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As the sun set Sunday night at the Cove, tensions rose at what was another strong showing for opponents of offshore wind farms.
About 100 people gathered on a cold, windy evening at the southernmost point of New Jersey to keep up the fight against offshore wind companies with a cairn lighting.
But one man spoke out after U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, rallied the crowd against windmills, asking everyone there whether they truly believed whales were dying as a result of offshore wind site preparation work.
Mark Heany, a city resident since 1995, was met with shouts of disapproval after he interrupted the lineup of speakers. A few people got in his face to argue. Four Cape May police officers, who were there to make sure things stayed peaceful, intervened as Heany and others argued just inches apart.
“I’m asking questions,” Heany told police, who allowed both sides to argue as long as nothing turned physical, which it didn’t.
Heany, who said he learned of the event earlier in the day, expected to be met with vitriol.
“I’m not diplomatic about it. In fact, I don’t give a (expletive) what other people think. If they’re wrong, I’m gonna tell them they’re (expletive) wrong,” said Heany, 52, who supports offshore wind. “This one, for me, is a big one, because wind is the only clean alternative we have to our ever-increasing energy demands that we have.”
Cape May was one of 617 sites in 24 countries to hold a cairn lighting. A cairn is a human-made pile of stones raised for a cause and usually set on fire. Cape May’s lighting was a bit more symbolic than literal.
Two major offshore wind power projects are taking steps forward in New Jersey.
Since fires are not allowed on the beaches in Cape May, a small rock and shell pile was created with electric tea lights. Closer to the water’s edge was a giant whale tail carved into the sand and outlined with white Christmas lights.
Each October, ocean advocates and industrial wind activists in Norway hold “nasjonal vardetenning mot vindkraft,” which translates to “national cairn ignition against wind power,” organizers from the group Save the East Coast said. The event stems from the Norwegians ritual of lighting cairns on hilltops to warn of dangers in the world.
Today, these groups light cairns and bonfires to warn of what they say are the dangers of industrial wind power. This year marked Norway’s fifth anniversary celebrating this international event.
Jamie Steiert, who organized the local cairn lighting, said it’s important that people who live along the East Coast learn from what those in Europe have been battling for years.
“The genesis of this event was an invitation from Norway,” said Steiert, 53, of Cape May Court House. “Norway and multiple other European countries are fighting the same fight. Incidentally, they’re fighting this because of their experience.”
Ørsted, a Danish energy company, plans to build the first offshore wind farm off New Jersey. The plan has been met with much opposition since it was announced in October 2017.
Steiert felt Cape May has been a little too quiet over the past year, especially with the county’s prominent fishing industry.
“We’re just trying to bring awareness and also let the fishermen know we support them and that we’re gonna do everything we can to stop (offshore wind farms),” she said.
East Coast elected leaders should use the offshore wind delay to plan for ports and manufacturing facilities to serve the whole region.
A few organizations were represented Sunday, including Save the East Coast and Protect Our Coast NJ. Both consist of residents, homeowners, business owners, fishermen and visitors who aim to stop the development of offshore wind energy off New Jersey.
Several people spoke Sunday, including Van Drew; state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic; and owners and representatives from fisheries.
“Not a lot of people really understand the magnitude of fisheries,” said Wayne Reichle, one of the owners of Lund’s Fisheries Inc. in Lower Township. “We’re not the only family. There are several families here, fishing families and fish processors that reside here in your backyard. In this case, it’s been ignored.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of whales in the past year. We’ve been fighting this issue for more than 10 years. It’s unfortunate we’ve lost the whales we have, but that’s what it’s taken to pull everybody together.”
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in New York, talked about whale necropsies and the recent history of marine mammal deaths, “because that’s what matters,” she said.
Heany, who was flanked by a couple of police officers for the rest of the speeches, interrupted Brady a couple times as she spoke. She offered to meet with him after the event to discuss their views.
He appeared to leave right after the speaking portion ended, exchanging a few words with people on his way out.
Heany, who works as a carpenter, said he became vocal about offshore wind when the deaths of whales last winter started being used as an excuse to oppose offshore wind. He said there is no scientific evidence linking whale deaths and wind turbines.
Protect Our Coast NJ continues its fight against Ørsted, even after the Danish company announces project delay to 2026.
“When scientists are telling me, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the group that actually issued the UME (unusual mortality event), said there is no correlation,” he said, “and they give other evidence of things like shipping lanes increasing after the pandemic and things like this, that climate change – we’ve seen a huge amount of change happening (like) glaciers melting causing whales to find new routes.
“We don’t know. But whale strandings have been going on for thousands of years. (1992-93) was the last time we saw a UME similar to the one we saw in 2017. No connection to anything else. What are they gonna connect the 2,000 other sightings over the past thousand years to?”
One of the people who approached Heany to argue was Kathleen Herwig, who lives in Princeton but has a summer home in Ocean City. She took offense with Heany assuming those opposed to offshore wind farms are dumb and said she has has been frustrated with how often protests groups have been negatively represented in the media.
Heany said there are political motives behind the anti-offshore wind movement. Herwig said money is what is driving the decisions to allow for offshore wind.
“I agree with (Heany), politicians lie. All of them do,” Herwig said. “This isn’t politcal to me. Jeff Van Drew called me the other day (because) I wrote a very strongly worded letter (to him). I consider myself a libertarian. It’s not a political thing for me. I resent the fact it’s being turned into a political thing because it shuts down dialogue.”
Herwig hopes more events like Sunday’s continue through the offseason. With the news at the end of August that Ørsted would delay the first offshore wind farm in New Jersey until 2026 due to supply chain issues, she and others hoped that didn’t let people think the battle is over.
Is there a fear of the inevitable if offshore wind farms do rise off the coast?
“Of course,” Herwig said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t fear it. I’m very fear-motivated.”
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