MOU Details Wind Farm Developer’s Del. Park Proposal

MOU Details Wind Farm Developer’s Del. Park Proposal
Fenwick Island State Park is pictured from an elevated perspective. Photo courtesy of DNREC

FENWICK ISLAND — A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the developer of an offshore wind farm and a Delaware agency inked in July obtained this week provides more details about the proposed land swap in Fenwick Island State Park in exchange for millions of dollars in new amenities.

Earlier this month, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and its Division of Parks and Recreation announced a proposal that, if approved, would allow the Danish company Orsted to construct an onshore power transmission station in the Fenwick Island State Park in exchange for millions of dollars in new amenities at the state park.

The announcement, which rankled some in the community concerned with the potential impact in the state park, came in early October, months after a confidential MOU outlining each parties’ responsibilities in the proposed project was inked in July. A source filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the confidential MOU and provided it to The Dispatch this week. The lengthy document spells out the proposal to develop a power transmission station in the state park along with the associated submerged cables and other elements in exchange for considerable improvements at the facility.

“Skipjack is currently evaluating the technical, environmental and economic viability of interconnecting the wind farm to the bulk transmission system in the state of Delaware,” the MOU reads. “Such interconnection will require, for both phase I and phase II, the installation of certain electrical transmission facilities within the state of Delaware which will include, but are not limited to, one or more cable landfalls, splicing vaults, buried electrical transmission lines, new onshore substations and associated interconnection facilities.”

In exchange for the approving the transmission station in the state park, the Skipjack project would make significant upgrades at the facility, according to the MOU.

“Skipjack proposed cooperate with the division to develop a plan and to obtain the DNREC approvals for the Skipjack project that will allow for the construction of the onshore transmission facilities with a certain area of Fenwick Island State Park,” the MOU reads. “Skipjack will design, engineer, procure and construct, on behalf of the division, a new multi-level parking structure in the existing parking lot and certain other improvements with the park for the benefit of the division at Skipjack’s sole cost and expense.”

The MOU goes on to list some of the proposed park improvements included in the agreement. For example, the multi-level parking structure will be constructed on an area of the existing parking lot and include a number of spaces not less than 30% of the existing parking area. The improvements at Fenwick Island State Park also include a new or renovated park office, a new comfort station, a nature center and public pavilion.

Also among the improvements spelled out on the MOU are additional walking paths and sidewalks along the roadway, a snack bar, outdoor amphitheater, a handicap-accessible playground, a rentable pavilion on the oceanside, new lifeguard housing, a small bathhouse on the bayside near the existing kayak rental, athletic courts on both the oceanside and bayside of the complex and a new pedestrian bridge connecting the parking lot on the east side of the highway to the parking lot on the west side of the highway.

The MOU also spells out Skipjack’s commitment to providing an initial endowment of $740,000 with the Delaware Community Foundation to support the maintenance, operations and programming at Fenwick Island State Park. The endowment would be provided in an installment of $370,000 when all of the requisite permits of phase I are approved, and other $370,000 installment when all of the permits for phase II are secured.

In addition, the MOU states that for both the phase I and phase II projects, Skipjack will make reasonable efforts to refrain from construction between May 15 and Sept. 15 in order to permit a fully-functioning park during the heavy-use season, provided ongoing construction materials may remain on site if safely secured.

For all of those improvements, estimated at around $18 million, all DNREC and the state of Delaware has to do is allow the Skipjack project to develop onshore transmission stations in the state park including cable landfalls and buried transmission lines. However, some in the community remain opposed to the concept of developing a high-voltage transmission connection in the otherwise quiet and pristine state park. Earlier this month, a coalition of Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners (FISH) fired off a letter to DNREC voicing its concerns with the project in general, and the process by which it is proceeding.

“We are writing because we are very concerned about the proposal by your division of parks to site an electric transmission station in the Fenwick Island State Beach Park on a fragile barrier island on one of the few remaining slivers of natural shoreline in lower Sussex County,” the letter reads. “This is in no sense a compatible use for a beach park and we ask you to cancel this project.”

However, Orsted Development Manager Joy Weber this week said in a statement the proposal to develop the transmission station in the state park in exchange for the promised improvements represented a win-win for all parties.

“Orsted pioneered the world’s first offshore wind farm in 1991,” she said. “For decades, we have worked with local communities to make offshore wind a source of pride in those regions. We are committed to a constructive dialogue with local communities to ensure the Skipjack wind farm is a project the Delmarva peninsula can be proud of.”

Weber’s statement points out the Skipjack project will be sited at least 19 miles from the Maryland-Delaware line and 26 miles from the pier in Ocean City. She said the project will generate enough clean energy to power 35,000 homes and create nearly 1,500 jobs while significantly reducing carbon emissions on the Eastern Shore. Weber said the company’s lengthy analysis revealed the state park was the logical place for the transmission lines to come ashore.

“Orsted has spent more than a year analyzing potential interconnection sites across the Delmarva peninsula,” she said. “In our view, Fenwick Island State Park is not only the ideal location for interconnection, but also presents an exciting new model that would both improve a popular state park and advance renewable energy in the region.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.