Calls To Pause Offshore Wind Projects Grow Ahead Of Point Beach Rally

Mayors and Ocean County commissioners, 10th District legislators and Rep. Chris Smith are demanding delays and changes amid whale deaths.

Posted Sat, Feb 18, 2023

Karen Wall, Patch Staff

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, NJ — In the wake of the ninth death of a whale off the New Jersey coast since late November, calls from politicians at multiple levels to pause offshore wind facility construction have grown in Ocean County.

Rep. Chris Smith on Friday introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would require “an immediate, comprehensive investigation into the environmental approval process” for offshore wind projects.

“Nine dead whales have washed up on our beaches since early December, and we still have no meaningful answers from Governor (Phil) Murphy or the Biden Administration on the broader impact of these projects on the marine environment as they rush to build the largest offshore wind farm in the nation,” he said.

Smith is one of several politicians anticipated to be at Sunday’s rally at 1 p.m. on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk to demand Murphy pause the wind turbine projects. It is to be held in front of Jenkinson’s Aquarium.

Opponents of the offshore wind farms believe sonar being used to determine where to construct the turbines is responsible for the harm the whales are suffering.

“As part of a full-court press for answers, my legislation will investigate the level of transparency from federal agencies that greenlighted this aggressive offshore wind development and determine how much scrutiny was implemented in reviewing the environmental and maritime safety of this project, especially given its unprecedented size and scale,” Smith said.

A necropsy performed by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center on the juvenile female humpback whale that washed up on the beach Monday near Manasquan Inlet found the animal had been hit by a vessel at sea, the organization said.

“The whale was in good body condition and there were no obvious signs of external trauma,” the group wrote. “However, the internal examination showed evidence of vessel strike. There is not always obvious external evidence of vessel strikes, which is why internal exams are important. The results of the tissue analysis will help us determine if the vessel strike occurred before or after death.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a report New York/New Jersey has been seeing an increased number of whale deaths since 2016, in what they call an “Unusual Mortality Event.” It has not yet determined the cause.

“The investigation is ongoing, and data from this whale will contribute to understanding of the causes of the Unusual Mortality Event,” said the Marine Mammal Stranding Center Wednesday.

That hasn’t calmed the calls to pause the offshore projects.

New Jersey senators Robert Singer of the 30th District and James Holzapfel of the 10th District, along with 10th District assemblyman Gregory McGuckin and John Catalano have called on Murphy to pause the projects pending an investigation into the whale deaths. The Ocean County Board of Commissioners has called for the halt as well.

A dozen Ocean County mayors previously have called for a pause for additional investigation.

“Nine dead whales have washed up on New Jersey beaches and we haven’t heard a word from any of the environmental protection agencies,” Singer said. “Whales are federally protected animals and we should have an agency that is dedicated, if not already, to monitor and care for our marine wildlife. There needs to be more oversight to prevent these alarming deaths from continuing in the future.”

“Nine dead whales washing ashore in just over two months is more than a coincidence,” Holzapfel said. “Something in our waters is causing whales to die at an alarming rate. Until we can definitively say that the work related to these projects aren’t causing whales to die the governor should put a halt to all offshore wind projects.”

“The use of sonar mapping and other the work being done to produce these windfarms are the only factors that we’ve seen change in our waters,” McGuckin said. “I find it difficult to believe that they aren’t having some kind of impact on marine wildlife.”

“The Murphy administration continues to deny and deflect while taking no action to address why we’re seeing a new dead whale almost every week wash up on shore,” Catalano said. “It is disheartening that the Murphy administration cares more about protecting windfarms than protecting whales and other wildlife.”

“There are clearly growing concerns over these projects,” said Joseph H. Vicari, director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners. “We need to know more about the potential impact on the environment and the economy before this goes any farther.”

The board of commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday urging state and federal governments to declare a moratorium on the offshore wind energy projects.

“While this Board of Commissioners recognizes the importance of pursuing new and clean energy sources, it acknowledges serious objections and concerns have not been addressed as these projects continue to move forward through the planning stages,” the resolution states.

The resolution notes there are concerns expressed by New Jersey’s $2.5 billion annual fishing industry which provides numerous economic benefits including employment opportunities, along with concerns about the effects on the tourism industry, which generates $7 billion in revenue for the local economy in Ocean County alone.

Vicari said Brita Forsberg, executive director of Save Barnegat Bay, is one of the environmental leaders raising concerns over the projects, in particular the effects on the bay.

“In consulting with Brita, we have come to learn that further study is necessary concerning the high voltage electrical mainline connecting the windmills to the power grid, which will pass directly under Barnegat Bay and could have a negative impact on the fragile bay and surrounding environments, including Island Beach State Park,” Vicari said.

“All totaled the concerns that have been voiced raise a number of legitimate red flags and should not be dismissed by the state or federal government,” Vicari said. “This affects the livelihood of countless people in our state and those that live along the coast.”

Smith’s federal bill would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — commonly known as the congressional watchdog — to investigate the sufficiency of the environmental review process for offshore wind projects, including the impacts on whales, finfish, marine mammals, benthic resources, commercial and recreational fishing, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, vessel traffic, tourism, and the sustainability of shoreline beaches and inlets.

“The lack of conclusive evidence disproving the link between offshore wind development and whale deaths is sufficient to require a pause until assurances can be made to the public that the environmental and maritime safety of these projects has been properly reviewed,” Smith said.

Calls To Pause Offshore Wind Projects Grow Ahead Of Point Beach Rally | Point Pleasant, NJ Patch