FENWICK ISLAND – Elected leaders in Fenwick Island are calling for a public meeting with the developer of an offshore wind farm and a Delaware agency to share the community’s concerns about an onshore power transmission station at Fenwick Island State Park.
Last Friday, members of the Fenwick Island Town Council expressed their opposition to a proposal that, if approved, would allow Danish company Orsted to construct an onshore interconnection facility on roughly an acre of land at Fenwick Island State Park in exchange for millions of dollars in park improvements, including a nature center, new bathrooms, pedestrian overpass and additional parking.
Orsted is one of the two companies holding permits for offshore wind energy farms off the coast. While its Skipjack project is considered a Maryland project, Orsted must bring its transmission lines ashore to connect to the power grid. To that end, the company has targeted the Delaware state park as a future home for the interconnection facility.
“It is a Maryland project in the sense that the purchase agreement, the money exchanging hands for the sale of the power, is with the state of Maryland,” said Joy Weber, development manager for Orsted. “But from a power perspective, we are interconnecting to the grid in Delaware … so Delaware will be receiving some of that power.”
Last week, six of the council members (Councilman Richard Mais was absent) went on the record opposing the project because the community’s questions and concerns had not been addressed.
“We don’t have enough information, and everything was done through what I consider an underhanded method …,” Councilman Gardner Bunting said. “I think it will ruin the state park rather than enhance it.”
Members of the council and the public last week also highlighted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Orsted and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Parks and Recreation that was signed in July, three months before the proposal was presented to the public.
When reached for comment this week, however, Weber said the MOU was the first step in bringing the proposal to the public.
“It’s a nonbinding document …,” she said. “There is nothing that is definitively decided and done by this MOU having been signed. It’s the natural course of dealing when you are trying to come to terms with another party on a plan like this.”
Mayor Gene Langan and Representative Ron Gray told the community on Friday they would work to schedule a larger public meeting with DNREC, Orsted and community stakeholders to address concerns.
“There are too many questions that need answers at this point,” Gray said.
Community members last Friday also suggested seeking legal representation.
“We need to get united, we need to come across as one united voice, and I think professional legal representation is a good idea,” resident Julie Lee said. “We need to work together to stop this before it goes any further.”
In an interview this week, Weber said the company and the state agency would be eager to meet with members of the community.
“We are happy to have as many informational sessions as necessary,” she said. “As part of the federal permitting process, there will be additional public scoping meetings that are required by that process. So all of these public scoping meetings are coming.”
In a meeting last Saturday, a coalition of concerned community members, “Friends of Fenwick,” met at town hall to begin a grassroots effort to contact officials and policymakers with the goal of delaying any agreements until the project’s impact could be reviewed and concerns could be addressed. Organizers said they are opposed to both the state park project and the wind energy farm off the coast.
“We don’t have any other way to do this except through the people,” organizer Patti Breger said. “And we do have a voice and we do make a difference.”
The group was joined by John Toedtman, executive director of the Caesar Rodney Institute, members of the Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners, Gray and Senator Gerald Hocker. Many pointed out the Delaware park would host a transmission station that Maryland does not want.
“This is called pay to play,” Hocker said. “They are paying to get here because if they can’t bring those transmission lines, they are done. If it costs them a fortune to bring those transmission lines, they are done.”
In an interview this week, Weber pointed out the benefits of the partnership, including improved accessibility to the state park.
“There are valid concerns when a project of this magnitude comes to a town …,” she said. “The reason we have such a lengthy permitting process is so that every single one of these concerns can be thoroughly addressed before we are given permission to build anything.”
Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens said the agency is currently seeking public comments through Nov. 3. As of Wednesday, more than 400 people have completed an online survey on the potential park improvements.