The presence of construction equipment visible in the main beach parking areas at Island Beach State Park is related to a long-term sewer line project, and not the laying of cable that will eventually link offshore wind turbines to a base across the bay at the former Oyster Creek Generating Station.
Shorebeat checked with state officials after social media posts began circulating that indicated the equipment staged at the park was for a controversial plan to run submarine electrical transmission cables under the park, then under Barnegat Bay, before reaching a terminus on the mainland in Lacey Township. While initial pre-construction and surveying work may be starting at the state park, it is not part of the visible construction efforts that are ongoing, officials said.
Indeed, most of the trucks at the site are labeled with the logo of George Harms Construction which, according to public records, was the contractor selected to complete the sewage project. The offshore wind turbine project is being managed by Ørsted, a Danish multinational energy company and its U.S. subsidiaries and subcontractors.
An official with the DEP provided Shorebeat this week with a letter initially sent to Seaside Park officials, who had inquired about the activities within the park and the trucks that would be transiting the borough on the way to complete construction work. The letter was written by DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette.
“At the time of your inquiry … no offshore wind-related construction activities were underway at IBSP,” the letter said. “It appears that underlying social media and layperson reports may have caused the Borough to conflate construction of DEP-led park improvements with offshore wind development activities. We hope this letter clarifies any misunderstanding for the borough.”
The construction equipment is “related to the installation of a new sanitary sewer system at IBSP,” the letter said. “This important project will transition IBSP from septic systems to sanitary sewer service. The project has been long planned by DEP and construction began in earnest in February 2023, continued throughout the summer, and remains ongoing today.”
LaTourette said the sewer project will bring about eight miles of sanitary sewer lines to the park, improving environmental safety, and is targeted for completion in the spring of 2024, in time for the next summer season.
The letter did, however, acknowledge that work on the turbine cable project is on the way.
An April 27, 2023 DEP permit authorizes two electric transmission cables to come onshore via horizontal directional drilling installation methods below the beach and dunes of Island Beach State Park in a “specified area located beneath state-owned and administered land within Berkeley Township,” terminating in the paved parking lot area of IBSP Swimming Area No. 2.
From that point, transmission cables will be installed below ground via traditional open-cut methods along a path from the parking area to Shore Road and continue north along the road to a maintenance area workspace along the western shoreline of IBSP. The cables will then traverse a specified path along the floor of the Barnegat Bay to a specified onshore landfall point in Lacey Township, where a substation will be built as part of the turbine project. A similar substation will be constructed at another connection point near a former coal-fired power plant in Cape May County.
Pre-construction activities on the underground cable project are expected to commence sometime this month at the park, but will be paused during the summer season, re-commencing in the fall of 2024.
“Under this approach, disruptions to park operations will be avoided and no closures of Shore Road or recreational fishing areas are anticipated during the peak season,” said LaTourette.