SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – A wind farm developer that withdrew its permits to build Texas’ first offshore wind farm plans a similar project that would include a desalination plant, the company wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Austin-based Baryonyx Corp. plans to submit proposals for its new project this summer, Ian Hatton, the company’s chief executive officer, wrote in a recent letter to the Corps.
The company withdrew permits in May for a project that would have built wind turbines about 10 miles offshore, rising 541 feet above the water.
The company, whose project was among seven originally tapped for possible $47 million U.S. Department of Energy grants, was not among three companies to land the grants May 7, according to the agency’s press release.
“As mentioned informally, our intention is to redefine a project which although it will have a high degree of similarity with the predecessor projects, it will incorporate technology to desalinate ocean water as well as produce electricity,” Hatton wrote to Jayson Hudson, the Corps’ regulatory project manager in Galveston.
Baryonyx did not respond to telephone messages requesting comment or e-mailed questions Friday.
But the company’s website continues to include plans to develop a wind farm off the Island’s coast.
The company has not disclosed further details to the Corps, agency spokeswoman Sandra Arnold said.
Arnold said the Corps canceled an environmental impact study after the company pulled its permits.
An offshore wind farm would threaten wildlife and turn the Island resort community into an industrial area, said Christine Rakestraw, chairwoman of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation.
“Our lifeblood is eco-tourism and the beach. What are we doing turning this into an industrial area?” Rakestraw asked. “There are so many unanswered questions about the consequences of what they’re actually doing that need to be answered.”
Turbine vibrations would drive dolphins from the area while underground wiring would radiate electromagnetic signals that would disturb sea turtle migration patterns, Rakestraw said.
Jim Chapman, chairman of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, said an offshore wind farm would threaten birds along two major migratory flyways that converge in the area.
“The burden of proof should be on the wind companies to prove they are not a threat to migrating birds,” Chapman said.
But Island Mayor Bob Pinkerton said he did not believe an offshore wind farm would spoil the Island’s ambiance as a resort destination.
“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Other than the potential environmental impact it may have on bird migrations, I personally don’t have a problem,” Pinkerton said. “I think I’d get a little mesmerized watching (the turbines). If it’s going to contribute to the electrical supply, all the better.”
Developer Dennis Franke, whose family helped develop the Island, said an offshore wind farm would mar the community’s standing as a world-class resort.
“It would be a nightmare,” Franke said. “It would be a horrible situation to put that in front of a resort area. You’d have structures off the shore and at night their red lights would go on and off.”
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