OCEAN CITY, Md. —
A federal agency will begin a series of public hearings Tuesday on the planned wind farm off the coast of Ocean City.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is looking at potential environmental impacts and what measures can be taken to reduce them.
Members of the commercial fishing industry have concerns with wind turbines being built on their fishing grounds.
Ted Smith has fished for conch off the coast of Ocean City for 20 years, setting out to sea before dawn. His shortest days are 12 hours long and there’s no time off. He fishes in storms, heat, rain and ice. Smith said fishing and family are the most important things in his life.
“To wake up in the morning and to know that I am to get in this boat and drive out that inlet and the sun is going to come up and I am going to be able to go to work, other than being a father, probably (is) one of the best feelings in my life,” Smith said.
Smith tosses 250 conch pots onto the ocean bottom each trip. Conchs are snail-like creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean. Considered a delicacy by the Chinese, they can fetch up to $4.50 a pound. Smith’s goal is to catch 1,000 pounds each trip. He considers his six-figure salary a modest living, supporting his wife and four children.
“As the season moves, I’m coming this way and I will be coming into the area where the windmills are,” Smith said.
US Wind plans to build about 120 wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City when the lease area is fully built out. Some are in the middle of Smith’s prime fishing grounds.
The first project, the MarWin Offshore Wind Project, will come as close as 21 miles from shore. The second stage, Momentum Wind, would be about 15 miles from the coastline. The turbines will be at least 817 feet tall and will generate enough clean energy to power more than 500,000 homes.
“When they actually start dragging these things out on barges and start bringing them out and installing them, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for us to work around them,” Smith said. “What I catch is a conch, which lives on the bottom. (The projects are) going to destroy their habitat and also bury them.”
Smith said he is concerned he will not be able to fish for two years during construction, and once the turbines are in place, he’s not convinced there will be room to navigate between them.
Commercial fishermen aren’t alone in their opposition to the current wind farm plan. Ocean City town officials also oppose the turbines, but for a different reason. While they support clean energy, the town is concerned about proximity – they want it to be green and unseen.
“We are not opposed to it. We understand the benefits of offshore wind, but they need to be out of sight,” said Terry McGean, the city manager of Ocean City.
McGean questioned why federal lease agreements can’t be done east of the Atlantic shipping channel. The state of Virginia got a wind farm pushed back 27 miles because of the Norfolk Naval Base. North Carolina’s wind farm is also 27 miles out of sight so that it won’t visually impact the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
“I know these things can be built farther offshore and be cost-effective and work just as well,” McGean said. “Maybe it takes a little longer to do it, but I think that’s time well spent.”
US Wind officials said there are no plans to change the wind farm location, which it said was chosen by the federal government, not US Wind.
“There is no consideration on our part. The federal government actually identified this lease area more than a decade ago and they did that after a lot of studies were conducted, a lot of feedback solicited from various stakeholder groups,” said Nancy Sopko, senior director for external affairs at US Wind.
US Wind has been conducting a site assessment over the past several years. The company uses a buoy 17 miles offshore to gather data on the environment and marine life.
US Wind is mapping the ocean floor, providing $11 million in research funding to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
The company reached an agreement with Tradepoint Atlantic to open a steel fabrication facility.
“We have every intention of keeping open our lease area to fishing. We have neither the authority nor the desire to stop fishing in our lease area,” Sopko said. “The construction period is not that long. Each turbine is installed in a matter of days.”
According to US Wind, the turbines will be built a mile apart, providing vessels enough room to navigate traffic.
Smith remains concerned.
“It would change my life drastically,” Smith said. “It is a way of life. It’s my livelihood. It’s the sole way that I provide for my family.”
Environmentalists said they believe the wind farm along, with other clean energy measures passed by the General Assembly this year, will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2031.
US Wind said it expects to start generating clean energy in 2025.
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