December 11, 2015
North Carolina

Proposed offshore wind turbines source of contention for beach towns

By Hunter Ingram | StarNews Staff | Published: Friday, December 11, 2015 |

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. – The view from several Cape Fear coastal communities could be dotted with fields of wind turbines, unless the concerns from local beach towns are heard.

Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Energy Management designated three areas off the coast of North Carolina – one near Kitty Hawk and two known as Wilmington West (about 51,595 acres), and Wilmington East (about 133,590 acres) – as viable wind energy development areas. In September, the bureau issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” which concluded there were no foreseeable environmental impacts associated with the proposed leases.

But several beach communities don’t believe the findings take into account all the possible effects the potentially hundreds of turbines could have.

The proposed Wilmington East wind energy area sits just over 17 miles south of the coast of Bald Head Island.

Carrie Moffett, executive director of the Bald Head Association for property owners, said the official findings don’t adequately reflect all possible effects.

“Our position is that there is not a good understanding of or research into the potential impact of the turbines, at their proposed distance, on property values and tourism, which this area is heavily dependent on,” she said.

In a resolution drafted Feb. 23, the Village of Bald Head Island requested the Bureau of Energy Management move the energy areas at least 20 miles offshore.

Even those supportive of the wind energy leases have taken issue with the limited buffer between the leasing areas and the shore.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is largely in favor of the alternate energy source, but is one of those calling for a wider gap.

“We are very supportive of offshore energy and wind energy, but we think it is important to maintain our visitor industries and protect the view,” said Stephanie Hawco, the agency’s deputy communications director. “We believe a 24-nautical-mile buffer allows offshore energy to coexist with environment protection.”

While the turbines would likely be just specks off the coast, their possible presence remains a source of contention.

Moffett said Bald Head is still relatively young and only half developed, with about 2,000 properties and 1,100 homes built. She worries what an external factor like visible offshore turbine fields could do for the prospects of future development on the island.

Additionally, Bald Head’s heavily regulated lighting ordinances would mean – despite the 15-mile buffer – flashing lights from the turbines would likely be visible from the dimly lit coastline, she said.

Special considerations for the coastal towns regarding the lease areas are not unheard of.

The Bureau of Energy Management announced last year that the National Park Service had requested there be no offshore development within 28 miles of the state of Virginia and Kitty Hawk or within roughly 39 miles of the Bodie Island Lighthouse because turbines could affect the viewshed, a term meaning the visibility in all directions. Moffett believes a similar distinction should be granted for the Bald Head Island lighthouse.

“We think Old Baldy should be given equal consideration, as it is the oldest standing lighthouse in the state,” Moffett said.

Chad Hicks, town administrator of Caswell Beach, said town officials would like the same consideration for the viewshed around the 153-foot Oak Island lighthouse. The town drafted its own resolution Nov. 12 and sent it to Bureau of Energy Management and other state representatives presenting their request.

“It would just take away from the historic nature of the view from the lighthouse,” Hicks said.

Hawco also said the seismic surveying helping to pinpoint the best locations for the turbines is 30 years old and is “too outdated to make informed decisions from.”

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