Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: Wind resistance in Ocean City is ludicrous

The resistance by the mayor and other municipal leaders in Ocean City to the prospect of a wind farm 14 to 17 miles offshore makes me think of Larry Vaughn from “Jaws.”

Vaughn was the jittery mayor of the fictional resort of Amity, puffing cigarettes, sporting amazing polyester jackets, telling Chief Brody and Hooper to chill on all the killer-shark talk.

The mayor was worried about its effect on Amity’s forthcoming tourist season.

“I don't think you appreciate the gut reaction people have to these things,” he tells Brody. “You yell, ‘Barracuda!’ and everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘Shark,’ and we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

And, of course, shark panic would be bad for business, perhaps even a threat to Amity’s existence.

Down in the non-fictional paradise of Ocean City, we have civic leadership that also sees an existential threat on the horizon.

Except it’s not a great white.

It’s white twirly-sticks.

It’s a plan to erect clean-energy wind turbines 14 to 17 miles away from picturesque Coastal Highway.

Local leaders think it will hurt tourism and property values in Maryland’s seaside resort.

So opposed are Ocean City leaders to the wind farm they have turned down an offer of free electricity and hundreds of thousands of dollars in other incentives from the farm’s developer.

These solons will not be bribed into embracing the future!

I checked and I haven’t used this word in a long time: Ludicrous.

I think that shows impressive restraint, given all the opportunities I have, here in Baltimore and during the Trump era, to describe stuff as ludicrous.

But I think “ludicrous” is a good word for a decision to turn down free electricity for Ocean City without at least asking the local citizenry about it. After all, municipalities elsewhere have been able to cut back on their utility bills using locally generated electricity from wind power.

As for concerns about the wind farm being within sight of Ocean City, and therefore discouraging people from going to its beaches, renting summer domicile and spending money on the Boardwalk — I have a hard time seeing anything but ludicrous there, too.

Think about 14 to 17 miles.

That’s downtown Baltimore to Hunt Valley.

I realize there are buildings, trees and other stuff in between the two — or, as a demolition contractor once told me, “A lot of obscurities in your way” — but, even with a clear shot on flat ground, I can’t imagine being able to see Hunt Valley from Baltimore Street.

And I can’t imagine wind turbines 14 to 17 miles from Ocean City’s beach as anything more than vague, white twirly-sticks or, on low-visibility days, whitish specks.

But this will discourage people from going there? This will hurt property values?

Certainly Ocean City is more resilient than that. Certainly the people of Ocean City have faith that the summer pilgrims will come, their mouths watering for fries and funnel cake, no matter what.

I realize that Ocean City has been built in the most aesthetically pleasing way, to preserve the town’s quaintness and Victorian charm, and that people have gone to great lengths to keep it from becoming a gaudy, overdeveloped mess.

I appreciate the possibility that people who patronize Big Pecker’s Bar and Grill and Brass Balls Saloon might cringe at seeing white twirly-sticks on the ocean’s horizon. Indeed, wind power might be a tough sell to people who go to Ocean City to relax, relish the sunrise and buy T-shirts with crude expressions.

But surely they can be convinced of the benefits.

Alas, the mayor and city council have not taken the lead on this. They want the wind farm developer to push his plan 30 miles offshore, a move that would send the process of planning and federal approvals back eight years.

I say this to Ocean City: Never make a problem out of an opportunity.

You have a chance to embrace the future while benefiting from the growth of a new, increasingly popular sector of the American economy.

In “Jaws,” Mayor Vaughn argued that talk of the shark would hurt business for the summer. He failed to see the larger threat — not ridding the coast of the great white could hurt Amity forever, maybe even put it out of business as a resort.

The anti-wind crowd in Ocean City needs to see the big picture. Just last weekend, they experienced flooding from an extreme rainstorm. That’s going to keep happening because of changes to the climate that have already occurred; storms will get worse if we don’t move to renewable energy sources, such as wind, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Without a bigger, bolder push into the clean-energy future, Maryland’s coast will lose ground to sea-level rise, to the point where the continued spending of millions of taxpayer dollars on beach replenishment becomes as pointless as building sand castles on the incoming tide.

drodricks@baltsun.com

twitter.com/DanRodricks

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