By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Jennifer Bowman wiped away tears when her friend, Cape May County Commissioner E. Marie Hayes, told her how much she has given back to Ocean City through her community service and volunteerism over the years.
“You amaze me,” Hayes, who also lives in Ocean City, said to Bowman during an awards ceremony Thursday night at a City Council meeting held by Zoom.
Standing next to Bowman was Kathy Thompson, another Ocean City resident well known for her community volunteerism and involvement with programs that help families in need.
“I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart, you’re special. You’re absolutely special,” Hayes said to Bowman and Thompson.
Bowman, Thompson and Ocean City VFW Post 6650 Commander Mike Morrissey, who was not present at the Council meeting, all were honored during an awards ceremony that included proclamations from Congress, the state Legislature, the Cape May County Commissioners and City Council.
Also receiving proclamations were four students from the Ocean City Intermediate School who won an essay contest about the impact Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has had on their lives. They are seventh graders Joseph Heng and Gabrielle Henry and eighth graders Danna Ramirez and Catie Brooks.
Bowman, Thompson and Morrissey were recipients of Ocean City’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service awards. They were recognized on Jan. 18 during the city’s King Day celebration, which was held virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The four students also were honored during the holiday ceremony.
Following up on the King Day celebration, Bowman, Thompson, Morrissey and the four students were invited to the Council meeting to be honored again for embodying Dr. King’s ideals of peace, love, charity and racial equality.
“Your heart is so big,” state Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, an Ocean City resident, told the honorees while presenting them with proclamations from the state Legislature.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger said the four students showed in their essays honoring Dr. King’s legacy that they are “certainly wise beyond their years.”
“Their parents and they themselves should be proud,” DeVlieger said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose South Jersey congressional district includes Ocean City, said he plans to talk about the accomplishments of the Ocean City honorees on the floor of the House of Representatives. He awarded them all with congressional proclamations.
“I share his love of our country as well and I know you do,” Van Drew said to Bowman and Thompson while alluding to Dr. King.
Councilman Keith Hartzell, who read City Council proclamations honoring Bowman, Thompson and Morrissey, said all three have helped to make Ocean City “a better, stronger place.”
Over the years, Bowman, Thompson and Morrissey have been known for their community service benefiting children, students and senior citizens. During the pandemic, they have helped organize community food drives to help families in need.
Also Thursday, City Council fondly remembered the late Dick Kabat, a local retail giant and visionary who was credited with developing Ocean City’s downtown business district into a major attraction. Kabat, who had owned Kabat Men’s Shop on Asbury Avenue, died Jan. 19 at 88.
“He was just all-around class, just one of those giants that is no longer with us,” Mayor Jay Gillian said of Kabat.
Hartzell, who bought the building on the 700 block of Asbury Avenue that formerly housed Kabat Men’s Shop, praised Kabat as a “visionary” who was a leading figure in shaping the downtown into a cornerstone of the community.
“He had that vision long before other people did,” Hartzell said.
In other business, the Council members continued to express concerns about a proposed wind farm that would be developed by the Danish energy company Orsted off the South Jersey coast.
Altogether, 99 wind turbines towering about 900 feet high would be anchored 15 miles offshore, stretching from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor and passing by Ocean City.
As he has done in previous Council discussions about the wind farm, DeVlieger led the seven-member governing body Thursday in raising doubts about the economic and environmental benefits of the wind farm.
“We need to take this seriously,” he said.
DeVlieger has repeatedly stated that he believes the wind farm could ultimately jeopardize Ocean City’s tourism-based economy. On Thursday, he also warned that the giant wind turbines could possibly endanger migratory birds that travel along the Atlantic Flyway, a major north-south bird route in North America.
“This could very well affect the migratory bird patterns,” he said.
DeVlieger has been soliciting feedback from local residents and the business community about how they feel about the project. So far, the responses he has received have been “overwhelmingly” against the wind farm, he said.
Councilman Tom Rotondi, who has also raised objections about the wind farm, said the more he looks into the project “the scarier it is.”
Rotondi said he has spoken to a representative of the commercial fishing industry who believes the project would be an economic “tsunami” for the shore economy.
Orsted has announced that it plans to have the wind farm operational by 2024. It is currently going through a rigorous government permitting process that is expected to take two years to complete, a company representative told City Council during a public Zoom presentation on the project in December.
The company is seeking formal approval to possibly run underground electric cables through Ocean City. The cables would connect the offshore turbines to a substation next to the B.L. England Generating Station in Marmora. B.L. England is under consideration as one of the sites where Orsted would link the wind farm to the land-based power grid.
Orsted would need Council’s approval for an ordinance allowing the company to run the cables under Ocean City’s streets. A company official said 35th Street is Orsted’s first choice, with 14th Street and Ninth Street also under consideration.
City Council President Bob Barr, who has repeatedly criticized Orsted for not providing critical information about the wind farm, said that Ocean City may have the ability to slow down the project.
“I do think there are some tools in our tool box to slow them down,” Barr said.
As he has done before, the mayor assured Council on Thursday that his administration will be pressing Orsted for more details about the project, including the impacts on Ocean City. He noted that city officials will be meeting with Orsted representatives in coming weeks.
Gillian also said that the Council members and local residents will have “many opportunities” to comment on the project and learn more from Orsted officials once meetings can be arranged.