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The Wrap: Wind Farm Battle, State Funding K-12, Hotel in Search of a Home

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By Herald Staff

Get ‘The Wrap,’ our take on the news of the week, in your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up at https://bit.ly/HeraldNewsletters.  

Feb. 27March 5  

Wind Farm Battle 

With a dead dolphin washing up on an Avalon beach, the number of sea mammal fatalities along the New Jersey shoreline continues to increase. Meanwhile, the goals for offshore wind as an alternative energy source have been accelerated. Legal challenges have been filed against the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) decisions concerning the allowable route for high-voltage transmission cables. Upper Township’s governing body barely had the votes to adopt an ordinance that paves the way for the Beesley’s Point substation.  

In short, the battle over the wind farms off our coast has heated up and the struggle shows no signs of abating  

Cape May County will host a public information sessionMarch 15 on “offshore wind issues.” The session is held in conjunction with Ocean City. It is labeled as “session 1,” leaving open the possibility of more to come. 

This partnership between the county and Ocean City comes as both lost attempts to prevent Ocean Wind 1 from using municipal and county land for the running of highvoltage transmission cables enroute to a new substation to be constructed at Beesley’s Point in Upper Township.  

The very next day, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) will bring a federal hearing to the Wildwoods Convention Center. Van Drew has been highly critical of the Biden administration’s plans for offshore wind farms that he says pose a threat to the environment. 

Within days of these two events, March 20, Cape May County Democrats are hosting a virtual “lecture” on “Windmills and Whales,” attempting to show the evidence that sea mammal deaths are not the result of preparatory work for wind farm construction.  

While the dueling sessions playout, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a timeline that suggests Ocean Wind LLC and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have deadlines soon for the final Environmental Impact Statement for Ocean Wind 1 and for the Construction and Operations Plan for Ocean Wind 2.  

State Funding K-12 

Gov. Phil Murphy presented his 2024 state budget replete with increases in spending for a variety of initiatives, including elementary and secondary education. Numbers released by the state Department of Education show that not all areas will benefit from the increases in spending.  

Cape May County will see a decrease of 7.4% in its K-12 state aid, one of only four counties that will lose significant state aid funds. State support of county school districts in fiscal year 2023 stood at $46.2 million. The projection based on the governor’s budget for fiscal 2024 is $42.8 million. 

During the pandemic when federal funds were also flowing to school districts and special state funding was authorized for some of them, the activity may have obscured the continual decline in adjustment aid that was phased in following the passage of Senate bill 2 in 2018. Certain districts that had been “held harmless” from losses, even with shrinking enrollments, lost adjustment aid in a phased progression.  

State Department of Education data shows that districts in Cape May County received $24 million in adjustment aid in fiscal year 2018. The adjustment aid projection for fiscal year 2024 is $2.7 million.  

Without changes to the governor’s budget, some county school districts will see significant loss in aid again this year with Wildwood schools dropping by 53% from total state aid in 2022-2023 of $4.1 million to a projected $1.9 million in 2023-2024.   

Hotel in Search of a Home 

Eustace Mita, chief executive officer, of ICONA Resorts, can’t seem to find a welcome mat in communities where he is offering to invest between $150 million and $175 million in a grand hotel in the style of the early 20th century.  

In September 2022, Mita took his proposed hotel resort, complete with artist renderings,toa public meeting at the Cape May Convention Center. It was met with criticism at the meeting and a statement by city officials that the governing body was not interested in designating a redevelopment zone at the old Beach Theatre site Mita had already purchased for $6.7 million.  

Next stop on the presentation express was Ocean City, where an altered design of an equally spacious resort was presented to City Council. The plan called for ICONA to purchase city land at 5th Street and the Boardwalk as a site for the proposed resort hotel complex. In less than a week, Mayor Jay Gillian made clear that he could not support the proposal.  

Now, Mita plans to bring the proposal back to Cape May, where he hopes to build strong public support for a project that would, he maintains, represent the largest development investment in county history.  

Happenings  

Middle Township Mayor Timothy Donohue gave his annual State of the Township address, calling 2023 a year of challenges. Donohue gave no advanced peek into the 2023 budget under development. Already this year, both Upper Township and North Wildwood have announced local tax increases while Sea Isle City introduced a notaxhike budget.  

Middle Township’s Police Chief Christopher Leusner has announced his retirement. Leusner has served as chief since September 2009. 

Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) has introduced apackage of bills aimed, in part, at providing greater local control over response to unauthorized gatherings. 

An Ocean City police sergeant has pleaded guilty to a sexual relationship with a minor and will register as a sex offender. 

A parkway crash claimed a life. So far in 2023, two individuals have lost their lives in county crashes.  

The Ocean City Winery cleared a hurdle as it continues to seek needed approvals amid opposition from some neighbors. 

Sea Isle City introduced two ordinances banning backpacks at certain times on the beaches and Promenade and setting a curfew for those under 18. Both measures are further attempts to control unruly crowds of juveniles in the summer season. 

Enhancing the electric gridis an essential element of the transition to clean energy and the grand strategy of electrifying home and transportation sectors in order to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels. 

With a standingroomonly crowd waiting to participate, the Wildwood Crest Planning Board continued consideration of an application for a beachfront hotel to its April meeting.  

The Spinnaker’s south tower remains closed after a balcony collapse Feb. 24 claimed the life of a contractor. Mayor Leonard Desiderio said the city will wait for a full engineering report saying that these areas are safe to be reoccupied.  

More information is available on the plan for a Five Mile dune construction project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for protection of the Wildwoods.  

Spout Off of the Week 

Rio Grande – Thank you to retiring Middle Township Police Chief Chris Leusner for your many years of service to our community. You will be missed. Our family hopes you will stay involved for the betterment of our town and county. Best wishes. 

Read morespoutsatspoutoff.capemaycountyherald.com.       

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