Offshore wind has been a contentious issue in Ocean City for some time.
The Town Council and mayor have said they support the idea of offshore wind energy, but not having the turbines at the currently proposed distance from the shore – 17 miles.
Supporters of the project tout its environmental benefits and potential for new jobs.
Saturday, the two sides met at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to discuss the project and hear each other out.
“We stipulate to all the advantages of offshore wind. We support this,” said Rick Meehan, Ocean City mayor. “We support clean energy, we support the economic benefits. We just ask that we have the support to have them moved further offshore so they don’t take away that beautiful horizon forever.”
Ocean City Town Council members Wayne Hartman and John Gehrig, as well as Meehan, were present for the second half of the meeting to talk with supporters of the project.
The two sides talked for more than an hour in the pursuit of common ground.
But just because the council members were present doesn’t mean people were happy.
Meehan said at the meeting Saturday they proposed waiting two more years to come up with a location that would appease both sides.
Supporters of the project, however, said the delay in producing cleaner energy would just create more environmental harm.
“Time is of the essence of this,” said Tom Murray, an Ocean City resident.
Supporters also voiced concerns about legislation that would ban any turbines from being erected within 26 miles of the Atlantic coast, a measure Meehan and Town Council members said they support.
U.S. Wind, Inc. is planning to initially build 32 turbines as close as 17 miles offshore. The company agreed in 2017 to move the site back from 12 miles in response to Ocean City’s concerns.
Another company, Deepwater Wind, is proposing to construct 15 turbines in an area more than 19 miles northeast from the coast of Maryland.
Pastor Gregg Knepp of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church said he will travel to Annapolis to oppose the bill, and Meehan said he would be there to support it.
Knepp was removed from an Ocean City Town Council meeting on Feb. 5 after protesting from his seat after the council took voted to oppose the offshore wind project.
“Does anyone else feel like they’ve been flimflammed?” he asked at the Feb. 5 meeting before being removed.
Supporters of the project said they feared what might happen if it’s not approved because of another controversial topic – offshore drilling.
“I would rather see wind turbines than oil rigs off of our coast,” said Linda Vistras.
However, Meehan said the Ocean City Town Council has repeatedly taken a stance against drilling off Ocean City.
At the Feb. 20 meeting, the council unanimously approved a letter to be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan and members of Congress that voices their opposition to offshore drilling, and its not the first time the council has voiced that opinion.
In October 1974, Ocean City passed a resolution to oppose offshore drilling, and in September 2015, it passed another one opposed to offshore drilling and seismic blasting.
The supporters in attendance, however, said now is the time to act on offshore wind and to support the project.
“The energy crisis is a local crisis as well as a national one,” said Bob Connor. “It is time for Ocean City people to chip in. We need to step up. We have always stepped up.”
Supporters also said the project would help generate money for Ocean City.
The US Wind Project would bring 60 jobs to Worcester County, said Paul Rich of US Wind before Ocean City government officials were present.
“They are a machine that print money,” echoed meeting attendee Christopher Graff.
However, council member Gehrig said that statistic may be misleading for Ocean City, and the jobs would actually be generated outside the resort.
Gehrig also said the beaches are a main reason why people choose to visit, live in and retire to Ocean City, and the turbines at the proposed distance would take away from what people love.
Connor, though, said the beaches aren’t what brought him to Ocean City, and that’s one of the reasons why he could support the project.
“It’s the community that brought me here. Not the beaches,” he said, drawing applause from those in support.
The two sides agreed there needs to be more dialogue.
Meehan said that Ocean City officials had met with project designers Friday, but neither side had changed their positions.
Gehrig said the two sides are close in what they want, there just needs to be a “meeting of the minds, and then we’ll all be holding hands as the turbines go up.”
Supporters of the project also agreed that there needs to be more dialogue between the two sides.
“What this conversation tells me is that there needs to be more conversation,” Connor said.
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