OCEAN CITY - Protesters on Tuesday morning blocked the start of work on 35th Street, a project laying the groundwork for power lines traversing the barrier island as part of an offshore wind energy project.
Six people were arrested. City officials said they were given several warnings before they were charged with disorderly conduct - failure to disperse and obstruction of public pathways, a petty disorderly persons offense.
At its height, the protest had about 60 people in the street preventing a work crew from J. Fletcher Creamer and Son contractors of Hackensack from starting for the day.
Suzanne Hornick, who organized the protest, said the intention was to stop the work for about an hour and then leave the crew to start the project by 9 a.m.
"They were very kind to us," she said. "We expressed to them that this isn't about the workers. They have a job to do."
By 10:30, however, a dwindling number remained on 35th Street. Hornick said about 11:30 that she left the scene and that some were planning to be arrested.
"I hope they don't do that," she said.
Hours later, police charged six of the protesters. According to city spokesperson Doug Bergen, those gathered were given several warnings, starting at 8:30 a.m. with the last given just after noon. They were also offered a spot about 10 feet from the work zone where they could continue to protest.
"The individuals chose not to vacate the work zone and forced officers to arrest them to provide a safe area for the workers," Bergen said.
Those charged were Denise Philipp, 53, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania; Karen Corsi, 66, of Woodbury; Shani Kovacevic, 44, of Ocean View; Bonna Neang-Weinstein, 58, of Rydal, Pennsylvania; Robert Weinstein, 73, also of Rydal; and Lee Darby-Rinaldi, 59, of Absecon.
"This is how democracy works," Mayor Jay Gillian said in a statement, in which he reiterated his concerns with offshore wind power. "I wish we would not have had to arrest anybody, but I understand their passion. I hope that our state and federal officials are paying attention. We're about to spend billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars on a project with way too many unknowns."
The street was blocked off for the work, with warning signs on Asbury and Central avenues stating that the block was open to authorized personnel only. The sign warned of hazards from equipment and open trenches.
Two State Police troopers watched the protest from the sidelines. They declined to say why State Police were at the site rather than Ocean City officers.
Members of the work crew also declined to comment about the protest or the work. The crew members avoided engaging with the protesters. At one point, when one of the participants sought to talk to the crew about her conviction that climate change is a hoax, the worker instead sought to talk with her about the two friendly dogs that were with her.
"Ocean Wind 1 continues to progress with today's commencement of in-road site investigation in Ocean City, said Tom Suthard, stakeholder relations manager for Ørsted in New Jersey, in a statement emailed Tuesday. "We respect the public's right to peacefully protest, however, the health and safety of the workers and members of the local community is our top priority. We appreciate the support of local law enforcement who work every day to keep our communities safe."
The work is being done as part of Ocean Wind 1, an offshore wind project by Danish energy company Ørsted. Calls are for 98 wind turbines to be built about 15 miles off the coastline, in a project New Jersey officials hope will grow the state's clean-energy economy.
The project is set to be the first large-scale wind farm off the New Jersey coast, and has drawn fierce opposition from coastal communities. Offshore work was set to begin next year, but at the end of August, Ørsted said work would be delayed unit 2026, citing supply chain issues, rising costs from inflation and other factors.
Company officials said they considered abandoning the project entirely, but they believe the offshore wind farm will eventually turn a profit.
Gov. Phil Murphy has backed the plan and described the wind farm as an important step toward moving New Jersey entirely to green energy. The project is expected to power a half-million homes via massive turbines that will be visible from the beach.
The protesters at 35th Street want the project stopped, not delayed.
"It's not green, it's not clean," speakers said Tuesday morning.
Hornick and others said the project will be disruptive to communities and will hurt wildlife.
They called out Murphy and other politicians, and booed loudly when Hornick mentioned President Joe Biden.
Several participants remain convinced that work mapping the ocean floor in advance of Ocean Wind 1 and other projects led to an extraordinary number of whale deaths last winter, although federal marine mammal experts maintain there is no evidence that the sound used in the work impacted the whales.
Cape May County and Ocean City had delayed local permits that would allow the opening of the road at 35th Street and along Roosevelt Boulevard in Upper Township, leading to a court fight. The city and the county's reluctance to allow power lines to cross their jurisdictions led to a change in state law putting that authority in the hands of the state Board of Public Utilities, a move that enraged some local elected officials as an affront to home rule.
Gillian, who has remained skeptical of the offshore wind power projects, stopped by the work site Tuesday. Several of those participating said he was booed and cursed by the protesters.
In a text, Gillian said the visit went fine and described the scene as peaceful.
"All these things matter," Gillian said.
There have been several protests and vigils held against the offshore wind farm proposals, including one by the organization Protect Our Coast on the beach Sunday. Hornick was the founder of that organization but said Tuesday she is no longer part of that group, which did not participate in the Tuesday protest.
As proposed, Ocean Wind 1 will run a cable from the wind turbines, under the beach at 35th Street and across town, then along Roosevelt Boulevard to connect at the former B.L. England power plant in the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township.
The former coal-fired plant is now idle, and plans are for a new substation to be built at the site as a landing place for the wind turbine-generated electricity. Another line is planned to land in Lacey Township at the site of the former Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, which is also decommissioned.