When it comes to discussions of the proposed offshore Skipjack Wind Farm and the related proposals to bring cables carrying the wind-generated power ashore at the Fenwick Island State Park, there seem to be two – maybe three – schools of thought, generally.
The offshore wind farm, which would be the second in the United States and the largest so far in this country, is slated to be constructed about 19 miles off the coast of southern Delaware. Officials from the company that wants to build the turbines says they will be barely visible from the coast; opponents say otherwise.
Those who favor the projects say wind power is needed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which have been linked to climate change and other environmental issues as well as cancer rates.
Those who are against it often cite potential damage to the area economy, because the turbines will be visible from the beach and will make it less attractive to visitors and beachfront-home buyers. They also cite potential environmental damage from the proposed park project, which includes a transmission station which will connect the wind-produced energy to the power grid.
And then there are those who simply feel they need more information in order to make an informed comment or decision.
There are those whose properties are near the park who say it is fine the way it is and needs no “improvements.” (A proposal unveiled at an open house in October shows Orsted’s plans to provide a new building for the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, a two-level parking facility, a nature center and event space, improved concessions, and lifeguard housing.)
And on the other side, there are pickleball clubs who clamor for the additional playing space that is proposed to be built atop the transmission station.
Even the house of Fenwick Island Mayor Eugene Langan and his wife, Mary Ellen Langan, is feeling some of strain of differing perspectives on the issue.
At a recent Fenwick Island Town Council meeting, the mayor introduced a resolution, later adopted by unanimous vote, which expressed the council’s view that the park project and the wind farm project “be thoroughly reviewed and studied to ensure it is in the best interest of the environment, our economic vitality, and the quality of life we cherish,” the resolution reads.
“The council is concerned with the substation location in an environmentally sensitive area and with the distance of the wind turbines to Fenwick Island shores,” it continues. The resolution concludes by requesting council input into any future revision of plans for the state park, the proposed substation or the offshore wind farm, and that any turbines be located out of sight of the shorelines of the town.
Mayor Langan, who recently became president of the Association of Coastal Towns which includes representatives from each of Delaware’s coastal towns, told those at the December Town Council meeting that ACT mayors had met with Gov. John Carney in November to express their concerns about the Skipjack project and that the governor did not take a stand on the project at that time.
“We haven’t been sitting on our hands” regarding the wind farm and the park project, he said.
Mary Ellen Langan, clarifying that she was “speaking as myself” and not representing her husband’s views, said she was the “total opposite” of those who spoke against the wind farm and the park project. “If you haven’t been reading the newspapers, our planet is dying,” she said, “and it’s dying fast,” which elicited a chorus of groans from the audience. “Oh, baloney” one person yelled.
She also mentioned that she believes her bout with cancer was linked to proximity to the coal-fired Indian River Power Plant near Millsboro.
“I am for clean energy,” she said. “I’m for windmills on land, off-land…it’s a lot safer than coal and oil. These wind turbines are not going to cause anybody to get cancer, despite what our President says,” she said.
Another resident, Richard Robinson, who said he is also a cancer survivor and “sensitive to those issues,” said his major objection to the wind farm is “that it has no focus whatsoever” and the notion of the state park project being a “public-private partnership” is merely a “cover” for the state parks department seeing money coming from the Danish wind farm developer, Orsted, for improvements the state would not be able to budget for in the near future.
Robinson said the public should be able to see detailed plans for the projects in order to “make legitimate and focused comments on what they’re actually doing.”
State Rep. Ronald Gray and State Sen. Gerald Hocker sponsored what was billed as an informational meeting in November that filled the Indian River High School auditorium. Representatives from Orsted as well as DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin and director of Delaware State Parks, Raymond Bivens, were on hand to answer questions.
Most of the attendees, however, chose to make statements rather than ask questions of the panel – and a majority of those were against the projects.
Since that meeting, there has been talk, most notably at the December Fenwick Town Council meeting, of the need for grassroots representation of the concerns of residents and property owners along the coast.
Whether that means hiring legal representation, contacting state and federal officials as individuals or as a group, remains to be seen. When those legislators return to Dover and Washington, D.C. from their holiday breaks, they may see an uptick in contacts from constituents regarding the wind farm and the park project.
The legislators themselves, meanwhile, have been largely silent on the issues.
At least one group surfaced in recent weeks on social media, posting largely unsourced information in opposition to the projects and attracting many comments from proponents of the projects as to the sources of its information and the lack of transparency of the page’s authors. The page did not list any contact information. By Monday evening, Dec. 30, the page did not show up in a search on Facebook. Whether its authors or Facebook personnel took it down is unclear.
The Skipjack project is currently in the federal permitting stage; Orsted hopes to begin construction by 2021 if that process is successful. Once completed, Orsted officials say it will generate enough energy to power 35,000 homes.
For links to many sources of information on the wind farm projects and the proposed Fenwick Island State Park project, go to the Town of Fenwick Island’s web site, www.fenwickisland.delaware.gov. The links are located at the bottom right hand corner of the home page; under “News and Notices.”
There is also information on the Delaware State Parks web site at https://destateparks.com/fenwickimprovements, as well as a six-question survey touching on such topics as amenities and desired repairs or improvements to the park. There is also a section where survey-takers can make general comments about the projects. The deadline for answering the survey has been extended to Jan. 15.
For more information on the proposed Skipjack Wind Farm project from its developer, go to https://us.orsted.com/Wind-projects.
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