OCEAN CITY – City Council last week took a unanimous stand against a proposal to run power lines across the community, part of the Ocean Wind 1 offshore turbine project.
The proposal to build almost 100 wind turbines off the coast has proven deeply unpopular in Ocean City, but this resolution relates only to the matter of allowing easements for the power lines across property purchased under the state Green Acres program.
That issue is in front of the state Board of Public Utilities, which held public hearings on the matter May 19.
Former Councilman Michael DeVlieger, a critic of the wind power proposal who recently fell short in his bid to return to the governing body, proposed the resolution at Thursday’s meeting. Council members agreed to put his proposed resolution on the agenda, after a quick review by city attorney Dottie McCrosson, and it was approved unanimously.
“We ask the Board of Public Utilities to decline this request,” reads the resolution, citing health concerns. The city administration has argued there are other routes for the powerlines, such as through the Great Egg Harbor Inlet rather than bisecting the city.
As proposed, as part of the Ocean Wind 1 project, power lines would run across the island and across Upper Township to the former B.L. England power plant, where the power would enter the grid.
The plant is now idle, with plans under discussion to redevelop the area, but part of those plans includes use as one of the connection points for the Ocean Wind project.
Last year, Ocean City officials reacted angrily to a state bill that took a decision over allowing the power lines to cross their jurisdiction out of their hands, giving it to the BPU instead. Stephen Sweeney, then president of the state Senate, said the bill was aimed at keeping Ocean City from blocking offshore wind.
Officials with Ørsted, the Danish energy company leading the offshore wind project, have told Ocean City the lines would cross the beach far underground, unnoticed by beachgoers or homeowners.
Contacted on Tuesday, Madeline Urbish, Ørsted’s head of government affairs and policy for New Jersey, said the 35th Street route was chosen for the power line because it would cause the lease disturbance to people and the ecosystem. She said it is proposed to run about 30 feet under the beach and cross the island in the existing rights-of-way much like other utilities and then run along Roosevelt Boulevard and over to the former power plant. In addition to the rights-of-way, the proposal would impact areas on the beach and one on 35th Street that have been acquired for public use through Green Acres.
Urbish said the BPU hearing was advertised and that notice was sent to each member of council and to the city administration. Some opponents of the project said the meeting was not sufficiently advertised, and suggested more residents would have spoken out if they had known there was an opportunity.
There will be more chances. The project is about halfway through a two-year federal approval process, which coincides with a separate state permitting process.
Urbish said project officials have reached out to local residents, including holding several public information meetings in Ocean City, but were open to doing more.
“I think we’ve done quite a bit of outreach over the years,” she said. “I think we’re always open to doing more and for meeting with folks and continuing to educate people.”
The Ocean Wind project is part of the state’s plan to meet the goals of two orders from Gov. Phil Murphy. Executive Order 8 in 2018 set a goal of 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030, and Executive Order 92 in 2019 increased the goal to 7,500 megawatts by 2035.
At least at the recent council meeting, the mood was clearly against the project. Several speakers criticized the proposal.
DeVlieger and other residents also spoke at the public hearing opposing the easement, while he said representatives of environmental organizations spoke in favor.
“I was happy during the election to hear a unified front from council and … the mayoral candidates, stating that they weren’t for the Ocean Wind 1 project and that they weren’t for power lines coming through Ocean City,” he told council.
But he alleged the city administration passed up a chance to comment on the matter.
Not so, said city Business Administrator George Savastano, who read into the record the city’s lengthy comment on the issue, submitted in writing to the BPU. In it, the city argues there are other, less disruptive routes available that would allow the project to move forward, and argued it was inappropriate to seek comment before federal and state impact studies have been completed on the proposal.
As read by Savastano, the letter states that the city did not participate in the filing process, nor did it consent to the application.
“The board would be correct to conclude that Ocean City’s absence from this process is indicative of an absence of local consensus that this application is in the best interest of Ocean City and its various constituent groups,” Savastano said. He said there is a vast list of unknowns associated with the Ocean Wind project. He said the city reserves the right to challenge any approvals granted to the project.
“We ask the Board of Public Utilities to decline these requests,” Savastano read from the letter.
“George, that’s a great letter,” said DeVlieger, one of several residents who commented on the matter at the meeting. Still, he suggested the city be present at future hearings in addition to sending comment beforehand.
“I think we need to be in their face, present at all of these events,” he said.
While not all Ocean City residents oppose the Ocean Wind plan, many have spoken publicly against the proposal, citing its potential impact on wildlife, commercial fishing and beachfront views. As proposed, the turbines would be visible from the beach, standing 15 miles offshore. Ocean Wind is planned to power a half-million homes, with more offshore wind projects in the works as well.
“The only thing I’ll say is that we need to take every necessary step within our power, legally and otherwise, to stop this,” Council President Bob Barr said. “These folks have proven to be very bad actors, in my opinion. Not forthright.”
He said the company has not done enough to answer Ocean City’s questions about the project, and suggested they are rushing through the approval process.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Barr said. “Why are we not being given the opportunity to review the reports that the state and federal government are going to put out?”
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