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Proposed offshore wind farm’s environmental impact a growing concern on Long Beach Island

Growing opposition to a proposed wind farm off the coast of Long Beach Island is about more than just having an altered beach view of the horizon. So much more, according to a lifelong Ship Bottom resident and business owner.

In a three-page letter to the Ship Bottom Borough Council, Gregory Cudnik, owner of Fisherman’s Headquarters, laid out his concerns about the environmental impact windmills would pose off the coast of LBI and the lack of environmental studies for the Mid-Atlantic Bight. The letter was read into the record at the council’s Feb. 23 meeting at the request of Mayor William Huelsenbeck.

Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind is poised to build the second wind farm in the state, in part off the coast of Long Beach Island. The closest western, or in-shore, boundary of the lease is 10 miles from Barnegat Light and 9 miles from Holgate. The lease area has the potential to generate 3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy. Atlantic Shores plans to start onshore construction of substations in 2024 and offshore construction by 2025. The project is a 50-50 partnership between Shell New Energies US LLC and EDF Renewables North America. It was formed in December 2018 to co-develop nearly 183,353 acres of leased sea area on the Outer Continental Shelf, located within the New Jersey Wind Energy Area.

Just south of the proposed Atlantic Shores wind farm is the Ocean Wind project, owned and developed by Ørsted with the support of PSEG. That wind farm is expected to be operational in 2024 and would produce enough electricity to power more than 500,000 homes, according to the Ørsted website.

“The wind farm developers lack critical data because there is little to no environmental studies on wind projects specific to the Mid-Atlantic Bight and our unique cold pool feature,” Cudnik wrote. The cold bottom waters support local fisheries’ ability to thrive, he said. “The mixing and circulations of the water” due to the wind farms “will cause thermal stresses with critical consequences to shellfish (sea scallops and surf clams), flounder, black sea bass and tautog among many other species. This could even cause algae blooms and oxygen depletion.”

The Mid-Atlantic Bight is a coastal region running from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina north to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. In addition to being grounds for sea scallops, black sea bass and summer flounder, the Mid-Atlantic Bight “is important habitat for the fin, humpback, critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, and other large whales as they migrate southward to warmer waters, and often as far south as the Caribbean,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The area is also the natural home of five species of sea turtles, including loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, leatherback, hawksbill and green turtles. NOAA notes all of the species are listed as either threatened or endangered.

“Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind leads with science and is working closely with researchers, including those from Stockton, Rutgers and Rowan universities to understand how our project will interact with the surrounding natural and human environment, especially in the Mid-Atlantic Bight,” Paul Phifer, permitting manager at Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, said in an email Monday evening, March 1. “We take very seriously the responsibility to understand and address how our project may affect the surrounding environment. Atlantic Shores is dedicated to delivering renewable energy to New Jersey in a sustainable manner.”

Another of Cudnik’s concerns is the construction process of offshore wind farms. Vibrations from driving steel piles into the sea floor will radiate for miles, he said. “This quaking is especially concerning with the close proximity to five of the state’s artificial reef sites, wreck sites and sensitive fish habitats,” he wrote. “The addition of a multitude of turbines will dramatically change the habitat and migratory patterns of fish.”

He also said wind farms present an additional challenge for mariners due to limited visibility. “Turbines interfere with radar, reducing ability to safely navigate, via instrumentation. Concerns also arise in emergency situations with high seas rescue.”

While Cudnik’s concerns are mostly environmental, he said the negative impact to tourism and the local economy cannot be overlooked. “According to studies by the University of Delaware and North Carolina State, tourism drops significantly when wind turbines are in view and suggests that 15% of tourists would go elsewhere, and 54% of renters would not return. This will clearly diminish home values,” he added.

“I urge Ship Bottom to oppose this monumental issue and take whatever possible action to halt progress and preserve our coastal community,” he said. “All New Jersey offshore wind projects must be put on hold until comprehensive analysis of environmental impacts is completed. It is the developers’ responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their projects will be a net positive and they cannot.”

Earlier in the meeting, the Ship Bottom Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the proposed wind farm off LBI. Municipal Clerk Kristy Davis said other towns on the Island have either approved similar resolutions or written letters opposing offshore wind farms.

In February alone, Barnegat Light, Beach Haven and Surf City officials voiced their concerns about the project, specifically the lack of public input and the scope of it.

At its March 1 meeting, the Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution to oppose the Atlantic Shores project. “We’re totally against that,” said Mayor Joseph Mancini. “It’s eye pollution.” The mayor is also concerned about other potential effects, including the impact on fishing.

Still, Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb. 23 released his 2022 spending plan with $200 million earmarked for an offshore wind port in Delaware Bay.

“Gov. Murphy’s proposed investments in offshore wind and renewable energy are essential to making New Jersey a national leader in green jobs and innovation,” Joris Veldhoven, commercial director of Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, said last month.

Veldhoven said the Atlantic Shores project will make use of the offshore wind port “for our marshaling and supply chain efforts, as part of our projects currently under evaluation by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities,” adding project officials look forward to working with Murphy’s administration.