Fenwick Island park improvements linked to wind farm project

FENWICK ISLAND — Fenwick Island State Park could become the nation’s first park powered by offshore wind farming in a lease/partnership proposal that would bring millions of dollars in upgrades and new amenities to one of Delaware’s most popular state parks.

Ørsted, the largest energy company in Denmark and a pioneer in clean-energy offshore wind farming, is partnering with Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

An initial memorandum of understanding states that Ørsted would lease approximately one acre of the 378-acre park for construction of an interconnect facility connecting power generated by turbines in the Atlantic Ocean.

The turbines would be 17 to 20 miles offshore
Besides power generated by its Skipjack Wind Farm to the state of Maryland, Ørsted would provide upward of $15 to $18 million in improvements to address challenges and needs at Fenwick Island State Park.

“This is really a win-win for us,” said Joy Weber, Development Manager for Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind. “Fenwick Island is a perfect place for us to build this interconnection facility. So, the park is giving us the ability to lease the land that we need to build our facility. Because of that we are able to make significant park improvements. I think it will be some great improvements.”

Delaware State Parks Director Ray Bivens called it a home run for the state’s citizens.
“At state parks we have about $140 to $160 million in backlog statewide. We see it as a mutually beneficial relationship. We have tons of public private partnerships.”

State and Ørsted officials unveiled renderings of and information about the proposed project at a well-attended Oct. 2 public open house at Fenwick Island Town Hall.

Highlights of the state parks’ wish list includes a two-level, partially subterranean parking garage for increased parking, a pedestrian overpass spanning Coastal Highway connecting the park’s bay side and ocean side, two additional bathhouses, sidewalk/trail connections, a playground area, lifeguard housing and an amphitheater area.

In addition, a new Chamber of Commerce building would house a nature center and serve in a visitors’ center capacity.
The roof of Ørsted’s interconnection facility would provide courts for pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in America. Plans could also include a pavilion.

“Right now, the park is essentially just a parking lot and a beach crossover and a restaurant,” said Mr. Bivens. “Then on the other side of the highway Coastal Kayak is a concession that rents boats. The chamber of commerce sits on park property, but it is not connected to the park in any way.”

“Usually these kind of utility projects kind of cable through us and look for an easement. They approached us with a very innovative approach, in my opinion. They plug into the grid right there,” said Mr. Bivens. “We told them (Ørsted), we only consider it if it was a no loss of recreational, and we wanted to see recreational amenities greatly improved.

“Right now, the park is a summer destination and that’s pretty much it. I really see this project activating kind of a four-season park instead of just Memorial Day to Labor Day, especially for people who live around here.”

Among park’s biggest limitations, Mr. Bivens said, are insufficient parking, need for more lifeguards, and bathrooms frequently too small to accommodate crowds.

“They did propose a two-story parking structure. It allows us to shrink the footprint. It will be bermed from the road so … you’re not seeing a parking garage. First one (level) will be underground,” Mr. Bivens said. “We add 30 percent more parking.”

“We’re going to increase the parking so that more Delawareans can access the actual beach,” Ms. Weber. said.
“They created a trail that connects to the town, and the town has active sidewalk projects going on,” said Mr. Bivens. “So someone would be able walk into the park from Fenwick, along the ocean, over the pedestrian bridge and actually get into a kayak at Coastal Kayak, or use one of the new pickleball courts – that would be the first at Delaware state parks – on the roof of the facility.”

Traffic congestion and stacking in the park’s one-way in/one-way out access is a concern in the event of medical emergency. That would be addressed with another proposed access point, which would require Department of Transportation approval.

“We gave them a list of 14 or 15 of our greatest problems,” said Mr. Bivens. “We’d already been looking, knowing that we need to make some changes to the park. We never dreamed about a pedestrian overpass, because that would be so far out of our budget.”

State parks also plans to eliminate the fee booth through parking machines.
Overall, these projects are estimated to cost between $15 and $18 million, if the state were to cover it, Mr. Bivens said.

Under Ørsted’s proposal, Maryland has agreed to buy their power for this project, Mr. Bivens said.
“The project only happens if it is fully approved, every level … for their wind farm. They are one of two that is proposed in the area,” said Mr. Bivens.

All connections from the turbines out at sea to the interconnection would be located under the ocean bed and underground.
“We will actually run a cable from the wind farm and go completely under the beach, so we won’t disturb the beach, and we will use these lines right here (along Coastal Highway) to interconnect into the grid,” said Ms. Weber.

There are concerns.
A group of Fenwick residents, in a collective hand-out release at the Oct. 2 open house, stated that “should any development projects move forward, they proceed in careful observance of environmental and safety standards consistent with DNREC’s mission and values and public interest.”

More specifically, the citizens request that any further expansion of parking must proceed northward from the existing park access point, away from residential areas; new stoplights and signage be located at any access points and a green buffer be located between any public facilities on state land and the limits of the town Fenwick Island.
“Currently 2.4 percent of our land at Fenwick is developed. After this project, 2.6 is going to be developed. We’re disturbing less than three quarters of an acre,” said Mr. Bivens. “We try to really look at people that live close to the park. There is no development any closer to them.”

“I think it’s natural to have some questions about something that is new, like this industry,” Ms. Weber said. “It’s been going on in Europe for decades now. And Ørsted has been participating in that industry. But this is new for the United States.”
There are visual concerns about the offshore wind farm.

“At its closest distance it would be at least 17 miles. It will be difficult to see; on a clear day you will be able to see wind turbines,” said Ms. Weber.

Mr. Bivens said state parks have averaged about $2.8 million a year to rehab our facilities statewide. “This project, just to redo the lot was already No. 2 on our capital list for the whole state. It needs to be totally tore up because it was direct poured onto the sand. There is no base level. There is no modern stormwater management. It’s a $2 million project. No. 1 on the list is the Cape Henlopen sewer plant, and that’s a $5 million project,” said Mr. Bivens.

About the park
Fenwick Island State Park offers three miles of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, and bayside access points along Little Assawoman Bay.

The park welcomed 230,638 visitors last year, and a 2018 economic impact study indicated Fenwick Island State Park contributed $60 million in visitor spending, the third-highest in the Delaware State Park system.
The park deals with obsolete infrastructure that include an undersized bathhouse, no continuous sidewalk pedestrian access from town limits into the park and periodic flooding. Also, some buildings are not ADA compliant.

Skipjack Wind Farm
The Skipjack Wind Farm is one of two approved offshore wind farms off the Delmarva coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
It will deliver enough clean energy to power 35,000 homes and will establish the Mid-Atlantic region as a leader in offshore wind/clean energy initiatives, according to Ørsted.
At present, there is only one wind farm in the United States.

“We built that,” Ms. Weber said. “It’s off the coast of Rhode Island, off a little island called Block Island. It actually powers the entire island. We were able to turn off diesel generators on the island and now the entire runs on wind power.”
That Block Island project has five turbines.

The Skipjack Wind Farm will be up to 15 turbines. “We’re in the permitting process right now to determine that,” Ms. Weber said.
Ørsted recently submitted its Construction Operations Plan (COP) to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a federal agency that oversees the process.

“They will be kind of the coordinating entity among all the other agencies and stakeholders that will weigh into this process,” said Ms. Weber, who is based at Ørsted’s Annapolis, Maryland office. “The review of our COP is extensive and will take over a year to complete. Once that is approved then we can begin to actually construct.”
Ørsted also has offices in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, among others.
“We’ll have one in London soon,” Ms. Weber said. “We have offices everywhere because we are going to be building projects up and down the coast.”

Project timeline
If plans proceed on schedule, the Skipjack Wind Farm project and park improvements could be completed in about three years.

“Best care scenario: the end of 2022. It could be done in phases,” said Mr. Bivens. “Our big requirement is – no closures.”
More detailed plans will be forthcoming to pinpoint actual cost.

“We’re in the beginning stages of actually developing the bones of everything we’ve been talking about,” Ms. Weber said. “Once we get through that design phase, we’ll have a better understanding of exactly how much that will cost.”

“The MOU that we signed we would need a much better agreement of understanding,” said Mr. Bivens. “As the wind farm comes online these capital improvements would have to be done and we would not let them shut the park down for the main season.”
For information on the project, destateparks.com/FenwickImprovements.

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