Ocean City Calls for Halt to Offshore Wind Activity Amid Whale Deaths

This humpback was washed up on Brigantine in early January. (Photo credit: Robin Shaffer)

Donald Witkowski

Ocean City has become the latest community to call for an inquiry into whether a series of whale deaths on the Jersey Shore and elsewhere along the East Coast are caused by development work on a proposed offshore wind energy project. rice field.

Mayor Jay Gillian and the city council want an immediate shutdown of the Ocean Wind 1 project pending a full investigation race into seven whale deaths off the New Jersey and New York coasts since early December. increase. Additionally, two of his dead whales recently washed up on beaches in Maryland and Virginia.

Gillian and her seven-member governing body issued a warning about the whale death toll in a powerfully worded resolution approved by the board Thursday night.

“The Mayor and City Council of Ocean City will continue to pursue all measures until a comprehensive and thorough investigation by federal and state agencies can confidently conclude that these activities are not the cause of the recent whales. We call for the immediate cessation of offshore wind development activities.Death,” the resolution said.

During the meeting, Gillian said Orsted, a Danish company developing wind farms, is “pending a lot of money to the community” to prepare support for the controversial project. I got

“Everything is for money. Everyone should pay attention to it,” he said.

Four of the dead mammals were humpback whales washed up on beaches in Atlantic City and Cape May County. Two in Atlantic City, one in Strathmere and most recently one in Brigantine.

“The Ocean City community is heartbroken over the latest juvenile whale that washed up near Brigantine on January 12, 2023,” the resolution said.

This image shows what Ocean Wind’s towering wind turbines look like off the coast of southern New Jersey. (Provided by Orsted)

Ocean City now has other Jersey Shore communities and numerous federal and state elected officials calling for a halt to preparatory work on the wind farm until an investigation is completed to determine the cause of the whale’s death. I have joined the ranks of officials.

The towns of Brigantine and Ventner are among them, along with Atlantic County Senator Vince Polistina and Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who includes coastal towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

“The Ocean City community supports clean energy programs, but first seeks to fully understand the causes of these tragic deaths and what can be done to prevent future losses,” the resolution said. I’m here.

Orsted proposed building a wind energy farm 15 miles off the South Jersey coast between Atlantic City and Stone Harbour. As part of the project, Orsted would like to lay transmission lines under the beach and in environmentally sensitive areas of Ocean City to connect the offshore wind turbines to the onshore grid at the former BL England power station substation in Marmora. thinking about.

Officials in Ocean City and Cape May County have been adamantly opposed to Orsted’s plans for both the wind farm and power lines. They believe the project could harm the tourism industry, commercial fisheries and coastal marine life. They also say the towering wind turbines will create a visual obstruction when viewed from Ocean City land.

Osted, on the other hand, maintains that it has done nothing to harm whales or other marine life in connection with the development of the wind farm.

“As the world’s most sustainable energy company, we prioritize coexistence with communities and marine life. We will build projects to avoid and advance New Jersey’s clean energy ambitions,” the company said in a statement in early January.

Mayor Jay Gillian sits next to city attorney Dorothy McCrosson as Orsted is “spending a lot of money into the community” to prepare support for the controversial wind project. said.

During the public comment portion of Thursday night’s city council meeting, residents of Ocean City were either skeptical of Orsted’s claims or simply did not believe the company.

“We need to protect our country’s coastline. It’s a treasure,” said Rosanne Serrowatka, president of the environmental group Protect the Coast.

Serrowatka not only questioned the environmental benefits of offshore wind projects, but viewed them as an economic “disaster”.

Ocean City resident Chuck Deal predicted that building wind farms would be costly, raise electricity bills for consumers, and be “environmentally unsound.”

The deal also questioned why Orsted’s former U.S. partner, New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group, recently exited the wind project by selling a 25% stake to Orsted.

“This is the main primary utility that we decided this was not going to work,” Deal said of PSEG.

Former Ocean City Alderman Mike De Vleeger, one of the wind farm’s most outspoken critics, said he believes Orsted’s preliminary work on the project is hurting and confusing the whale’s internal navigation system. I was.

“They are driving drunk,” DeVlieger said, claiming the whales appeared to be disabled drivers and may have collided with shipping traffic offshore.

Brigantine’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say at least some of the dead whales may have been killed by ship strikes. For other whales, the results of post-mortem examinations are still pending.

NOAA also says that recent whale mortality predates offshore wind activity in the Atlantic Ocean.

But Ocean City officials are still not convinced. The resolution calling for a moratorium on offshore wind activity says more research is needed to determine “the potential impact of such activity on whales and other marine life.”

Ocean City council members join elected officials from other beach communities in calling for an investigation into the whale’s death.

In other businesses, the city council has announced a new three-year deal with a company that uses falcons and hawks to ward off pesky seagulls that try to steal French fries, pizza and other food from beachgoers and boardwalk visitors. approved the contract.

Gillian and city business manager George Savastano said the bird mitigation program has been successful over the past four years in keeping nuisance gulls off the boardwalk and back into their natural habitat in the ocean and bay. said.

“The purpose is to stop the unnatural behavior of seagulls, which prey on humans and their food,” Sabbastano told members of the council.

Council members agreed that the East Coast Falcons deal had sharply reduced the number of gulls hovering over the boardwalk and intimidating people for food.

“This is good. It’s good for the birds. It’s good for the guests. It’s good for everyone,” Gillian said.

This year, Ocean City expanded its deal with the East Coast Falcons to use raptors to ward off seagulls not only from the boardwalk and beaches, but also from other parts of the resort, including downtown shopping and dining areas. .

Rep. Bob Burr was the only member to vote against the deal. The first year contract is $316,920. The three-year total is expected to bring him just over $950,000.

Barr said he was reluctant to vote on a major deal before knowing if it could negatively impact local government budgets for 2023.

In response to Barr’s concerns, Gillian said, “The budget will be fine.”

Mark Kinnett and Hawk of the East Coast Falcons prepare for Seagull Patrol on the Ocean City Boardwalk in the summer of 2022.

A representative of the local business community said it was important to keep aggressive seagulls away from all areas of town popular with summer tourists.

Boardwalk Merchants Association president Wes Kasmarck said: “Ultimately, this depends on public safety.

Kazmarck said that since the seagull extermination program first launched in the summer of 2019, he has been “overwhelmed” by how effective it has been.

However, some members of the public wanted the Council to sign a deal with the East Coast Falcons.

Bill and Sheila Hartranft opposed spending large sums of money to scare away birds that are a natural part of coastal ecosystems.

“Seagulls have been here long before we were,” said Sheila Hartranft. “Now we just want to get rid of them.”

Donna Moore, a local environmental advocate, said raptors not only harass gulls, but other endemic coastal birds such as terns, sandpipers and cross skimmers.

“When you introduce a foreign bird of prey, it interrupts everything,” Moore says.

Another Ocean City resident, Dave Hayes, questioned whether the contract’s expansion, which includes the downtown area, was designed to “address the restaurant,” which Seagull doesn’t want to bother customers with.

Hayes argued that the cost of protecting customers from seagulls should be borne by restaurants and not by taxpayers.

But Danielle Guerriero, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, read a statement in favor of the deal from local restaurateurs. The statement said the gulls were “completely out of control” before the bird extermination program began.

“It’s really amazing how the program works,” Guerriero said of the turnaround since the East Coast Falcons took over.

Wes Kazmarck, president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association, told the council he was “overwhelmed” by how effective the seagull extermination program has been since it first started in the summer of 2019.

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