OCEAN CITY – One week after hearing a proposal for as many as 200 wind turbines off the coast of the resort in the future, resort officials this week defended their cautious approach to the issue specifically and all of the issues that come before them in general.
During a work session last week, the Ocean City Mayor and Council reviewed a presentation from Bluewater Wind proposing a 200-turbine wind farm off the coast of the resort with construction beginning by 2013. Delaware recently approved a similar, albeit smaller, project off its Atlantic coastline with an anticipated 60-70 turbines producing enough energy to supply about 50,000 homes in that state.
While all agreed the idea has merit from an alternative, renewable energy standpoint, the biggest concern raised during Bluewind’s presentation last week was the visibility of the massive windmills from the shore and their impact on the landscape. Bluewater officials told the Mayor and Council the 200 turbines planned off the resort would be 12-17 miles offshore and barely visible on even the clearest of days. With the hazy skies that accompany most hot, summer days, the offshore windmills wouldn’t be visible at all, according to Bluewater officials.
While town officials listened attentively to the proposal last week, they did not immediately embrace it with open arms, citing the need for more information about the logistics of the project, the cost, the economic benefit and, of course, the visibility issue. Instead, they collectively called for a pragmatic exploration of all of the issues before giving the wind farm idea their blessing.
This week, however, they were somewhat taken to task for their cautious approach to the wind farm idea specifically and most other issues in general by a handful of private citizens who spoke at the end of the meeting. For example, Ocean City resident Ray Sawyer criticized the Mayor and Council for their unwillingness to jump behind the wind farm idea wholeheartedly, but Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out the proposed wind turbines would be as tall as the current tallest building in Ocean City without including another 100 feet for the propellers.
“You have to remember the Century I building is the tallest building in Ocean City and the turbine portion themselves would be the same height,” he said. “Then, you have to add another 100 for the prop blades, which is like another 10 stories. On top of that, there would be 200 of them.”
The Century I building is the tallest in Ocean City at around 350 feet, which is the estimated height for the turbine portion of the proposed windmills. For another point of reference, the huge tower behind the Public Safety Building on 65th Street, which is visible from most of the northern section of town, is about the same height at 300-plus feet.
Meehan said the town’s cautious approach to the proposal shouldn’t be viewed as opposition.
“In 2008, we all agree we need to look at alternative energy,” he said. “The last time they came before us, it was proposed to be just three to five miles offshore. We don’t disagree and we’re not opposed, we just need to establish our position.”
Another frequent speaker at council meetings, Herb Pawlukewicz, chastised the elected officials for what he perceives as consistently dragging their collective feet on proposals and urged them to embrace the wind farm project.
“We have to take the lead on something and not always be the followers,” he said. “This is just like the subway cars. All the other states had them before Ocean City could act on theirs.”
However, Councilwoman Nancy Howard rebuffed the notion the town’s elected officials are too cautious.
“We make careful decisions after we verify things, investigate things and look at them from all sides,” she said. “It’s better to take a close look at things rather then just jumping in. It’s not always best to be first.”
Council President Joe Mitrecic appeared somewhat put off by the discussion and put an end to it with a terse attempt at closure.
“It’s not important to be first, it’s important to be right,” he said. “If we have to take another week, another month, even another year, it’s worth it to get it right if it takes more time. We have to be right for the people of Ocean City.”