards for the site, which consists of a little more than 7.5 acres.
The site was once where the coal was piled to power the former plant.
The Planning Board can make comments or recommendations on the ordinance amendment, but its role under state statute is to review the changes for consistency with the township's master plan, a required planning document that broadly outlines planning and zoning priorities for municipalities.
According to Maley, plans are moving fast for the proposed substation.
"My understanding is they have already submitted a site plan," he said at the meeting.
Some residents who spoke at the meeting suggested the substation proposal was part of a backroom deal, saying "one woman and the good old boys" made decisions that would affect the entire township.
That appeared to be a reference to Township Committee, which has one female member.
But bringing power from the proposed offshore wind turbines to the electric power grid has been part of the public discussion for years, and a rendering of the building was presented to residents when the offshore wind power company discussed the local impact with residents last year.
In November, officials with Ocean Wind 1, the wind power project, showed renderings of two buildings, about 35 feet tall, surrounded by 80-foot lightning masts.
Plans are for close to 100 wind turbines starting 15 miles off the coast. They would be visible from the beach, as proposed.
Ocean Wind 1, owned by the Danish energy company Ørsted, plans to run a power line under Ocean City at 35th Street and along the public rights-of-way to the former power plant. Upper Township approved easements for the power lines, while Ocean City and Cape May County balked, leading the company to look to the state for approval.
The wind power project is still working its way through the state and federal approval process but has support from President Joe Biden and Gov. Phil Murphy, both Democrats. Many South Jersey officials, including many Republicans, remain skeptical of the proposal.
That skepticism only deepened this winter as several humpback whales have washed up dead on area beaches. Federal officials say there is no evidence that survey work for offshore wind power contributed to those deaths, but several communities have called for a halt to all work and further investigation.
Ocean City Council voted Thursday to approve a resolution calling for a moratorium.
Several speakers at the Jan. 23 meeting opposed the plans, even as they acknowledged the project was beyond the jurisdiction of Township Committee.
Resident Bill Harmon cited the concern over the deaths of whales but added that was not what worried him most about the plans.
"My primary concern is the visual pollution out on what is currently our beautiful horizon," Harmon said. "I can't imagine the insanity of putting hundreds of windmills out there within sight, just destroying the natural beauty of the environment."
Resident Chelsea Headley said any zoning amendment was premature, stating that the project does not have the approvals in place. She said she has spoken to neighboring communities about concerns over the project.
"I implore you to dig deeper into the very real concerns regarding offshore wind development," she said.
Resident Bob Diorio cited the amendment proposal as part of a call for a change in the form of government in Upper Township, calling the current committee form archaic.
Township Committee approved a designation of the former coal-fired power plant site as an area in need of redevelopment in early 2021. The township envisions a hotel and marina at the site, a sprawling area that includes wetlands, forests, a former golf course and the hulking mass of the former power plant, including a towering smokestack.
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