Another legal challenge to N.J. offshore wind project

Cape May County, fishing, tourism and conservation groups accuse federal agencies of violating laws.

Guests tour the five turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Ørsted, off the coast of Block Island, R.I. Ørsted is being sued over its Ocean Wind 1 project, New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm.

Guests tour the five turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Ørsted, off the coast of Block Island, R.I. Ørsted is being sued over its Ocean Wind 1 project, New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

The federal government is the latest party to be entangled in the maze of litigation surrounding New Jersey’s initial offshore wind farm — the Ocean Wind I project.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, commercial fishing and tourism interests and a conservation group joined Cape May County in accusing federal agencies of ignoring and violating laws designed to protect the environment and marine life.

The dispute is the latest that threatens to delay the project, which also faces stiff financial challenges that have led officials from Ørsted, a Danish company, to consider pulling out of building the 98-turbine project.

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Ørsted’s Ocean Wind I, a 1,100-megawatt project about 15 miles offshore from Atlantic City, is entangled in assorted court battles. Orsted has sued Cape May County and Ocean City over delays in obtaining permits while the state faces challenges over its approval of the project from local groups.

Focus on tourism, marine life

The latest litigation stems from opposition over the project’s perceived threats to tourism and marine life by local communities and officials. That opposition has disrupted the Murphy administration’s bid to rely on multiple offshore wind farms as a cornerstone of its efforts to fight climate change and phase out New Jersey’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“These are nonpartisan issues, with leading voices on both sides of the aisle in New Jersey and throughout the country now voicing the same concerns about the negative impacts of offshore wind projects that Cape May County has been raising for the past two years,’’ said Michael J. Donohue, special counsel for the county.

Donohue also said construction of Ocean Wind I and other proposed offshore wind projects will have no positive impact on climate change or reducing global warming, contrary to the view of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The agency, which is in the Department of the Interior is a defendant in the lawsuit along with the department and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The 71-page lawsuit claims the defendants failed to comply with various laws and regulatory requirements, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, Clean Water Act and other laws.

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The Ørsted project is one of 14 offshore wind farms proposed for off the coasts of New Jersey and New York, according to the lawsuit. Among other things, the lawsuit accuses the federal agencies of failing to consider the cumulative impacts on the environment and marine life of three offshore wind farms near Ocean Wind I, and other projects in the two states.

High stakes

Offshore wind is a key part of the Biden administration’s clean-energy strategy, which seeks to develop 30 gigawatts of wind capacity off the Eastern Seaboard. The lawsuit accuses the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management of a “clear bias’’ toward offshore wind development because of that target.

Ørsted declined to comment on the litigation but issued a statement: “Ocean Wind I remains committed to collaboration with local communities and will continue working to support New Jersey’s clean energy targets and economic development goals by bringing good paying jobs and investment to the Garden State.’’

The U.S. Department of the Interior and BOEM did not respond to calls for comment.

The lawsuit was joined by the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, Clean Ocean Action, the Garden State Seafood Association, LaMonica Fine Foods, Lund’s Fisheries and Surfside Seafood Products.

— Editor’s note: Ørsted is a supporter of NJ Spotlight News.

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