By MADDY VITALE
The message was clear: Halt all work on wind farm projects up and down the coast until the answer to the recent spate of whale and dolphin deaths can be determined.
Protect Our Coast NJ, an independent grassroots organization opposed to offshore wind energy farms, held a rally Thursday at the Trenton State House Annex to demand that Gov. Phil Murphy halt the projects.
Numerous advocacy groups, some formed to address what they call the “transformative industrialization” of the ocean, have been speaking out against the construction of offshore wind farms.
“I’m just a mom from Ocean City. I am not a global speaker. I am not a political anything. I’m not an activist of any kind,” said Suzanne Hornick, of Ocean City, one of the founders of Protect Our Coast NJ. “I’m just a mom who cares about my beach, my environment, my ocean.”
During the rally, wind farm opponents held signs that read, “Stop the Wind Farms,” “Murphy Sold Our Coast,” “Don’t Touch Our Ocean,” “Stop Ocean Surveying” and “Save Our Whales.”
They applauded, cheered, and at times chanted “Save Our Whales” and “Stop the Wind Farms” during the hour-plus-long rally.
They also presented an online petition that has nearly 500,000 signatures. The petition demands a halt on wind farm projects following the whale deaths.
Since December, at least 30 dead whales have washed up on the East Coast shoreline, including 10 in New Jersey. On March 21, eight dolphins beached themselves in Sea Isle City. Two of the dolphins died almost immediately, while six others were euthanized after their condition deteriorated.
Gov. Murphy, a strong supporter of offshore wind technology, wants New Jersey to become a leader in green energy. So far, New Jersey has approved three offshore wind farms and is looking to add more. Murphy’s goal is to have offshore wind farms producing 11,000 megawatts of power in New Jersey by 2040.
He has continued to say that there is no proof that the deaths are connected to sonar mapping of the seabed for wind farms.
Some lawmakers, including state Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen, spoke out strongly against the wind farm projects at the rally.
McClellan and Simonsen represent the First Legislative District, which includes all of Cape May County and parts of Atlantic and Cumberland counties.
“Anytime you puncture our ocean floor and put four acres of rock around it and run cables on the shore, it’s not a good thing,” Simonsen said of the proposed wind turbines. “This whole thing has been a money grab. It doesn’t produce enough energy. And, for those who didn’t know, turbines are not recyclable. Where they get green energy from, I do not know. I think it’s just about greenbacks — that’s money in their pocket.”
Like Simonsen, McClellan said there was only one thing to do.
“It’s time for us to take our seas back,” he shouted into the microphone. “We’re tired of all those selective environmentalists.”
He said sonar testing is “scaring the animals.”
“We need to stand up for the coast. We need to stand up for the communities and we need to stand up for our rights. Let’s continue to fight,” McClellan said. “Let’s continue to make sure we fight for our animals and fight for our Jersey Shore. We won’t let them kill our tourism, our animals or our Jersey Shore.”
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose district includes the shore towns of Atlantic and Cape May counties, introduced a resolution earlier this month calling for a congressional investigation of the potential negative impacts of offshore wind development.
The resolution demands the halt of wind farm activity pending an investigation of the cause of the whale deaths.
In a related development involving the wind farm activity, Van Drew’s amendment to the Lower Energy Costs Act passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.
“The Lower Energy Costs Act is essential in relieving Americans’ burden at the pump and regaining American energy independence,” Van Drew said in a release.
Van Drew continued, “However, I needed assurances that fast-tracking offshore wind development would not be included absent adequate investigations into what the potential adverse effects of these projects would have across all sectors, including our environment and the economy.”
During the rally, some speakers said that the wind farms are being fast-tracked by Orsted, the Danish wind energy company, as it prepares to build the projects.
Point Pleasant Mayor Paul Kanitra criticized the governor for his support of wind farms.
“Murphy still has his head in the sand. He will run for president. He doesn’t care,” Kanitra said. “But all these guys behind me are up for election in June. The way we get change here is to put your money where your mouth is. If you don’t know where your mayor stands – vote them out.”
Another speaker, Mike Dean, who said he works with a number of the concerned anti-wind farm groups, gave the crowd an overview of the scope of the wind farm industry.
There are 25 leased properties, covering 2 million acres of land along the coast from Massachusetts to South Carolina. There are close to 4,000 proposed wind turbines and 10,000 miles of cable buried under the ocean floor, Dean said.
“There will be dozens of substations in the water up and down the East Coast,” he noted.
Keith Moore, one of the founding members of Defend Brigantine Beach, another coastal group, called the work of the wind farm companies “rushed, reckless and dangerous.”
“Money and power are the motives for these operations,” Moore said. “Building these massive turbines — ratepayers will pay the bill. They will be the dominant feature on our coastline.”
Throughout the rally, speakers repeatedly vowed to continue their fight against the wind farms.
Hornick said in closing remarks, “This is one of the most important issues New Jersey faces. This is what New Jersey will be. It’s our right and our responsibility to stand up for what we believe and ensure that our politicians are working for us.”