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    Near-unanimous opposition to wind at OC forumOfficials, crowd almost unanimously opposed to offshore wind at Ocean City meeting


    March 17, 2023 - BILL BARLOWStaff Writer

     

      OCEAN CITY - Hundreds of people crowded the Ocean City Tabernacle on Wednesday for a public meeting on offshore wind power proposals, with participants almost unanimously opposed to turbines off the coast.

      One speaker in favor, Jim Akers of Landisville, received loud boos from the other members of the public, until Michael Donohue called for them to quiet down.

      Donohue, a former superior court judge, is Cape May County's special counsel for matters related to the wind farm proposals, and led the presentation at the town hall-style meeting, presented by the county and by Ocean City.

      Both Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and Cape May County Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio spoke at the start of the meeting, but they left the bulk of the discussion to Donohue.

      Over the course of about an hour, Donohue outlined what is proposed off the coast and what has happened so far. He and other officials say the local governments do not oppose wind power projects, even as he made clear they have multiple objections to what is in the works for South Jersey and beyond.

      That included a state move to take decisions related to the route of an electric cable away from the city and county and leave them to the state Board of Public Utilities to decide. One of two routes will bring the power line from the planned Ocean Wind 1 project under Ocean City and along county roads to a planned new electrical substation in the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township.

      Ocean City has challenged the BPU decision to allow that route, and Cape May County will likely do so as well in the short term, Donohue said.

      Donohue also argued that the planned wind turbines would have a devastating impact on local tourism while doing little to address climate change, the stated reason for the wind development. He showed images comparing the monopod wind turbines to landmarks like the Eifel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, as well as casino buildings closer to home.

      "There will be 98 of these turbines installed," he said.

      Donohue also argued that the proposed offshore wind farms cannot be evaluated in isolation, when there are proposals for projects along much of the Atlantic coast.

      "The plan is for these to go the full length from New England to New Jersey and below," Donohue said. "It's all one continuous wind farm."

      He also said the BPU's role as an independent agency reviewing applications related to the wind power projects is not compatible with its role as a proponent of offshore wind.

      The closest to beginning construction, and the target of much of the ire at the Ocean City meeting, is Ocean Wind 1, planned for 15 miles off the coast. That is owned by the Danish energy firm Ørsted, which, as Donohue pointed out, had been in the oil and gas business and now operates wind farms around the world.

      The deaths of multiple whales this winter, many of them washing ashore in New Jersey, has galvanized opposition to the wind power projects. State and federal authorities say there is no evidence that offshore survey work conducted for the projects had anything to do with the whale deaths, but some offshore wind power critics made that connection even after the first whale death took place, and most people at the meeting appeared firmly convinced of a connection.

      Neither the county nor Ocean City is claiming that the project preparations are killing whales, Donohue said.

      "But we don't know, and that's a problem," he said. "So, we don't know why the whales are striking ships or otherwise dying more frequently at the moment, but somehow we do know that has nothing to do with the wind project."

      Donohue did not paint an entirely bleak picture of the proposal, saying construction of the project would create a lot of good-paying jobs for local union labor. But that does not answer every question the county has.

      Most members of the public were far less measured in their comments about the project proposal, with one woman comparing the line of windmills to a noose around the community and a man saying the view of windmills would ruin his enjoyment of the sunrise.

      The meeting was set to end at 7:30 p.m., but Donohue extended the time to comment until 8. He encouraged speakers to be brief, and for those who wanted to remain involved to attend Thursday's hearing planned by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, in Wildwood.

      Former Ocean City Council member Mike DeVlieger, who has been critical of the Ocean Wind proposal for years, was the first to speak. He connected the whale deaths to the project.

      "Maybe it's for the best," DeVlieger said. "Because it turned out a lot of people, and people are starting to take notice of what we've been talking about for the last three years."

      Multiple speakers raised other concerns about offshore wind, including an expected increase to electricity costs, and the impact of electromagnetic fields.

      Other speakers denied climate change was a concern at all, saying it was instead a means of frightening the American public, or stating the windmills would be a security risk because the power supply could be sabotaged.

      Local resident Bob DiIorio called the Jersey Shore the best place to live and vacation, and described his family as proud Cape May County natives, adding, "the natives are getting restless."

      Akers described himself as an avid recreational fisherman.

      "I think that offshore wind power is an imperative step toward clean energy," he said. "Offshore wind is going to be good for the environment, good for the economy and good for the local workforce."

      He finished his comments before the boos and laughter began, with a smattering of applause.

      Both Donohue and Gillian said that they wanted to hear from all residents, including those in favor of developing offshore wind power.

      The county had planned to hold public meetings on the project for some time, and more will be held in the future, Donohue said.

      "God bless the whales. We don't want any more whales to die. We didn't want those whales to die, but they certainly crystalized interest," Donohue said. "And that interest has led beyond the whales to what's really happening here."

      Contact Bill Barlow:609-272-7290bbarlow@pressofac.comTwitter @jerseynews_bill

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