Members of City Council denounced the company that is developing a proposed offshore wind energy farm for staging a “dog and pony show” instead of holding what they said should have been a legitimate public meeting focusing on the project’s impact on Ocean City.
The Danish company Orsted organized a town hall meeting at the Ocean City Music Pier on Nov. 6 to outline its plans to build a wind farm 15 miles off the coast between Atlantic City and Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City in the process.
Members of Council said they felt disillusioned with how Orsted conducted the meeting, assailing the company for what they believed was its failure to answer critical questions about the project and address concerns from the public.
“That meeting was an absolute circus. It was an abomination,” Council President Bob Barr said while blasting Orsted.
Speaking at their meeting Thursday night, Barr and other Council members said Orsted essentially ignored the public’s concerns to instead tout the project with an elaborate “sales pitch.”
“I couldn’t believe what was, in my opinion, the dog and pony show that was going on there,” Councilman Jody Levchuk said.
Councilman Keith Hartzell said he felt Orsted’s meeting “wasn’t helpful” in providing crucial information that the public has sought about the project for months.
“I think most people walked out of there disappointed,” Hartzell said.
Orsted billed the meeting as an open house to update residents of Ocean City and other communities on the status of its Ocean Wind 1 project and “answer any questions they may have.”
“We look forward to sharing Ocean Wind 1 updates and information while also taking audience and on-line questions,” Maddy Urbish, Orsted’s head of government affairs and policy, said in a statement before the meeting. “We are making participation as easy as possible for anyone interested in Ocean Wind 1 to learn as much as they’d like about the project in whatever format is most comfortable for them.”
The meeting included a panel discussion of Orsted representatives outlining the project, followed by a question-and-answer session with the public.
Levchuk, though, said he thought the meeting was little more than a one-sided “sales pitch” by Orsted.
“I think our citizens were very disrespected,” he said.
Ocean City’s elected officials have been among the most outspoken critics of the wind farm, expressing concerns for the past year about the project’s possible detrimental impacts on the local tourism industry, commercial fishing operations and the environment.
They also believe that the giant offshore turbines that would produce the wind energy will be an eyesore when viewed from Ocean City.
Barr said Orsted failed to fulfill its promise to discuss the wind farm’s impact on Ocean City during the town hall meeting.
“I got up and walked out because I was so upset,” he said.
Barr added that he and Council Vice President Tom Rotondi spoke with Orsted representatives the day after the meeting to let them know how disappointed they were with the company.
From now on, Barr vowed that he will no longer communicate with the company.
“We’ll be dealing with Orsted in a different fashion moving forward,” he said.
A few members of the public who attended Thursday’s Council meeting in person or watched on Zoom also criticized Orsted.
Suzanne Hornick, an Ocean City resident who has been a vocal opponent of the wind farm, asserted that Orsted organized the meeting in a way that prevented local homeowners from asking questions or forced them to wait an exorbitantly long amount of time to speak. She said she had to wait about two hours before she could ask any questions.
According to Hornick, the town hall meeting allowed supporters of the wind farm to make public comments in favor of the project, while opponents didn’t have the same opportunity.
“The Orsted show that happened on Saturday was an absolute disgrace,” Hornick said.
She also claimed that members of the public were required, when they entered the Music Pier, to walk past a table loaded with pro-wind farm “propaganda” that Orsted had paid for.
Rick Bertsch, an Ocean City resident and member of the group Protect Our Coast NJ, read a letter during the Council meeting that claimed Orsted orchestrated what seemed to be a three-hour “infomercial in support of wind turbines off our coast.”
“Approximately 300-plus people attended but it became very apparent that we, the residents and property/business owners of Ocean City were misled about the actual purpose of this meeting. Ninety minutes into it almost half of the people had already left in disgust,” Bertsch said, quoting from the letter.
In other business Thursday night, First Ward Councilman Terry Crowley Jr. was sworn into office following his victory in the Nov. 2 election.
Crowley’s term will run until June 30, 2024. He is filling the unexpired term of former First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger, who stepped down from the governing body in August to focus on his family and professional career.
Also Thursday, Boy Scout Aidan Walsh spoke to Council about his Eagle Scout project that will include miniature “take one, leave one libraries” located on four Ocean City beaches.
The libraries will be located on the beach at Second Street, Ninth Street, 15th Street and 34th Street.
Aidan, a 17-year-old senior at Ocean City High School, explained that he chose those areas of the beach because of their popularity. He originally considered placing his mini-libraries on the Boardwalk, but the city consented to having them located on the beach instead.
His parents, Marc and Susan Walsh, accompanied him at the Council meeting. Afterward, Aidan posed for group photos with the Council members while standing next to one of his mini-libraries.
During his remarks to Council, Aidan thanked all of his donors and other people who helped him with his project. He said in an interview after the meeting that his project is awaiting final approval for him to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank that Boy Scouts can achieve.
“Nice job. We need more young men like you,” Barr told Aidan.
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