New Jerseyans are known for being forthright (some might even say “rude”), so in some ways it's not surprising that representatives of the 1.5GW Atlantic Shores offshore wind development heard an earful at the project’s recent public scoping hearing in Atlantic City.
Held at the city's headquarters, the hearing was ostensibly aimed at gaining comments on the Shell-EDF joint venture (JV)’s proposed landing site for the project on the beach at 35th Street and the onshore transmission cable route beneath city streets to the point of grid interconnection at the Cardiff substation in nearby Egg Harbour Township.
Offshore wind's supporters came to the meeting ready to lay out the benefits of the industry to an area whose last great economic revival came from the casinos that line its seafront.
What the wind power employees and other officials may not have been prepared for, however, was the sheer level of vitriol on display from the 100 or so attending, who had more on their minds than cables and whose views reflect the extreme end of a wave of opposition that's making life uncomfortable for offshore wind projects from New Jersey to Eastern England.
“You are greedy, evil, lying people. We don’t want you here – get out! Stay out of our ocean!” Atlantic City resident Louise Rosanio shouted into the microphone just feet away from Atlantic Shores’ representatives to raucous cheers from the crowd, with the police and security staff looking on providing a clue that this would be no genteel affair.
Rosanio's comments were typical and Atlantic Shores’ outside counsel Jim Boyd, meeting chair, repeatedly stopped proceedings to allow the stenographer to hear and transcribe each speaker.
“It’s unfortunate that these are the only opportunity people have to be heard,” New Jersey resident and prolific industry critic Mike Dean told Recharge on the sidelines.
Dean claimed that the developer hasn’t publicised similar hearings in the past, and at other meetings, didn’t allow public comment.
“It’s one of the few opportunities people have to express their opposition,” he added.
The developer didn’t respond directly to any of the comments at the hearing but instead will release a document addressing each one.
“One of Atlantic Shores' core values is ‘be a good neighbour’ and we think public hearings are just one of many ways for the community to have their voice heard on major infrastructure projects,” a representative for the developer told Recharge.
What became clear during the meeting was that any legitimate concerns expressed at the meeting were mixed in with half-truths and conspiracy theories of the kind familiar on certain regions of the internet.
Whales in the crosshairs
Many in the audience, about 80% of which were vigorously opposed to the project, were galvanised by an ongoing rash of whale strandings on US Atlantic Ocean beaches that are widely blamed on offshore wind survey activities despite scientists in academia and government saying there are no links.
Atlantic Shores has “no regard for these intelligent, magnificent creatures that actually help the environment just by living,” Nancy Hollingsworth, an area resident told Recharge on the sidelines.
Referencing the developer's application with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s fisheries service for marine mammal 'takes' , Hollingsworth said, “they know that they are going to kill a number of marine mammals.”
The term 'take' has been widely confused by offshore wind opponents who assume it means a license to kill marine mammals.
Instead, it refers to incidental harassment of marine wildlife due to site characterisation or construction of offshore energy facilities, including offshore wind.
NOAA-fisheries allows a certain amount of disruption for offshore wind developers but they are not permitted to injure or kill marine mammals.
Hollingsworth noted that several whales discovered stranded on areas beaches reportedly had rope wrapped around their tails.
We “suspect that they are being towed out to sea,” she said, referencing a conspiracy theory circulating on the social media site formerly known as Twitter that NOAA is hiding the true number of marine mammals killed by disposing the carcasses out in the deep ocean.
Entanglement with fishing gear, particularly ropes tied to lobster traps, is second only to vessel strikes as a leading cause of whale mortality, according to NOAA.
One speaker raised the issue of disruption to daily life and the alleged health risks of electromagnetic fields generated by cables buried beneath city streets.
“I can only assume that you have not reached out to these minority populations [Atlantic City has an 81% non-white population], yet you are coming in here to take over their parks and recreation areas, their parks and beaches, tear up their streets and bury electric cables beneath their streets that run near their schools,” said Keith Moore of Brigantine.
The Atlantic Shores representative told Recharge: “Atlantic Shores leads with science, and we respond to misinformation as best we can across media channels, working with elected officials, local government, trusted validators, local institutions, civic leaders, and community-based organisations to provide fact-based information about offshore wind and our projects.”
Not every speaker was opposed to the project, however, and Moore’s testimony was followed by Reverend Ronald Huff, a minister representing GreenFaith Incorporated, who told the hearing that the Black and Brown community is “working with Atlantic City and is working with these people [Atlantic Shores], and I can assure, we have been notified.”
GreenFaith Incorporated describes itself as a “multifaith movement to promote climate justice.
“The Atlantic Shores South project stands as a beacon of hope by delivering the power of over 700,000 homes while significantly reducing greenhouse emissions and exemplifies our responsibility to embrace renewable energy,” said Huff.
Huff wasn’t the only speaker in the room to pushback against the raucous crowd.
“Some people came here looking to be disruptive and that’s no way to be heard,” Andrew Sanford of Atlantic City told Recharge.