Continuing its effort to keep offshore wind turbines out of sight, the Ocean City Council passed a resolution Monday night opposing the construction of offshore structures that will be visible from shore.
During a well-attended and contentious council session, Mayor Rick Meehan expressed support for developing clean energy sources, but said he worried that wind farm development offshore would permanently alter the view from the beach.
“This is a big project that will be there for many years and we only get one chance to get it right,” he said. “Let’s not build something we’re all going to look back on and regret.”
The Maryland Public Service Commission issued conditional approvals last May for US Wind and Skipjack Wind to construct hundreds of turbines off the Ocean City Coast.
US Winds proposal would be located 12-15 nautical miles offshore, with an added stipulation to build structures as far east as practical.
Before it received state approval in May, US Wind attempted to assuage Ocean City officials’ fears pledging to place the turbines 17 nautical miles from shore.
In July, however, the council asked both companies to place turbines 26 nautical miles offshore.
“We do not want people to walk out on the beach in morning and look at the sunrise over … an industrial type landscape,” Meehan said. “That’s been our concern and position all along.”
Regardless of any pledge, however, City Engineer Terry McGean presented a wind farm rendering that shows turbines visible at 12.8 nautical miles from shore.
Further, McGean said the latest plans from US Wind indicate the project would involve three phases, beginning at 17 miles and then decreasing to 15 miles before ending at the 12.8 nautical mile mark.
With turbines standing more than 600 feet tall, that would present significantly more than a dot on the horizon.
“While US Wind is stating they have compromised and will build 17 miles offshore, that’s not what they’re showing us,” he said.
Once the resolution passed, a murmur began among wind farm advocates packing the room. Although public comments are permitted at the end of council meetings, the resolution process is not the same as a public hearing, which requires that the public be heard on the issue before the voting body.
That did not sit well with St. Peter’s Lutheran Pastor Gregg Knepp, who interrupted the council’s attempt to move on in the agenda.
“Are you serious … no discussion?” he asked.
After being told he was out of order, Knepp continued to question the council for about a minute before police escorted him outside.
“Talking after they’ve already voted does us how much good?” he said.
Other wind energy advocates withheld their statements until permitted, including Crystal Hall, with the Sierra Club, who said despite Ocean City’s apprehensions, time is of the essence.
“Climate change is real and already happening,” she said. “With rising oceans and rising temperatures, we are already out of time.”
Hall also said it took more than five years to get the wind farms approved by the state, and questioned Gov. Larry Hogan’s assertions the state is “open for business.”
“There’s concern whether Maryland is truly open for business when there’s opposition to the creation of 9,700 jobs supported by this industry,” she said. “I understand the concerns about the local effects, but this this is something that’s also bigger than Ocean City.”
In an interview after the council meeting, US Wind’s project development director, Paul Rich, said Ocean City was provided with preliminary drawings in August that indicated the three-phase approach.
“We are only required to go out 10 miles or beyond,” he said.
US Wind has leased a triangle-shaped area of waterway from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which extends out 22 miles, but gets smaller and narrows to the east, Rich said.
“We’re focusing on what we can do now with what we know,” he said.
While supporting further examining the feasibility of building wind turbines at least 24 nautical miles from shore, Rich said after being in development for five years US Wind needs to get the project underway.
“We need to get to some level of revenue within a reasonable time,” he said.
Rich also questioned the assertion that wind farms would have dire consequences for the resort.
“I’ve never seen a negative study of having wind farms offshore,” he said. “There’s nothing that points to a negative tourism … or property value impact.”
Rich suggested forming a work group or task force to facilitate continued negotiations.
“We would all benefit from having a direct dialogue,” he said. “We want to move forward to minimize concerns and maximize opportunities.”
Meehan closed the meeting by noting the approved resolution would be forwarded to Gov. Hogan and congressional representatives, while also pointing out the procedures vary for passing an ordinance or law.
“If it had been one or the other we would have taken public comment before passage,” he said. “We were not trying to bypass public comment.”
The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday backed the resort’s resolution with its own vote in opposition to placing turbines within view of the resort’s oceanfront.
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