A homeowners’ group has raised a series of objections to a proposal by a wind-farm developer for an estimated $15 million to $18 million project in Fenwick Island State Park.
The Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners (FISH), which represents about 175 households in Fenwick Island, shared with the Coastal Point a letter they sent to state parks officials, dated Oct. 8 and signed by six FISH officers: Amy Kyle, Cathy Stump, Anne Hodges, Kevin Carouge, Janet Hess and Lynn Andrews. In the letter, the FISH board members asked state officials to reject the project.
The letter – addressed to Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin and copied to Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens, as well as state legislators, county council members, town officials in Fenwick Island, and Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan – addresses five principal objections to the proposal by Danish wind energy firm Orsted to fund construction of new parking, new park buildings, a new office for the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce and other items, in exchange for permitting the landing of wind-power supply lines at the site.
“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 began.
Next, the FISH board members asked for clarification on the State’s motivation regarding the Orsted proposal: “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. What was the process behind this? Are Delaware State Parks now open for commercial and industrial development?” they asked.
Then the board members leveled criticism toward the state officials, regarding what they called a “disingenuous” marketing of what the State presentations refer to as “amenities” while, they said, glossing over potential negative impacts of the proposed transmission station, in particular.
“Whatever proposal the State makes, it should be described honestly,” the FISH board members stated in their letter. While they criticized a survey distributed to the public as “biased by design” to encourage positive comments, they also thanked Bivens for adding nine days to the comment period for the proposal, for a total of 30 days from the Oct. 2 open house held at Fenwick Island Town Hall.
Next, the board members questioned the appropriateness of the proposed project for the park.
“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 an undeveloped beach setting,” the board members stated. “The main attraction is the beach. Access consistent with the fundamental and unique purpose of the park is appropriate. Over-development is not.”
Other objections presented in the FISH letter include what they termed lack of evidence of analysis by Orsted of impacts to the park from the transmission station, and the ability of the park to provide adequate security and safety measures, and the need for further impact studies of the wind-farm project itself.
“Environmental studies for this project have not been completed. The environmental issues should be fundamental for DNREC. We need our Delaware officials to take these issues seriously,” the board members stated.
As of the Coastal Point’s press time on Oct. 9, Garvin had not seen the FISH letter, “but will take it under consideration as the Department continues to evaluate the project,” said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti.
New amenities proposed as part of project
At the Oct. 2 open house for the proposed public-private project, the line of people waiting to see plans for the project poured down the front steps of the town hall and almost reached Coastal Highway.
Inside, the town hall was rimmed with posters showing drawings illustrating the elements of the proposed project, including bi-level parking lot, walking trails, a new building for the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, a new building for lifeguard housing and improved concession facilities.
All of those would be part of a package estimated by Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens to cost between $15 million and $18 million, to be paid for by the company planning a wind farm off the Maryland-Delaware coast. The project would also include a connection station where the electricity generated by the wind farm would be integrated into the local electric grid.
The electricity would be carried ashore by an underwater cable measuring about 6 inches in diameter, a cross-section of which was available for visitors to the open house to inspect.
In addition to more than a dozen representatives of Delaware State Parks, including Bivens, representatives from Orsted, the Danish company building the wind farm, were on hand to answer questions from the public.
Joy Weber, development manager for Orsted, said the company is “very excited” about the offshore project, known as the Skipjack Wind Farm. “This is a new undertaking, coming to the United States,” she said, adding that wind power is already an established industry in Europe, but relatively new in this country.
Weber said the project is currently in the midst of the permitting process, with hopes of beginning construction in 2021 and beginning power transmission in 2022.
When the company looked for a spot to bring the cable onshore and connect to existing power supply, Weber said, it realized that the state park “has the space for us, and we have the ability to help them with some of those upgrades.”
Bivens said the state park is in dire need of improvements to its aging and overloaded parking area – in particular to increase access for emergency vehicles and alleviate the frequent lines of cars lining Coastal Highway waiting to get into the oceanside park.
Mixed reaction from public at open house
While the FISH letter, dated Tuesday, Oct. 8, raised objections to the project, reaction by those attending the open house was mixed. Pickleball players were plentiful at the meeting, in support of the project because plans include pickleball courts on the bay side of the park.
Steve Costa of Ocean View, representing an area pickleball organization, said the growing racquet sport is “such a big part of so many people’s lives” that the addition of more courts would be welcome. “The other stuff they’re proposing will be great, too,” Costa said.
Joe Eshbach, who owns a vacation home just north of the state park on Lewes Street in Fenwick Island, was cautiously supportive of at least the wind farm, while unsure of the impact the improvements would have on what he described as a small, quiet park.
“If it doesn’t get any bigger, I’m happy,” Eshbach said, referring to the use of the park and impact on nearby residences. “We’ll see,” he said.
Lauren Weaver, executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce, said the project is “an exciting opportunity” for the Chamber. The current Chamber building would be moved to Holts Landing State Park for use as parks staff housing, while the Chamber would receive a new building, which would include meeting space, education space and a small nature center.
Weaver said the improvements, which would include walking trails and connection to planned sidewalks in the town of Fenwick Island, would improve interconnection between the town and between the east and west portions of the park.
“So much of the beach isn’t used” in the current park configuration, Weaver said. “That’s what people come here for” – particularly during the summer months.
Weaver also said the project would improve the park’s “year-round accessibility” by offering more activities that don’t center around the ocean.
“As this all unfolds, it’s going to be really interesting,” she said.