Mayor describes “benefits” he wants Ocean City from offshore wind farm
By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
In his strongest statement to date on the project, Mayor Jay Gillian described a series of “benefits” he wants for Ocean City from the developer of a proposed wind farm off the south coast of. Jersey and would include massive turbine blades visible from the shore. .
Speaking at a city council meeting Thursday evening, Gillian said the “overwhelming number” of residents he listened to expressed concerns about the Ocean Wind project to be built by Danish energy company Orsted.
“I understand that federal and state decision makers have the authority to approve this project without Ocean City’s consent, but I intend to do everything in my power to defend the best interests of Ocean City. “, did he declare. âLet me be clear. I don’t mean to be an obstructionist, but it’s my job to watch Ocean City.
He noted that representatives of Ocean Wind have contacted his administration and wish to discuss the âpotential benefits of the host communityâ. Gillian said he plans to push for the following benefits:
- The giant turbines that will produce wind power should not be seen from the shore, he said. He also said the project could be modified by the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to eliminate the visual impact of the beach turbines.
- The project should not proceed until all the concerns of the fishing communities have been adequately addressed.
- The project is not expected to proceed until the potential threats to the environment and the public have been addressed.
- Finally, Ocean Wind is expected to pay Ocean City an annual impact charge and fund a flood mitigation project in the area where transmission lines would pass under the island.
âThere’s no way to build it without having a direct impact on Ocean City,â Gillian said of the wind farm.
Representatives from Orsted have discussed with Ocean City the possibility of running underground power cables through the city to connect the offshore turbines to a substation next to the decommissioned BL England power plant in Marmora. BL England is considered to be one of the sites where Orsted would link the wind farm to the onshore power grid.
Among the main concerns raised by opponents of the project are the possible negative impacts of the wind farm on tourism, the commercial fishing industry and the environment, including marine life and migratory birds.
The project would include 99 wind turbines, each about 900 feet high, stretching along the coast from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor about 15 miles offshore, passing through Ocean City.
Opponents claim the towering wind turbines create a visual plague when viewed from the shore. They also fear that migrating birds will be killed by the rotating turbine blades.
Orsted is currently undergoing a rigorous government authorization process which is expected to take two years. According to the latest schedule, the project would be completed by 2024.
Governor Phil Murphy has pitched the Ocean Wind Project as a form of clean energy, making it a central part of his goal of having at least 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity in New Jersey by 2035.
Orsted plans to hold a public meeting in Ocean City, scheduled for November 6 at 10 a.m. at the Music Pier, to present the project. Gillian urges residents and anyone else interested in the project to attend the meeting. He said he was asking Orsted to “provide answers to all questions from the public” at the meeting.
Ocean City council members have been among the most vocal critics of the wind farm project – repeatedly voicing their concerns and opposition over the past year.
In June, Council voted 7-0 to approve a resolution denouncing state legislation that facilitates construction of the project by Orsted by removing local control over transmission lines and other land infrastructure from municipalities and the government of the county in order to speed up the project.
One of the wind farm’s most vocal opponents, former city councilor Michael DeVlieger, who stepped down from the governing body in August, reiterated his concerns about the project in public remarks at Thursday night’s meeting.
âIf they are successful, I think we should fight to the end,â DeVlieger said of Orsted continuing the project.
DeVlieger told Council there are simply “too many risks here” for the tourism industry and the environment in Ocean City. He joined Gillian in urging the public to attend the November 6 meeting, saying “there are a lot of questions to be asked.”
He also criticized the new state law that removes local oversight power from the project. The law allows wind farms to obtain easements, rights of way or other property rights from any level of government necessary for the construction of the project. The New Jersey Public Services Board, or BPU, would make a final decision if local approvals are denied by cities or counties.
âIt amazes me that they stripped us of the house rule,â DeVlieger said.
In other business at the meeting, the board debated the suitability for Gillian’s administration to use an engineering consultant, ACT Engineers, to secure a $ 2 million grant for the city as part of ” a professional services contract.
Council members said they supported research for the grant, but questioned the legality of allowing ACT to do so under a purchase order that they said should have been closed after a year. .
City administrator George Savastano responded that the council’s questions amounted to “nitpicking” and should never have been raised at the meeting. He reiterated on several occasions that ACT’s work had been performed correctly under the purchase order.
The city ultimately failed to obtain the grant. This would have helped fund a proposal to use sediment from the city’s dredging projects to rebuild the eroded shoreline of Shooting Island, a nearby islet that serves as a barrier to protect Ocean City from storms.
Dave Breeden, chairman of the local taxpayer group Fairness In Taxes, first questioned the legality of ACT’s work. Breeden told Council in public remarks on Thursday that he had reviewed ACT’s invoices and came to the conclusion that “ACT Engineering had abused this town.”
Board members Bob Barr, Keith Hartzell and Tom Rotondi followed Breeden’s remarks with their own questions about the legality of ACT’s work on a purchase order they believed had to be closed after a year .
Rotondi wondered if the Gillian administration had tried to “get it over with” by not speaking to the ACT Labor Council. Savastano responded to the Council’s questions saying, âWe are not doing anything wrong. “
Agreeing with Savastano, Councilor Peter Madden argued that council was wasting its time questioning the Gillian administration’s use of ACT engineers to try to get the Shooting Island grant.
âI think finicky is to put it lightly,â Madden said.
ACT Engineers has been a key Ocean City consultant since 2015 for a range of flooding and dredging projects. In total, he’s won at least 40 contracts totaling $ 7.3 million from the city since then, according to Fairness In Taxes, or FIT.
In recent months, however, ACT Engineers has drawn criticism from the Council and groups such as the FIT and the Ocean City Flooding Committee for the amount of money it has charged the city for its work. of advice.
Earlier this year, during a debate on another contract for ACT engineers, the council agreed to create a group of prequalified suppliers who would compete for the city’s engineering work. The council said competition between engineering firms would help the city get the best prices for contracts.