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Wind power survey boat hits bottom at inlet

(June 5, 2015) Finding out what commercial fishermen in the area already know, the Shearwater, a 110-foot vessel hired by U.S. Wind to conduct geophysical surveys of the ocean floor, struck bottom trying to enter the Ocean City inlet on Monday and returned to sea for 12 hours before docking.

U.S. Wind is a Maryland-based offshore renewable energy company that won the rights to build a 500-megawatt offshore wind farm near Ocean City. The survey is one of the first steps in the process to construct the farm, which isn’t expected to be operational before 2019.

“We were coming in nice and slowly when the crew sensed we were close or slightly touching the floor,” Paul Rich, director of project development at U.S. Wind, said.

Rich said the Shearwater has a 9-foot draw, while the inlet is approved by the Army Corps of Engineers to be dredged to a 10-foot depth with a 2-foot overdraft, for what should be a total of 12 feet.

“This underpins the need for continued Army Corps dredging, that’s for sure,” Rich said.

The Shearwater was traveling to Ocean City to pick up supplies for its mission to survey the ocean floor in the area where the wind turbines are expected to be built. Detailed maps of the area will let the company know where the best spots for placement are, and what challenges they may face.

“When you’re dealing with these kinds of operations, you build inconveniences like this in,” Rich said. “There will be no tangible delay in our mission.”

Once supplied, the complement of six crew and 14 scientists are expected to remain on the proposed construction site for three or more weeks conducting surveys.

Commercial fishermen have known the perils of navigating the inlet for a long time now, as the inlet, formed by a hurricane in 1933, continues to fill with sand and sediment. The dredging that has been done seems no longer to be enough.

At least one commercial fisherman has moved his fleet to New Jersey, costing the county millions in associated revenue. State, local and federal officials met with commercial fishermen, county employees and dignitaries from several agencies at the end of April to discuss the issue.

Three solutions were proposed and of those one required no additional effort. Bob Blama, a self-described “mud sucker” and project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers said he would pursue additional funding in an attempt to dredge the inlet to a total depth of 14 feet.

The second and third options both required a letter of intent signed by local officials describing the need for a more robust dredging effort and an increased depth allocation to anywhere between 14 and 16 feet. The county approved these letters of intent at the end of May.

There is likely to be some local contribution to the proposed increase in depth and advanced dredging procedures, but those contributions may be in-kind, such as the county procuring or donating a site to dump the dredge material.

Those considerations will be worked out if and when a contract is signed, County Attorney Sonny Bloxom explained to the Worcester County Commissioners when asked a similar question when the letters were approved.


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