SHAWN J. SOPER on THE DISPATCH | 21 June 2013
OCEAN CITY — The next major step in the future development of a vast offshore wind farm got underway this week with the launch of a research vessel carrying teams of scientists that will spend the next month or so mapping and surveying the ocean floor in the designated area for the project.
On Monday, the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) was on hand at the commercial harbor in West Ocean City for the launch of the “Scarlett Isabella,” a 136-foot research vessel that will spend the next six weeks in an area about 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City designated as the Maryland Wind Energy Area (WEA). The vessel will host teams of scientists charged with mapping and surveying the ocean floor in Maryland’s designated WEA that could eventually be home to as many as 40 turbines off the coast of the resort.
The thorough geophysical survey of the ocean floor in the designated WEA is being conducted by CB&I/Coastal Planning and Engineering Inc., a private firm contracted by the state to conduct the study. The project comes with a $3.5 million price tag, which is being funded out of the state’s Offshore Wind Development fund. The $30 million fund was created out of the merger between Exelon and Constellation to provide research and development money for Maryland’s offshore wind energy project.
The 22-plus member crew on the “Scarlett Isabella” will use the best available technology, including side-scan sonar, multi-beam bathymetry, magnetometry and seismic sub-surface imaging, to develop a high-resolution geophysical map of the sea floor and sub-floor geology in designated WEA about 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The information collected will be critical to the design of turbine foundations and will be required by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) prior to the approval of any future construction and operation plan.
The data collected will eventually be presented to BOEM for approval in advance of any development of offshore wind energy off Ocean City’s coast. BOEM will review and evaluate any future construction and operation plan for compliance with the National Energy Environmental Policy Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and all other applicable federal laws prior to the development of a future wind farm off the coast.
“They’re going to check out everything,” said Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), who represents Ocean City and the Lower Shore. “They are going to map and survey the ocean floor in the wind energy area and take into account everything from impacts on birds and fish, winds, tides, shipwrecks, unexploded ordnance and anything else that could impede the development of the wind farm in the area in the future.”