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Pawleys Island: Feds set visual buffer for wind turbines

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

As the federal government moves forward with plans to lease areas off the South Carolina coast for wind turbines, a section off Pawleys Island will be removed from the project so the turbines won’t be visible from the town’s historic district.

The Bureau of Offshore Energy Management is soliciting interest from companies that want to buy leases. The deadline is Jan. 25.

The bureau will also prepare an environmental assessment of the impact of the leases. It has scheduled a meeting in Murrells Inlet next month to take public comment on the assessment.

Pawleys Island Town Council has opposed wind energy projects that will be visible from the island. Mayor Bill Otis is a member of the South Carolina Wind Energy Task Force. But he was taken by surprise in September when the bureau released its maps of potential lease blocks that showed them within 3 miles of the town.

The State Historic Preservation Office asked the bureau to consider “how the views of the ocean contribute to the historic location, setting, feeling and association” of the island’s antebellum beach houses. They are included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The bureau created a buffer that stretches 10 nautical miles from the island. It based the buffer on a study of weather conditions done for North Carolina. “With a setback of 10 nmi.,” the bureau says in a notice in the Federal Register, “the turbines will not be visible from the shoreline for a majority of the time.”

“It certainly is a substantial improvement over the 3 miles that were in the first proposal,” Otis said. He said he wasn’t aware of the buffer until contacted by a reporter.

The bureau determined 10 nautical miles is the limit of visibility from the shore for about a third of the year. The rest of the year, visibility is reduced.

In taking “nominations of interest” from companies, the bureau says it will consider any additional comments about the viewshed of historic properties.

“I’m glad BOEM and the federal government is responsive,” Otis said. “The Pawleys Island historic district is something that needs to be preserved.”

He wants to get more information about how the buffer was established, noting that the height of the wind turbines is also a factor that needs to be considered.

The leases, known as “call areas,” cover over 1,000 square miles, 740 of those offshore from Georgetown and Horry counties. The call area starts at the 3-mile limit of federal jurisdiction and runs 23 nautical miles offshore.

A meeting Jan. 6 at St. James High School will give the public an opportunity to comment on the call areas and any environmental impacts they want the bureau to consider. It will run from 6 to 8 p.m.

The wind energy leases are still in the planning stage. After the nominations of interest and the environmental assessment, lease areas will be identified and reviewed for environmental compliance.

The actual leasing follows, with site assessment and construction after that.

To date, the bureau has awarded nine commercial wind energy leases in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, including seven leases issued as a result of competitive lease sales (two off Rhode Island-Massachusetts, two off Massachusetts, two off Maryland and one off Virginia). Two additional lease awards from the most recent competitive lease sale off New Jersey are under review by the bureau and the Department of Justice.

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