OCEAN CITY — While there may yet be an opportunity to find some common ground between Ocean City and US Wind over the distance from shore of the proposed wind turbines, a pair of letters fired back and forth this week indicates the two sides remain far apart on the issue.
On Feb. 5, the Mayor and Council passed a resolution reiterating its opposition to the development of offshore wind energy turbines within view of the resort’s coastline. Again, it’s important to note the town of Ocean City does not oppose the proposed offshore wind energy farms, but has been firmly opposed to the placement of the turbines within view of the shore, citing possible detrimental impacts on the viewsheds from the coastline and, perhaps more importantly, property values.
On Tuesday, US Wind Riccardo Toto fired off a strongly-worded letter to the Mayor and Council attempting clear up perceived misinformation and extending an olive branch of sorts on reconciliation.
“We are disappointed that the council felt compelled to pass a resolution this past Monday night opposing the construction of any permanent offshore wind turbines off the coast of Maryland,” the letter reads. “As you know, US Wind remains at the table ready and willing to discuss your concerns and work collaboratively with you to resolve those concerns as much as practicable.”
On the very same day, Ocean City’s City Engineer Terry McGean, at the request of Mayor Rick Meehan, fired off a letter in response to the US Wind letter received earlier. In short, the two sides continue to launch salvos at each other through the mail on the proposed turbine siting and other issues on the one hand, while inviting each other back to the table on the other.
While the US Wind letter has a decidedly conciliatory tone, it does take town officials to task somewhat for some of the perceived erroneous information presented during the meeting in which the resolution was passed.
“In light of your recent Feb. 5 resolution, however, we are compelled to correct some of the misinformation and misunderstanding said during the council’s discussion,” the US Wind letter reads. “In continuing discussions with the Mayor and our continued effort to engage the City Council, we feel it paramount that we move forward based on facts.”
In one example cited in the US Wind letter about the relative permanence of the wind turbines off Ocean City’s coast, the company suggests the turbines were never intended to be out there forever and a decommissioning bond will be in place before construction ever begins. However, McGean’s rebuttal letter calls into question US Wind’s interpretation of permanent.
“The city’s understanding is that these structures are expected to remain in place for 20 years,” the letter reads. “They are permanent by any rational understanding of the word. Simply because they will be removed at some point in the distant future does not make them temporary structures. Frankly, the assertion by US Wind speaks volumes regarding your dismissive attitude toward the very valid concerns of the Ocean City Mayor and Council.”
The US Wind letter to the Mayor and Council does not specifically mention the town’s reliance on a North Carolina State University study that indicated visible offshore wind farms may have a significant negative economic impact to property values and rental rates in mid-Atlantic resort communities. However, the US Wind does call into question some of the perceived misinformation on which the Mayor and Council relied while passing the resolution.
McGean’s letter also points out the North Carolina State University study was written by a highly accredited professor and department head at the university. The letter also points out US Wind has relied heavily on a Sage Policy Group report that indicated most people would not be put off by the sight of offshore wind turbines.
“Your letter accuses the study of not being peer-reviewed, yet US Wind had no such concerns when your firm very publicly backed release of the Sage Policy Group report and you continue to cite the information in this clearly-flawed report that relies on studies conducted in Europe and references land-based facilities that have not bearing on what you are proposing to build in Ocean City,” the letter reads. “The Mayor and Council would like to know which peer-reviewed journal the Sage Policy Group report was published in.”
The US Wind letter points out the company wants to be a partner with the Town of Ocean City and work together to resolve some of the siting issues, saying “US Wind remains sincere in our desire to act as a model corporate citizen,” and “In order to do so we must work collaboratively.”
However, McGean’s letter cites numerous perceived examples of how US Wind has not been a model corporate partner during the process.
“The Mayor and Council would welcome this opportunity,” the letter reads. “However, to date there have been no good faith efforts on the part of US Wind to do so. To illustrate this, I would like to point out the following events which are typical of how US Wind had dealt with Ocean City as ‘good corporate citizen’ on this issue.”
The town’s letter points out US Wind testified to the PSC that the Ocean City mayor had not concerns with the offshore renderings submitted at that hearing when, in fact, Meehan had never seen the renderings. The letter also asserts US Wind has repeatedly stated the closes turbine will be 17 miles from the Ocean City coastline when, in fact, the layout provided by US Wind shows turbines less than 13 miles from the shoreline.
“To this day, US Wind continues to use the 17-mile distance as proof of their ‘willingness to compromise and work with the city’ instead of honestly acknowledging that the 17-mile distance is only for the first phase of your project and that US Wind fully intends to place turbines much closer to our shoreline,” the letter reads.
McGean’s letter also suggests US Wind has not always been forthcoming with documents and other materials throughout the process.
“US Wind will not even share the most basic drawing showing the design of the structures you propose to place off our beach,” the letter reads. “Despite repeated requests for this simple sketch from [US Wind Project Development Director Paul] Mr. Rich, over a month later I was told he could not obtain it and could only provide some simple dimensions. The city’s engineering consultant, however, was able to obtain the drawing in less than a week.”
Despite the point, counterpoint nature of the two letters, McGean’s letter suggests town officials are ready, willing and able to meet with US Wind officials to resolve the turbine siting issues.
“As Mayor Meehan has frequently stated and as reflected in the resolution passed unanimously by the City Council, the Mayor and City Council support the development of offshore wind, but not at the risk of significant harm to the town of Ocean City,” the letter reads. “The Mayor and City Council remain open to meaningful, honest and constructive dialogue on this issue.”
The US Wind letter expressed an equal desire to get back to the table to resolve the turbine siting issues.
“It is incumbent on us as good corporate citizens of the town of Ocean City that we continue to push for direct dialogue,
the US Wind letter reads. “We believe the council would greatly benefit from a direct dialogue with us so that we many answer questions directly, provide up-to-date information and together find ways to address all concerns.”