Charges Dropped Against Wind Farm Protesters in Ocean City

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Protesters impede preliminary offshore wind farm work from beginning at the Sept. 12, 2023, rally along the 35th Street corridor in Ocean City. (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Hornick)

By MADDY VITALE

Charges against six wind farm opponents arrested in a rally last September in Ocean City were dropped this week and their records were expunged.

About 60 protesters attended the rally with the goal of stopping workers from drilling holes in the street in an early step in Orsted’s proposed Ocean Wind 1 project.

They were there to protest preliminary work along the 35th Street corridor for an underground transmission cable that would link offshore wind turbines with the land-based electric grid at the former B.L. England power plant in Upper Township.

When police asked protesters to relocate about 10 feet from the site, many did. Six others didn’t. After they laid down in the street, they were arrested and charged with two disorderly persons offenses, failure to disperse and obstruction of highways or public pathways.

Six months later, three of them spoke about how they felt vindicated when they received word from their attorney, Michael Ruffu, on Thursday that all of the charges were dropped and their records were expunged. The case was before Ocean City Municipal Court Judge Richard A. Russell.

Bonna Weinstein and her husband, Robert Weinstein, of Ocean City and Abington Township, Pa., Shani Kovacevic, of Upper Township, and Denise Philipp, of Doylestown, Pa., were represented by Ruffu.

Lee Darby Rinaldi, of Absecon, and Karen Corsi, of Woodbury, were also arrested. They were not represented by Ruffu. Their cases were also dismissed.

“We got a call from our attorney and he said the charges were dismissed. He said the charges were dropped against everybody,” Bonna Weinstein said in an interview Saturday of all six people arrested.

Weinstein, 59, and her husband, Robert, 73, decided to attend the rally because they believed that the wind farm would be bad for the ocean and the environment, Bonna Weinstein said.

“We love Ocean City. We purchased our house in 2013. It was never about protecting our property values, like some people say when they speak out against the wind farm. It is about keeping things beautiful – keeping the ocean beautiful, not making it a metal junkyard with turbines,” Weinstein said. “We participated because the earth and the ocean cannot speak for themselves, and we have a duty to keep them as beautiful as we found it.”

The normally law-abiding grandparents never thought that they would get arrested Sept. 12 and they are happy it is over, she noted.

“The lawyer did a wonderful job and we think the court did an amazing thing,” Weinstein added. “It made me believe in and love Ocean City even more.”

The wind farm project would have included towering turbines located 15 miles off the South Jersey coast. (Photo courtesy of Orsted)

Orsted announced on Oct. 31 that it was halting its Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 projects. Representatives of the Danish energy company maintained that it wouldn’t be financially feasible to do the projects.

The Ocean Wind 1 wind farm was proposed for 15 miles off the coast between Atlantic City and Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City, Sea Isle City and other beach towns in the process.

However, there are other projects in the works, including another offshore wind farm called Atlantic Shores, which would run from Atlantic City to Monmouth County.

Kovacevic, who owns a pet boutique called Animal House on Asbury Avenue in Ocean City, was outspoken about her reasons for protesting the day of her arrest.

She said that there were many reasons, one of which was that her livelihood could be at stake if the wind farm was built.

“It will hurt business. It will hurt tourism. It will hurt commercial fishing,” she said at the time of her arrest.

On Thursday, Kovacevic was notified by Denise Philipp that the charges were dismissed against all six protesters.

“Within three hours, I received an email from the courts with an order of expungement,” Kovacevic said.

“It was a long time hanging over our heads. I think the lawyer did a great job,” she said. “I don’t think the police wanted to resort to arresting us. We had to do some civil disobedience in order to achieve recognition that there is opposition to the process.”

Kovacevic said she hopes that what she and the other five protesters did on Sept. 12, by standing up for what they believed in and risking arrest, had some impact on Orsted opting to halt the project.

“I don’t know if we were part of the project being canceled, but I would like to think that it was so,” she said. “And I would hope with other municipalities, maybe people in those municipalities where wind farms may be going, should not give up. They have to keep on fighting.”

From left, protesters Shani Kovacevic, Denise Philipp and Lee Darby Rinaldi display their unified front and are arrested on Sept, 12. (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Hornick)

Ocean City Police Chief William Campbell declined comment Saturday about the charges being dismissed.

But at the time of the arrests, then-Police Chief Jay Prettyman said in an interview that the protesters gathered in the southern lane and the southern sidewalk of 35th Street between Asbury Avenue and Central Avenue. They were repeatedly asked by police to move across the street, away from the construction work.

“We tried our very best to avoid making any arrests. We issued a warning early this morning and directed them to an area within close proximity to the work site to gather legally and they chose to illegally occupy the workspace,” Prettyman said at the time of the arrests.

Philipp said Saturday that she was extremely pleased by the dismissal of the charges and the expungement. But the fight against wind farms is not over, she noted.

“Yes, it’s finally behind us. It was a long process. It is crazy that the fight is still not over. The lease is still out there, so we may have another big wind company to fight again soon,” Philipp noted. “And it is devastating that we still have whales and dolphins washing up on shore.”

Protect Our Coast-NJ has been at the forefront of the fight against the wind farm project locally.

POCNJ President Robin Shaffer, of Ocean City, commented Saturday about the dismissal of the charges against the protesters.

“Obviously, POCNJ is pleased by the outcome. We celebrate justice being served in this situation. The OCPD did an awesome job handling the protest and people exercising their First Amendment right of free speech,” Shaffer said. “We appreciate and respect the protesters for putting their freedom on the line to protect our coastal and marine environment, as well as the Jersey Shore that is such a special place for so many people.”