Association of Coastal Towns weighs position on offshore wind farms

Mayors seek more information; Delaware Coastal Economic Study to be updated
March 14, 2023

Preceding member discussion at the Association of Coastal Towns meeting March 2 in Dewey Beach, retired Environmental Protection Agency lawyer Mary Douglas offered public comment in support of offshore wind projects.

Douglas, a Lewes resident, said she spoke on behalf of the Delaware League of Women Voters’ People for Offshore Wind Energy Resources Group, which backs Ørsted’s Skipjack Wind Farm, US Wind’s MarWin and other such projects.

Skipjack will help mitigate climate change impacts by displacing some fossil fuels that have caused global warming, Douglas said. Despite scientifically accepted facts, she said, some groups don’t believe in the evidence of global warming and climate change.

These groups are funded in part by oil and gas interests, she said, and want to maintain dependence on fossil fuels by blaming whale deaths on wind projects.

“Whales seem to be used as pawns by towns and organizations that oppose wind energy for a variety of other reasons,” she said. “It is simply untrue that offshore wind activities are responsible for whale deaths.”

Rather, she said, evidence points to an increase in both the whale population and in shipping vessels as the cause for a recent spate of whale strikes. Clean energy will protect whales and other sea life, she said.

Following her comments, Ørsted consultant Danni Van Drew said her organization continues to investigate locations to connect to a power source, including 3Rs Road in North Bethany and Tower Road south of Dewey.  

Plans call for 68 to 70 wind turbines that are 850 feet high, Van Drew said, and the construction operation plan will be filed this summer. Van Drew said she expects to bring power to the grid in 2026.

US Wind’s Mike Dunmyer said his company’s construction operation plan was deemed to be sufficient last June, kicking off a two-year period in which the government will evaluate the plan for technical feasibility and against all existing federal environmental laws.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management should issue a draft environmental impact statement this summer, he said, after which public hearings will be held. A final statement will be issued in 2024, he said, when US Wind will learn if permitting requirements have been completed and when construction can begin.

Members had planned to discuss and possibly vote on next steps concerning a moratorium on wind farms due to marine life issues, but they did not hold a vote. 

Fenwick Island Mayor Natalie Magdeburger said she has concerns regarding wind farms, including a large donation made from a wind farm company to the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, as well as effects on tourism, fisheries, the watershed view and whales, which she said may or may not be related.

Magdeburger said she has spoken with Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan, and would like him to present his perspective at the next meeting. Bethany Beach Mayor Rosemary Hardiman said she would like to let NOAA do its work.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said no evidence supports the claim that whale deaths are linked to offshore wind.

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Stan Mills said he has spoken with Meehan twice, as well as the Ocean City town manager. Mills said everyone who has previously spoken with Meehan has decided to punt on the whale issue. South Bethany Mayor Tim Saxton said he wants science, not emotion, to lead the decision, and Henlopen Acres Mayor Joni Reich said she wants to hear from a scientist on the issue.

Dewey Beach Mayor Bill Stevens, chair of the meeting, said he will reach out to Meehan and summarize the conversation for the group.

Other updates

Hardiman said she had spoken with Danielle Swallow of Delaware Sea Grant regarding the need to update the Delaware Coastal Economic Study, last issued in 2012. Swallow offered to work with James Rising, University of Delaware assistant professor of marine policy, and Kaitlyn Wilson, a University of Delaware doctoral student who would lead the study.

Work began in February, Hardiman said, and is set to conclude by the end of May, a tight deadline to align with Wilson’s schedule. Hardiman said she committed to fund the project and asked other mayors for contributions if possible; mayors said they would confer with their councils and staff on contributions.

The goal of the study is to provide updated data on the coastal towns’ contributions to Delaware’s economy, which will aid mayors when they request state support in investments in resilience and planning.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Jesse Hayden said beach replenishment will now begin about April 1 in Rehoboth Beach, then move south to Dewey, Bethany, South Bethany and Fenwick Island. Beach replenishment services for Lewes will go out to bid this summer, Hayden said.

Dewey and Rehoboth dunes had some erosion but still exceed design templates and won’t need sand, he said. Due to damage, post-and-rope fences may be replaced with traditional slat fences in areas.


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