Open house on FI State Park improvements, partnership set for tonight

The public will have a chance on Wednesday, Oct. 2, to get a look at a proposal for improvements at Fenwick Island State Park — improvements that are tied to plans for a wind farm off the Delaware-Maryland coast.

The project, estimated to cost between $13 million and $18 million, would be 100-percent funded by wind-energy company Orsted — which acquired Deepwater Wind, which has had several projects in the works off the East Coast, according to Ray Bivens, director of Delaware State Parks.

In return for funding the improvements, the state park would allow Orsted to build a connection facility for its wind-powered energy that would allow connection to the power grid in Maryland. The wind farm, known as “Skipjack,” would provide power to 35,000 homes in Maryland. The wind turbines would be located beyond the horizon from the shore, in federal waters about 19 miles off the coast of Maryland and Delaware, according to information provided by Orsted.

As part of the partnership, Fenwick Island State Park would become the first wind-powered state park in the United States.

“We do have kind of a long track record of public-private partnerships” within the state’s park system, Bivens said. The State has signed a memorandum of understanding that moves the proposal forward to the Oct. 2 open house, he said. The next step will be a three-week period during which public comments will be accepted.

The wind farm is currently in the midst of the federal approval process.

The connection facility would cover about an acre of bayside land in the 358-acre state park, Bivens said. But recreational amenities would be placed on top of the connection facility.

The project would increase the developed area of the park from 2.4 percent to 2.6 percent of its total area.

Among the goals of the project is the elimination of the frequent traffic backups that result in lines of cars along Route 1 waiting to enter Fenwick Island State Park. That would be addressed with the addition of a bi-level parking area to replace the aging parking lot that was constructed in the early 1980s, Bivens said. Native vegetation would be used to screen the upper level of the lot from view on the beach.

Also included in the preliminary plans is a pedestrian overpass that would provide a safer way for park visitors to cross Route 1, Bivens said.

In addition, walkways would be added that would connect to sidewalks planned within the town limits of Fenwick Island. Entrance issues that make access difficult for emergency vehicles would be addressed. Amenities such as a playground and pickleball courts would also be part of the project.

Another aspect of the project involves the construction of a new building for the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, which is currently located on land at the south end of the park. The new building would be farther from residences on Lewes Street, Bivens said.

The current structure housing the Chamber would be moved to Holts Landing State Park and used for housing for parks staff.

A new building would have added space for meetings, as well as educational events held by the park system and a small nature center.

“Right now, when we offer an interpretive program within Fenwick Island State Park, there’s no interpretive space anywhere,” Bivens said, adding that such educational programs at the park attract an average of 50 people, “which is unheard of” in other parks.

The state parks would pay the Chamber fair market value for the current building, with the sale being applied to rent for the new building, which would continue to be located on park land, Bivens said.

Bivens said he was not expecting the packet that arrived from Orsted in May, suggesting the public-private partnership. He said he initially thought Orsted was simply interested in laying cable through the park to connect with the Indian River Power Plant near Dagsboro.

The open house regarding the proposed Fenwick Island State Park improvements project will be held at the Fenwick Island Town Hall from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2. There will be numerous Delaware State Parks representatives on hand, as well as representatives from Orsted.

More details and public reaction to the proposed project will be in the Oct. 11 issue of the Coastal point and on the website at after the open house.

By Kerin Magill
Staff Reporter