OCEAN CITY – City attorney Dorothy McCrosson took aim at plans to run a power line across the city at 35th Street at a Friday morning hearing of the state Board of Public Utilities, arguing there are other options to bring wind power to shore.
The BPU board heard oral arguments in a request for Ocean Wind 1, planned as the first large-scale offshore wind farm off the coast of New Jersey that is projected to power a half-million homes.
First, the wind-generated power needs to get to shore. As attorney Greg Eisenstark said, speaking on behalf of the applicant, there are no power customers in the ocean.
He added there are few practical options along the coast to bring electricity from the ocean to the power grid. As proposed, the project would bring power to the former B.L. England plant on the bank of the Great Egg Harbor Bay in Upper Township, with another landing site at the former Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Ocean County.
Ocean City is not OK with the plan, and has refused permission to cross its jurisdiction. Last year, the state Legislature took the matter out of the city’s hands, approving a law that allowed the BPU to approve the request.
The law angered Ocean City officials when it was approved, with members of City Council describing it as overriding democratic rule. Speaking to the BPU board Friday, McCrosson questioned whether the BPU had the authority to decide the matter, and criticized the law as hastily adopted and overly broad.
“It strips elected municipal officials of the power to decide whether Ocean Wind, a private corporation, may take municipal property rights within Ocean City, in complete disregard of the will of the governing body and its constituents,” she said, adding the law has not been tested in court.
In the remotely held meeting Friday, the BPU heard arguments on whether to allow the power lines to cross under land purchased with funds through the state Green Acres program, which typically protects against future development.
Eisenstark said it would include about half an acre of Green Acres-protected land, adding the applicants would contribute 10 times the assessed value of the property to the Green Acres fund.
There was no decision made Friday. BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso said that would come at a future meeting, the date of which has yet to be determined.
McCrosson asked the board to hold off on deciding anything, or at least consider alternative routes. She pointed to an alternative that would run the power lines into the Great Egg Harbor Inlet and out to the power plant in Beesleys Point.
“The city’s pristine beach and wetlands would not be disturbed, the streets would not be excavated,” McCrosson said. “Ocean City would still bear the aesthetic effects of this project, and whatever consequences they may bring. However, the island would not be defaced, and the activities of the people of the island would not be interrupted.”
Eisenstark said the applicant does not need to offer the best plan, but rather present a reasonable plan to the BPU. As proposed, the route for the line would be drilled about 60 feet under the beach at 34th Street, then run along the streets, put in place like water lines or other utilities before crossing underneath Crook Horn Creek to enter Upper Township.
“Once construction is completed, the lines won’t be visible. You won’t see them, you won’t hear them, you won’t even know that they’re there,” said Eisenstark. Later in the hearing, McCrosson added that residents will not be able to smell them, either, but will know they are there, and if it moves forward they will have been placed there without the consent of the local elected representatives.
Eisenstark said Ocean Wind would have rather negotiated an agreement with the city but was unable to reach a deal. He argued the city declined to be a part of the process earlier, and accused McCrosson of presenting evidence in her closing arguments that should have been brought by witnesses at earlier hearings.
He suggested that much of what McCrosson said should be stricken from the record, saying she was an attorney, not an expert.
McCrosson responded that much of what she presented was included in a lengthy draft of an environmental impact statement, which was only made available this week.
In that statement, she argued, Ocean Wind lays out plans to run a power line to the former Oyster Creek plant similar to the route rejected for the Great Egg Harbor Inlet.
She added the city could not have brought that information up earlier, because the report had only recently been made available.
“I believe it’s only 1,400 pages long, so I presume everyone has read it cover to cover,” Fiordaliso deadpanned at the hearing.
Ocean Wind is a joint venture between Ørsted and PSE&G, with a plan to place close to 100 large turbines about 15 miles offshore. New Jersey selected the project in 2019. It is set the be the first of several large-scale wind power projects for the Northeast, with the adjacent Ocean Wind 2 also moving through the permitting process.
Plans call for the turbines powering homes by 2024.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a wind power proponent, wants a huge increase in New Jersey’s use of renewable energy. He cites the environmental impact, including the danger of rising seas and warming temperatures as fossil fuels continue to add carbon to the atmosphere, but also says the projects will mean thousands of new jobs.
The proposal is deeply unpopular in Ocean City and other shore towns. Opponents cite the visual impact – turbines will be visible from the beach as proposed – and also say the plan will damage the environment and the commercial fishing industry.
At several points during the hearing, McCrosson suggested the proposal would face a similar process in getting approvals to cross areas owned by Cape May County.
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