By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
City Council met behind closed doors Thursday night to discuss the controversial proposed offshore wind energy farm, just one week after the project’s developer filed for state approval to run an underground transmission line through Ocean City.
Council’s agenda said the executive session was for “the purpose of discussing pending litigation or anticipated litigation and/or contract negotiation and matters falling within the attorney-client privilege” concerning Orsted, the Danish energy company that plans to build the wind farm.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson declined to elaborate on what Council intended to talk about in private other than confirming that the general topic was Orsted. Nothing was announced afterward. The governing body did not reconvene in public session after going behind closed doors.
On Feb. 2, Orsted filed a petition with the state Board of Public Utilities to install an underground transmission line through Ocean City to connect the offshore wind turbines to a substation next to the decommissioned B.L. England Generating Station in Upper Township.
“This petition filing seeks to maintain the project’s timeline to meet critical permitting milestones and assure that construction and operations can commence on time, so we can ensure the commitments we made to New Jersey are realized,” the company said in a statement.
Orsted plans to run a transmission cable under the seabed and bring the electricity onshore through the cable at the beach lots of 35th Street. The underground cable would travel west to Bay Avenue, north on Bay Avenue to Roosevelt Boulevard, west across Peck Bay at Roosevelt Boulevard Bridge and then continue on to Route 9 to property near the former B.L. England Generating Station, according to the petition.
Ocean City officials have been among the most ardent opponents of the project, fearing that it would harm tourism, real estate values, the commercial fishing industry, migratory birds and marine life. They are also worried that the gigantic wind turbines that would pass by Ocean City 15 miles offshore would create a visual blight when viewed from land.
Before Council went into closed session, members of the public made remarks both in support and in opposition to the wind farm, reflecting the divisions the project has created in Ocean City.
Ocean City resident John Feairheller, an engineer who is against the wind farm, complained about potential safety hazards that the underground transmission cable could create, including the possibility of excessive heat.
“If the heat is unchecked, it’s going to cook the roots of the dunes and it’s going to be a safety problem, Feairheller told Council.
At the very least, he believes the cable should be buried a minimum of 40 feet underground in the beach, double the depth that has been discussed.
Another Ocean City resident, Beth Mallozzi, said she supports the project because offshore wind is a “significant piece” of environmentally friendly green energy.
Mallozzi said that even though opponents have been particularly outspoken about the project, there are also “many people” in Ocean City who support it.
She maintained that it would be a mistake if city officials don’t negotiate with Orsted to try to take advantage of potential economic benefits the wind farm could bring to Ocean City.
“We all want safety. We all want economic well-being,” Mallozzi said. “To close that door is not wise, in my opinion.”
Suzanne Hornick, an Ocean City resident and vocal opponent of the wind farm, asserted that Orsted’s project would not be environmentally friendly after all.
“It’s not going to solve climate change. In fact, it’s going to make it worse,” Hornick told Council in comments made by Zoom
Hornick also said the wind turbines are an inefficient form of energy and would leak harmful oil, potentially creating an environmental “nightmare.”
Representatives of Ocean Wind will hold a virtual public hearing at 7 p.m. March 7 to discuss the proposed transmission line.
Members of the public may register for the event at https://vhb.zoom.us/j/83906689957?pwd=dFd4b0oxTW5qUEN6cDVLZFNIdlAzdz09 or go to https://zoom.us/join and enter Webinar ID: 839 0668 9957; Passcode: 349434. Those planning to offer comments at the hearing may sign up to do so when registering or during the hearing.
The wind farm is currently in the planning and permitting phase and is scheduled for completion by 2024. It would run offshore from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City in the process. Orsted is planning to build an 1,100-megawatt project that would create thousands of construction jobs and power over 500,000 homes.
Last August, Ocean Wind submitted a formal, written request to Ocean City seeking local approvals for the project. However, they were unable to obtain the required easements, consents and associated actions from Ocean City, according to Orsted.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law last year allowing for offshore wind farm projects to go through without having to receive approval from the local municipalities.
The result has generated anger from some local officials in Ocean City and other towns. Members of City Council have repeatedly complained that the bill stripped Ocean City of its right to “home rule.”
Ocean City Council President Bob Barr said in an interview last week with OCNJDaily.com that the project is not a done deal.
“It doesn’t change the likelihood of whether the project is happening or not,” said Barr, who has been among the officials who have raised objections about the project.
He noted that City Council will discuss “our options” for responding to Orsted’s request for the underground cable through Ocean City.
“I expected it,” Barr said of Orsted’s petition with the state Board of Public Utilities for permission to build the cable. “Their enemies are time and money, so they want to do this as quickly as they can.”