OCEAN CITY – Community members came out in droves this week to share their comments regarding an offshore wind project near Ocean City.
On Tuesday evening, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hosted the first of two in-person public meetings regarding a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on US Wind’s offshore wind project. Lorena Edenfield, environmental protection specialist for BOEM, said the federal agency will continue to collect comments through Nov. 20.
“Tonight, we really are here because we want to hear what we need to be including in the EIS,” she said. “We did do some scoping last year to determine what we needed to include in the draft EIS, and that really informed the process. So now we want to know how we did.”
Hundreds of people, many of whom shared their frustrations with the open-house format, visited Ocean City Elementary School on Tuesday evening to view various informational posters staffed by BOEM subject matter experts and to share their views on the US Wind project.
Those in opposition said they were concerned the wind turbines being proposed for the offshore lease area would not only impact wildlife, including whales and birds, but offshore fishing. West Ocean City resident Alan Rittmeyer, captain of the Roncito, said he worries the wind turbines could interfere with radar and make it more difficult for boats to navigate through the area.
“The other issue is if you can’t navigate through them, you’ve got to go around them, which is going to cost you thousands of dollars more in fuel, if you even have the capacity,” he said.
Attorney Mark Cropper, representing several local marinas, also came to Tuesday’s meeting with exhibits showing the impact the wind turbines would have on fishing trips and navigation to local fishing grounds. He argued the proposed lease area would have a detrimental effect on the fishing community.
“My clients adamantly oppose the proposed lease area,” he wrote in a letter to BOEM. “The negative impact upon their businesses (and others in Ocean City and throughout Worcester County) is beyond description. If windfarms must be located off the east coast, they should be placed where the negative impact to the recreational fishing community can be minimized or eliminated.”
Others in attendance Tuesday shared their concerns regarding the wind project’s decommissioning process, as well as visual impacts. Burke and Kathleen Pieper, owners of an oceanfront condo unit on 76th Street, said they worry the proposed wind turbines would impact property values.
“We have an oceanfront property, and we are afraid the values are going to go down,” Burke Pieper said. “We’ve had it since 1975. It’s a rental property for us, but so many negative things have come out that people are not going to come back.”
Those in support of offshore wind say the proposed project supports renewable energy goals. They also argue there has been no scientific or environmental study that links wind farms to whale or bird deaths.
For its part, US Wind says it is on track to develop its offshore wind project off Maryland’s coast. Nancy Sopko, US Wind’s senior director of external affairs, said the company would continue to keep the community informed.
“Maryland has adopted very ambitious plans to develop offshore wind energy off its coast. US Wind is proud to partner with the state to develop its first offshore wind farm and put Maryland on track to achieving its goals,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re pleased that BOEM has done such a thorough and comprehensive review of our federal permitting application. US Wind has talked to many, many residents across the state, including Ocean City, about offshore wind and our project plans and we’re confident that a large majority of Marylanders are supportive. We will keep the public informed every step of the way.”
As proposed, US Wind plans to construct up to 121 wind turbines, up to four offshore substation platforms and one meteorological tower within an offshore lease area located approximately 8.7 nautical miles from Ocean City’s shoreline and nine nautical miles from Sussex County, Del. If approved, BOEM reports the project could generate between 1,100 and 2,200 megawatts of renewable energy for the Delmarva Peninsula and support up to 2,600 jobs annually throughout the development and construction phases.
Earlier this month, BOEM announced that a draft EIS on US Wind’s Construction and Operations Plan had been published, setting in motion a 45-day public comment period that includes a series of virtual and in-person public meetings.
Edenfield said comments collected from the public will be used to finalize the EIS, which could be released as early as next summer.
“At that point, the final EIS goes to our decision maker, and they will decide whether to approve the action as proposed, approve it with modifications, or to disapprove it,” she explained.
Additional information on Maryland’s offshore wind project, including visual impact assessments and US Wind’s Construction and Operations Plan, can be found at https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/maryland-offshore-wind.