A proposed offshore wind farm that would connect to a facility at Fenwick Island State Park was met with skepticism by residents at a town hall meeting in Dagsboro Tuesday night.
Ørsted, a Danish company, has proposed placing 10 windmills about 17 miles off the coast of Bethany Beach, and running a 8-inch wire drilled 30 feet under the sea floor, the beach at the State Park, and Route 1, ultimately ending up at a station on the Little Assawoman Bay side of the park.
Project detractors have taken several angles, including pointing out that Ørsted is teaming up with Maryland to help build the project, even though the main infrastructure would eventually connect into Delaware. Ørsted Development Manager Joy Weber said Delaware would benefit from the wind park.
"The financial mechanism that allows a company like us to invest in building a project like this, that's with the state of Maryland. The power itself, the electrons coming in off the wind farm, they're going into the PJM grid, and they're going to wherever they're needed, so Delaware will be getting some of that power."
In exchange for being allowed to build the station inside of Fenwick Island State Park, the closest point from the edge of the windmill farm, Ørsted has offered to spend $18 million in improvements to the park.
Included in DNREC's plans for the money would be a two-tiered parking structure that could cause a 40% increase in capacity, an amphitheater, and a pedestrian bridge that would connect the bay side to the ocean side.
Director of Parks & Recreation Ray Bivens said the bridge would create a vital link.
"Right now I would not let any of my children, even the college student, cross Coastal Highway between the bay side and the ocean side of the park. I think a walking connection between the town, the park, and the bayside would be a huge win for visitors and safety all around."
There would also be the opportunity for two entrances and exits to the parking area on the ocean side, which could be crucial in an emergency when traffic going into the park backs up onto Route 1 on popular days.
"Right now the way we bring an ambulance in, is that we block the exit. Luckily, it hasn't been when something big has happened."
Residents challenged why the station needed to be right near the current parking areas and not in a more remote section of the park, but Bivens said they have no plans to build on wetlands.
"There are rare species up there that prohibit us from going any further north in the project. We're very careful about that, there's species at Fenwick Island State Park that you can't find anywhere else in Delaware, and we're very proud of that."
But the cost of getting $18 million of taxpayer free money to spend on improvements to park would be the appearance of the structures off the coast.
Ørsted provided pictures showing they'd be tough to see on the horizon, but Ocean City, Maryland Mayor Rick Meehan argued it won't be the same.
"The sunrise that you get up and look at in the morning, and I know many of our visitors do, will never be the same. It looks like Star Wars, just look at the pictures. Future generations will not be able to enjoy, what we enjoy today."
A Fenwick Island resident who spoke at the meeting was unhappy that another commercial building would leak into one of the rare parts of unincorporated beach land left in Delaware.
"We've been able to count on the few miles between Fenwick and South Bethany as a buffer, and the sense of what beaches in their natural state can offer. There are no other stretches of undeveloped land between Ocean City and Lewes, so it's imperative that DNREC do its job to protect that little natural shoreline remains."
The wind farm still has a way to go before being approved. Ørsted is still in the process of applying for the project, and doesn't expect to get federal approval until 2021.
Under that timeline, they plan to begin installation in early 2022, with the hope it would be providing power by the end of that year.
If the deal with DNREC is approved, Fenwick Island State Park would begin to see its renovations begin as early as 2021, with the goal of being completed at about the same time as the new station. The park would not close for construction during the summer.
The public still has a few weeks to provide public comment to DNREC about the new wind farm.