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Fenwick residents blast proposed wind farm deal; Transmission project at state park questioned

FENWICK ISLAND – A proposal last week to swap an area of the Fenwick Island State Park to the developer of a proposed offshore wind farm in exchange for millions of dollars in amenities has rankled homeowners in the neighboring community.

One week after proposal to swap an area of the Fenwick Island State Park to the developer of one of Maryland’s two offshore wind projects for an onshore power station in exchange for millions of dollars in amenities at the otherwise quiet park, a coalition of homeowners has fired off a letter to state officials seeking to have the project derailed.

Last week, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Parks and Recreation announced a proposal which, if approved, would allow the Danish company Orsted to construct an onshore power transmission station in the Fenwick Island State Park in exchange for amenities in the facility including new restrooms, lifeguard housing, pavilions, a visitor’s center, a nature center and other facilities. Orsted is one of two companies that hold permits for future wind energy farms approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission.

While Orsted’s proposed Skipjack project is a Maryland wind energy project, the high-powered transmission line will have to come ashore somewhere to connect to the larger power grid that serves much of the eastern U.S. Last week, DNREC officials announced Orsted was targeting the Fenwick Island State Park as a future home for the power transmission statement. In exchange, the company would spend millions in developing new amenities in the state park.

“They had this innovative idea to plug into the grid right at the park,” said Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens last week at a hearing on the proposal in Fenwick. “We told them the only way we would consider that is if there was no loss of recreational use.”

This week, a coalition of homeowners in Fenwick Island, under the name of the Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners (FISH) fired off a letter to DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin seeking answers and asking for the proposed project to be cancelled, or at the very least, studied more intensely.

“We are writing because we are very concerned about the proposal by your division of parks to site an electric transmission station in the Fenwick Island State Beach Park on a fragile barrier island on one of the few remaining slivers of natural shoreline in lower Sussex County,” the letter reads. “This is in no sense a compatible use for a beach park and we ask you to cancel this project.”

The letter goes on to question why Delaware officials would potentially sacrifice a portion of the pristine state park for a Maryland offshore wind project.

“This transmission station would bring onshore the power generated by the state of Maryland’s Skipjack project to be built by Orsted,” the letter reads. “Offshore wind has been subsidized by the state of Maryland and this project is slated to offer substantial employment and economic benefits to Maryland, not Delaware. We do not understand why the power that Maryland is subsidizing and benefiting from is not coming onshore in Maryland.”

The letter essentially asserts Delaware officials are selling out a portion of pristine state park beach for a transmission station Maryland does not want.

“We do not understand why the division of parks has stepped forward to site an incompatible use that Maryland does not want in our small beach park,” the letter reads. “What was the process behind this? Are Delaware state parks now open for commercial and industrial development?”

The letter goes on to voice concern about what FISH perceives as a less than straightforward approach to the proposed project.

“We are deeply dismayed by the disingenuous approach taken by the division of parks to describe this proposal as being about ‘amenities’ and not about the power transmission station,” the letter reads. “The people deserve an even-handed and informative approach. We do appreciate that Parks Director [Ray] Bivens added nine days to the public review period for this project at our request.”

The homeowner coalition’s letter states it appears Delaware officials have lost sight of the mission of the state park system with the carrot of millions of dollars in amenities dangling before them.

“We are alarmed to see that the division of parks seems to have no concept of what is appropriate at a beach park where people go to experience and undeveloped beach experience,” the letter reads. “The main attraction is the beach. Access consistent with that fundamental and unique purpose of the park is appropriate. Overdevelopment is not. The demand for development is the pretext for accepting money from the wind company to allow an incompatible industrial use.”

The letter from FISH to DNREC acknowledges the potential benefit of the proposed offshore wind energy project, but not at the expense of the state park beach, at least without a thorough environmental assessment.

“We very well recognize the importance of clean energy sources and the need to act now to address climate change,” the letter reads. “We believe wind energy may be an important part of that, but we need our public officials to step up to ensure clean energy sources are deployed properly. We do not want to see wind projects that further decimate bird populations already under decline or that damage or block fishery resources for commercial or recreational users. We are concerned about potential harm to marine mammals. We want projects to be designed to avoid damage to local economies. The environmental issues should be fundamental for DNREC. We need our Delaware officials to take these issues seriously.”