By MADDY VITALE and DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Max Maher had no intention of going to an offshore wind farm protest in Ocean City on Saturday. But when the Johnstown, Pa., teenager read a pamphlet handed to her on the Boardwalk warning about what could happen if a wind farm is built off the South Jersey coast, she felt she had to go.
“I came for the weekend to see my friends. I’m not a huge beachgoer, but when I read that the wind farm could destroy the marine life and the environment, I was angry,” the 16-year-old said. “I wanted to do my part.”
Opponents of a proposed wind energy farm off the South Jersey coast joined hands and formed a human chain symbolizing their fight against a project they believe will cause harm to the shore’s economy and the environment. Dubbed “Hands Across The Beaches,” the protest, organized by Protect Our Coast NJ, a grassroots organization, brought out people of all ages to take a stand.
They stood together to send a message to the Danish energy company Orsted that they do not want the project, which would entail 98 towering turbines in the waters 15 miles off the coast from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor.
The protest began at 14th Street in Ocean City and headed north, with another focal point at Ninth Street.
Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, a wind farm opponent, walked onto the beach and spoke with some of the protesters.
“This is what politics are all about – grassroots. This is about the people and this is what Washington and Trenton took away from us – our right to express how we feel about it,” Gillian said. “Ocean City was ground zero. They took away our home rule and this is what happens when you don’t listen to the taxpayers.”
Protesters linked hands. Some carried flags. Others waved signs that read: “Don’t Touch Our Ocean,” “Protect Our Coast, Stop the Industrialization of Our Oceans,” and “Save Ocean City.”
Roseanne Serowatka, the rally organizer from Protect Our Coast NJ, said of the showing, “I feel proud of all the people who are making the effort. We are excited. We are not going to be pushed around. We need to protect our ocean.”
Orsted plans to begin construction in the fall on the Ocean Wind 1 project and have it completed in 2024 and start generating power in 2025. The wind farm would be 15 miles off Atlantic City and pass by Ocean City and other shore communities down to Stone Harbor.
Gov. Phil 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.
Ocean Wind 1 would be the first offshore wind farm in the state and is part of Murphy’s broader strategy to make New Jersey a national leader in renewable energy.
Among the protesters were Robin Shaffer, an Ocean City Board of Education member and strong critic of the wind farm project. Liz Nicoletti, another school board member, local real estate broker Rich Baehrle and Kelly Hudak, an Ocean City mother, joined with Shaffer at the protest.
“We have to save the ocean,” Shaffer said, while holding an American flag. “I care about this because I live here.”
Baehrle was dressed in the same whale costume he has worn at other anti-wind farm rallies. He says it serves as a reminder that whales and other marine life can be harmed by offshore wind farms.
During the protest, Baehrle shouted “killer turbines.”
Cathy Ingham, a homeowner in Ocean City since 2004, is a member of Protect Our Coast. She said she will continue the fight to stop the wind farm from being built.
“It will kill marine life and destroy our God-made view of the ocean. It’s going to hurt tourism and not help us. It will cost us,” Ingham said.
On the Ninth Street beach, a second, though smaller group of protesters, also joined hands and carried signs denouncing the offshore wind farm industry.
Dennis Township resident Kathleen Harper, one of the organizers of the protest, said she senses that the momentum is swinging in the direction of wind farm opponents as they step up their fight.
“This is going on all the way up and down the East Coast,” Harper said of the full extent of the Hands Across the Beaches protest. “We hear that it’s going on in New York, in Delaware and in Maryland. We even heard that Australia knows about this.”
Harper said that as people learn more about the wind farms, they are becoming alarmed about the potential harm that the projects may cause to the shore.
“I think we are becoming united on the East Coast in our fight against the wind turbines,” she said. “I really do believe that people are starting to listen and they are starting to understand what we have to say.”
Bill Selby, another protester, linked hands with his 9-year-old son, Noah, while Noah held hands with his 12-year-old sister, Hannah, as the line stretched down the beach toward the Ocean City Music Pier.
“It’s for the environment. It’s for our habitat. It’s for the whales,” Selby called out during the protest.
Selby, who lives in Newtown, Pa., noted that he has been vacationing in Ocean City since he was a child and has great affection for the shore.
“We’re here to help saves the whales and to get involved in a very worthy cause,” Selby said while adding that he wants his children to be involved, too.
Noah, who was one of the youngest protesters on the Ninth Street beach, called the shore “a treasure” that needs to be protected.
“We have to save all of the animals in the ocean,” Noah said.
Throughout the 10-minute vigil at Ninth Street, Jay Samson used a bullhorn to exhort the protesters while also blasting the offshore wind farm industry and its political supporters.
“I’m going to be a pain in the ass to those politicians who don’t want to do anything,” Samson said.
Samson, of Somers Point, is a member of the Guardians of the East Coast and Save the East Coast, two groups dedicated to stopping the offshore wind farms from being built.
After the protest wrapped up, Samson said in an interview that the wind farm opponents are more united than ever and will continue their fight until the project is stopped.
“We are battling back. We are not going to give up. If anything, we are more motivated now than ever,” he said.