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Group sides with resort on turbines

Membership of the Ocean Pines Association Environment and Natural Assets Advisory Committee voiced opposition to the proposed installation of more than 100 wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City.

Committee Chairman Ken Wolf and committee member Tom Janasek spoke against the billion-dollar project at a regular meeting of the OPA Board of Directors last Friday.

“We are wholeheartedly behind not approving this wind farm the way it sits,” Janasek said. “There is a statistic that they could put up to 140 windmills within 14 miles of our coast. If you’re laying on the beach at Ocean Pines beach club, which is our number-one asset, all you’re going to see is those windmills … they’ll be an eyesore.”

Wolf, who is the president of the Assateague Coastal Trust Board, said the advisory committee unanimously passed a motion opposing wind farms in September.

“Our committee has become concerned that the planned wind farm development off the coast of Ocean City, as currently conceived, could have a serious, negative impact on Ocean Pines Association property owners, as well as a majority of county residents and businesses,” Wolf said. “Our apprehension is based on certain findings of a study by North Carolina State University regarding the impact of wind farms on coastal tourism.”

Wolf said the study determined 54 percent of tourists “would not rent a vacation home if turbines were in view at all, no matter how large of a discount was offered in a rental price.”

He said the turbines, as proposed, would be “as close as nine miles offshore,” more than 500 feet above sea level and “visible from the beach when … closer than 26 miles.” He added obstructed views would make beachfront property “less desirable and accordingly [of] less value to our property owners.”

“A material decrease in occupancy in Ocean City could have a direct and cascading negative effect on the economic health of Ocean City, Ocean Pines and the county as a whole,” Wolf said. “There would be a result in job losses and potential tax-base reductions due to stressed businesses, and that would ripple through OPA and beyond.”

Wolf said the wind farms appeared to be heading toward realization by 2020.

“We can see no ongoing benefit to Ocean Pines or to [the] county to justify such a very substantial risk,” Wolf said. “We believe that the board needs to publically indicate that, at this time, we are resolutely opposed to proceeding as planned. We need to ask that these turbines be required to be located at least 26 miles offshore, where they will not be visible.”

If that does not happen, Wolf said, the board should recommend an impact study by “a highly credible, nonpartisan organization” that would include tourists and stakeholders in the county, including Ocean Pines homeowners.

“Those results need to be broadcast to residents in detail. Only at that time should the next steps be planned,” Wolf said.

He added he spoke with the author of the North Carolina State University study as well as Rep. Andy Harris, State Sen. Jim Mathias, representatives from the Audubon Society, Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland Energy Administration, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.

Wolf read a statement attributed to Meehan. Reached for comment on Monday, Meehan confirmed the statement came from his office.

“On behalf of the Town of Ocean City, I would like to express my appreciation for the board’s consideration of our concerns regarding the development of offshore wind facilities off the Ocean City coastline,” the statement read.

“While the Mayor and City Council support clean energy, including offshore wind, it is important that these projects be developed in a responsible manner. The currently proposed projects call for the construction of up to one hundred forty wind turbines as close as 13 miles from our shoreline.

“Each of these turbines would be 600 feet tall and visible from the Ocean City beach. Structures of this scale, this close to our shoreline, will destroy the clear ocean views that our residents and visitors enjoy and negatively affect the economy of our region and the quality of life of our community.

“Therefore, the mayor and City Council are opposed to any project that includes any permanent offshore structure that will be visible from our shoreline including both of the proposed offshore wind projects.”

Wolf also said Meehan asked to meet with the board.

“I know you have concerns. I suggest that the next step is that you take the mayor up on his offer,” Wolf said. “This would be an excellent way to learn more about this from those at the center of this serious issue, who have interests that are closely aligned to our own.

“You have more than enough probable cause to at least take this next step,” he continued. “Failure to proceed would seem to be a breach of your responsibility to present property owners, as well as property owners for generations yet to come. You can’t put this toothpaste back in the tube.”