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Fenwick officials frustrated by Skipjack proposal

Association of Coastal Towns demands seat at future talks
November 8, 2019

Story Location:
Fenwick Island State Park
Fenwick Island  Delaware  19944
United States

At its first meeting since a plan for a transmission connection from the proposed Skipjack Wind Farm into Fenwick Island was announced, the Association of Coastal Towns unanimously demanded to be involved in discussions as they move forward.

The proposed project, which would provide a location for the proposed offshore wind farm to connect to the power grid, was revealed in October during a public meeting in Fenwick Island. In return for being allowed to build its connection facility, Ørsted, the Danish company that would build the proposed wind farm, has offered to fund $18 million in improvements to the state park.

At the ACT meeting Nov. 5, Fenwick Island Town Manager Terry Tieman, frustrated by lack of communication from state officials, questioned the wisdom of putting so much money into a state park, when, she said, the state has proven its inability to maintain infrastructure. She conceded the park needs improvements, but she said the money could be better used by establishing a revolving loan fund for other improvements, such as sidewalks and drainage improvements in Fenwick Island.

Tieman said the only time Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has met with town officials was during the public hearing in September.

“We deserve a meeting with the secretary,” said Tieman.

Fenwick Island Mayor Gene Langan said he recognizes the state park is on state-owned property, but he said the park backs up to Fenwick Island. In addition to wanting a seat at the table for future discussions, he said, he would like to see the state move a proposed 1-acre bayside connection site farther north.

The proposed improvements to the park are excessive, said Langan. Money should instead be set aside for ongoing issues, such as back bay flooding and dredging, and beach replenishment, he said.

“I’d like to see this refined if we move ahead with it,” said Langan.

Joy Weber, Ørsted spokeswoman, attended the meeting. She said no decisions have been made by Ørsted or the state, and she said the company would be happy to discuss how to better use the money.

Weber said the state park was chosen as a connection site for two reasons – it’s cheaper for the company to lay the necessary cable because it’s a straight shot from the proposed offshore wind farm, and there’s less environmental impact. Fenwick Island State Park is a blank space, she said.

Weber said finding places to connect to the power grid is a challenge up and down the Atlantic Coast. It’s an obstacle everywhere, she said.

For the most part, comment on the connection site from other mayors was limited. The association comprises mayors and officials from Lewes, Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island.

Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said he traveled to Ørsted’s five-turbine wind farm off Block Island in Rhode Island – the first commercial offshore installation in the country. He said he spoke with local officials on the impact of the wind farm, and for the most part they agreed there had been an uptick in tourism and environmental benefits because the island previously had been powered by a coal-burning power plant.

Becker said he saw a cross-section of the cable used to connect the wind farm to Block Island, and it’s about 6 inches across. Becker then distributed a photo of the cross-section, which prompted Dewey Beach Mayor TJ Redefer to say it sounded like the installation of a monster cable was being proposed, but it doesn’t look that bad.

David Stevenson, director, Caesar Rodney Institute Center for Energy Competitiveness, addressed the mayors about the economic impact on the state’s tourism industry.

Becker reiterated he had spoken with Block Island officials about tourism, and he said all of them support the project.

Redefer said he had also read reports of the positive impacts on tourism. He said the biggest concern he had read about was the cost.

DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin could not be reached for comment. Instead, Michael Globetti, department spokesperson, said in an email Nov. 6 that DNREC held meetings with numerous stakeholders during the week of Aug. 19, including but not limited to Langan, Tieman and Fenwick Island Vice Mayor Richard Mais. Globetti said DNREC Director of Parks & Recreation Ray Bivens attended the Fenwick Town Council meeting Sept. 27. He said Garvin spoke with Fenwick officials Nov. 6 to discuss the issue.

DNREC is soliciting public comment on the proposed Fenwick Island State Park proposal until Monday, Dec. 2. Comments can be made at www.destateparks.com/fenwickimprovements.

In addition to online public comment, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, and Rep. Ronald Gray, R-Selbyville, have scheduled a public meeting to the discuss the topic. The meeting will take place 6 - 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 19, in the auditorium of Indian River High School, 29772 Armory Road, Dagsboro.

Skipjack information

Skipjack Wind Farm is a 15-turbine, 120-megawatt-producing offshore wind farm proposed for the Atlantic Ocean. The project will be located roughly 18 miles offshore and is expected to produce enough energy to power about 35,000 homes. The size of the turbines is unknown at this point, but Ørsted, the Danish company building the wind farm, has proposed using General Electric’s Haliade-X, a 12-megawatt turbine that has a height of over 850 feet when a blade is straight up in the air.

Editor’s note: The print edition did not included the time and date of the meeting at Indian River High School because the information came after deadline.