Offshore Wind Opposition Rallies At Harris Hearing

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan warned that city government is prepared to go to court to challenge federal approval of wind development off the coast if the project reaches that stage.

Speaking at a hearing organized by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-01) on Saturday, Meehan joined several local, state and federal representatives who spoke at the Ocean City convention center to voice concerns about — and argue against — US Wind’s proposed wind energy project.

Meehan said that if the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) gives its approval for the construction of wind turbines off the Ocean City coast, the city would challenge the decision with a lawsuit. The bureau’s decision will follow its review of the environmental assessment of the project

“The Town of Ocean City will not back down for our opposition to these projects and to our future here in Ocean City. We will not back down,” Meehan said.

An audience of about 500 people gathered in the auditorium of the Ocean City Performing Arts Center to hear the testimony, Anna Adamian, Harris’s communications director, said after the meeting. The meeting also featured a panel whose members testified on behalf of industries and citizens that could see adverse effects from offshore wind development.

Speakers concentrated on issues at the core of the offshore wind debate, including   its possible effects on tourism, tax and utilities prices, fishing, marine life and national security.

“We oughta think long and hard as a nation as we begin the industrialization of our ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast. We heard about a lot of the problems today… The list goes on and on. The bottom line, this is not ready for prime time,” Harris said.

Harris said although he invited representatives from BOEM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), both federal agencies declined, and US Wind — the company proposing to build the wind farm off of Maryland and Delaware — did not respond.

“Marylanders want offshore wind. In the many conversations we’ve had across the state, the support for offshore wind comes through loud and clear. And in a recent poll, 72 percent of Marylanders say they support expanding offshore wind energy,” Nancy Sopko, senior director of external affairs at US Wind, said in an email after the meeting. “Offshore wind is a win for the environment, a win for the economy, and a win for the future.”

The referenced poll was done by Victoria Research, a polling firm from Takoma Park, in November.

Pat Schrawder, a district representative for Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), and who Harris introduced as a “community advocate,” said many local organizations have voiced disapproval for offshore wind, including the Ocean City Marlin Club, the Atlantic Coast Sportfishing Association and the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association.

But residents in support of wind also made a showing.

As people filed into the convention center before the meeting began, a few people stood by the entrance and held signs that had phrases, such as “Big Oil bought Andy Harris. Don’t buy his B.S.”

A group called Indivisible Worcester County Maryland sent out a press release ahead of the meeting that said members of the organization would come out to protest.

“On Saturday (Harris) will undoubtedly peddle more lies copied from oil and gas lobbyists. I don’t think he will stop trying to destroy our environment until Ocean City is drowning,” said Toby Perkins, a coordinator for Indivisible Worcester Maryland, in the press release.

The audience inside the meeting, however, showed solid support for the speakers with spontaneous applause punctuating portions of the meeting.

When it came time for Del. Wayne Hartman’s (R-38C) turn at the rostrum, he cited a 2016 survey by North Carolina State University’s Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy that found that roughly 55 percent of respondents said they would not rent a vacation home if turbines were visible from the shore.

Meehan askedwhy an economic impact analysis wasn’t conducted along with the environmental assessment.

“What is being proposed would destroy what 26,000 property owners and 8 million visitors enjoy each year. Not just today, but for future generations. Building turbines closer than 26 nautical miles off our coast, or even more disturbing, as close as 10 miles from our shoreline, would destroy that national phenomenon forever. The sunrise over the Atlantic would look like a backdrop from Star Wars,” Meehan said.

Schrawder said that BOEM’s own environmental impact assessment lists recreational fishing as an item that could face adverse impacts from turbines. Fishing tournaments in Ocean City can generate as much as $16 million dollars, and it could mean lost tax money for local and state governments if the industry is ruined by wind farms, Schrawder said.

Meghan Lapp, secretary for the Center for Sustainable Fisheries and representative for Seafreeze, a commercial fishing company in Rhode Island, was the first panelist. She argued that wind farms disrupt fishing territory and endanger the safety of commercial fishing vessels.

“As BOEM has leased more than 2.3 million acres of the East Coast to date and is preparing to lease more, we are rapidly losing our place of business,” Lapp said.

Other speakers also reiterated worries about the turbines’ effect on whales.

Harris said that “sonar blasting” in 2016, which was used to survey potential wind farm leasing areas off the North-Atlantic coast, correlated with a spike in whale deaths around the same time. Harris said there is no evidence to support or deny any connection between the testing and whale deaths.

Panelist Lisa Linowes, executive director and spokesperson for the Wind Action Group and co-founder of the Save Right Whales Coalition, told Harris that while she is convinced there is a connection, she can only say that there is a “strong correlation.”

NOAA, however, says, “There are no known links between recent large whale mortalities and ongoing offshore wind surveys.”

Robert Rand, owner of Rand Acoustics, LLC, another panelist, said that in May 2023, he compared underwater sound levels from a wind industry sonar survey vessel off of New Jersey, and measured sound levels from pile-driving work off Nantucket in November 2023.

He claimed the noise levels he recorded underwater were inconsistent with permitting documents and loud enough to affect whales.

“The high sonar and pile-driving noise levels and irregularities in project and regulatory documents raise strong concerns about insufficient review in mitigation distances to protect the critically endangered species from behavioral harassment and hearing impacts,” Rand said.

Harris and others also raised concerns over the wind farms’ effect on radar systems used by the U.S. military and the ability for the Coast Guard to perform helicopter rescues. Several speakers also questioned whether it was right to lease U.S. energy systems to European-owned companies. US Wind is owned by Italian company Renexia.

The last panelist was Travis Fisher, director of energy and environmental policy studies at the Cato Institute, a self-described libertarian, public policy think tank. Fisher said that Maryland’s wind construction mandates could create large increases in utility bills, and that the increases would hit harder for lower-income residents.

“The impact on the local economy and tourism, and the negative effects on marine life, fishing and the military, taken together are unacceptable risks,” Carozza said during a speech.