Harris, OC Call For Moratorium On Offshore Wind

Harris, OC Call For Moratorium On Offshore Wind
The deceased whale is pictured on Assateague Island National Seashore last month. Photo by Allen Sklar

ASSATEAGUE – Two more whale strandings reported in recent weeks, including one in New Jersey and one near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, had federal lawmakers again calling for a moratorium on offshore wind energy development projects.

Over the span of a couple of weeks last month, deceased whales of various sizes and species stranded on the beaches across the mid-Atlantic, largely in New Jersey and New York, but also on Assateague. There, a nearly 34-foot humpback washed up on the beach in the over-sand vehicle (OSV) area.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducted a preliminary necropsy of the deceased whale in conjunction with the National Aquarium, and the initial results revealed a hemorrhage consistent with a boat strike. However, the preliminary results did not conclude if the whale’s injury was caused before or after death.

The nexus between renewable, sustainable offshore wind energy and the sudden rash of whale deaths in the mid-Atlantic area where the spike has largely occurred cannot be understated and creates a conundrum. Of course, there could be no correlation between the whale deaths and the offshore activity, or the spike in deaths could just be a natural phenomenon related to normal migration patterns.

Nonetheless, the spike in whale deaths continues to prompt finger-pointing between environmental advocacy groups, federal and local government officials, and other stakeholders.

In the wake of the whale deaths, U.S. Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.) fired off a strongly worded letter calling for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to implement an immediate moratorium on all offshore wind energy project development until it can be determined whether or not there is some proximate cause.

After two more reported whale deaths this month, one in New Jersey and one near the mouth of the Chesapeake, Harris renewed his call for a moratorium through a joint letter also authored by U.S. Congressman Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.)

“Over the weekend, the nation watched as two more whales washed up along the East Coast,” said Harris in the letter. “While NOAA insists that they have no scientific evidence pointing to offshore wind energy projects as the proximate cause of death, they can offer no scientific evidence that these projects are not contributory causes of death. I am renewing my call for a windmill project moratorium until it can be definitively proven that windmill projects are not contributing to the repeated whale deaths we are now witnessing on almost a weekly basis.”

Van Drew also expressed concern but said he was glad the issue was in the public eye now.

“From the beginning, I have expressed concerns and opposition with offshore windfarms moving forward without substantial evidence to show how it will effect our environment, our industries and marine life,” he said. “And now, attention is finally being drawn to the industrialization of our coastline because of these tragic whale deaths.”

However, Van Drew did not miss an attempt to draw attention to his opposite party, calling out Democrats for apparently being slow to react to the whale deaths while continuing to push for offshore wind.

“Not a single concern has been raised by our president or environmentalists after another whale washed ashore yesterday morning, amounting to over a dozen in less than two months,” he said. “Why has there not been an investigation? Why have Democrats been silent on this issue? We must investigate these deaths and get to the bottom if offshore wind activity is the cause. All offshore wind activity must end immediately until proper examinations and investigations are conducted.”

The Town of Ocean City is also calling for a halt to the wind projects.

“Like many other officials along the coast, we believe that development of any energy type within our fragile coastal ecosystem must be done in a responsible manner,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “Ocean City insists that all approvals and construction of wind farms off our coast be delayed until all environmental issues, economic concerns, and view shed options be fully explored, and these projects are relocated to more suitable lease areas further offshore.”

For their part, the two private-sector companies in the process of developing offshore wind projects off the Maryland and Delaware coasts continued to dismiss any connection between the spike in whale deaths in the mid-Atlantic region and activity off the coast related to wind energy projects.

Both US Wind and Ørsted have said they have not been conducting any sonar or seismic activity or ocean floor exploration since last spring. Both companies have said their activities off the coast are closely monitored by third-party, independent observers and scientists who are trained and approved by NOAA to detect protected species such as whales.

For its part, NOAA has said there is no evidence that the whale strandings have anything to do with current offshore wind activity off the coast.

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.