WASHINGTON — The federal Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog, agreed this week to investigate impacts from New Jersey's offshore wind farm industry, according to New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
In particular, the agency will look at the industry's impacts on the environment, commercial fishing industry, military operations and marine vessel safety, Smith said.
Smith called for the agency to investigate the industry earlier this year while raising concerns about a rash of whale deaths off New Jersey's coast. So far, no wind turbine construction has started, but offshore wind companies have mapped the ocean floor and tested soils in their lease areas.
In a statement Thursday, Smith, as well as Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), called offshore wind development plans akin to "industrialization of our shore."
"It is absolutely critical that New Jersey residents understand all the impacts of these offshore wind projects — which will permanently transform our marine environment and seascape and could put our tourism-drive economy at grave risk — before it’s too late," said Smith.
Environmental impact statements on offshore wind projects acknowledge that construction will be somewhat disruptive to nearby ocean life, but companies assure they have independent wildlife observers and other procedures to the construction aimed at protecting animals.
Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, say no whale deaths have been attributed to offshore wind farms or survey activity. The agency has been monitoring unusual death rates among certain species of whales, dating back to 2016. The greatest threat to the large animals, according to NOAA officials, are ship strikes and entanglement with fishing gear and other human detritus.
Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, email@example.com or 732-557-5701.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: NJ offshore wind industry impacts to be scrutinized by feds: Smith