Reprinted from the Carteret County News-Times
MOREHEAD CITY — Carteret County Economic Development Director Don Kirkman is making the rounds pitching officials on a potential development opportunity for Radio Island related to offshore wind energy he says could generate high-paying jobs and boost the local economy.
Kirkman appeared before the Morehead City Council Tuesday during a workshop meeting to share information about the nation’s burgeoning offshore wind industry and upcoming grant opportunities that could help kickstart development on Radio Island.
He posed the opportunity, which could see Radio Island used as a staging or fabrication port for manufacturing parts used in offshore wind farms, as a “win-win-win-win” for Morehead City and surrounding areas.
“Offshore wind exploration is a high priority for this (presidential) administration and one that already we’re seeing significant funding associated with in the form of a grant program,” Kirkman said.
He was quick to add there are no current plans to develop a wind energy farm off Radio Island or anywhere else off the Crystal Coast, citing proximity to military bases and sensitive environmental areas as two key reasons it looks unlikely.
There are, however, such plans in more than a dozen other locations along the East Coast, and Kirkman said Radio Island could be well-positioned to supply manufacturing capabilities to those eventual facilities.
Because of the massive size of the parts involved in offshore wind farms – a turbine blade can clock in at more 300 feet in length – the pieces can only be transported by water, requiring they be manufactured and staged at deep-water ports.
Kirkman said there are several options for a facility on Radio Island, including as a staging area for parts manufactured elsewhere and shipped to the U.S. or as a manufacturing port where the pieces are fabricated and shipped away.
The North Carolina Department of Commerce released a report, Building North Carolina’s Offshore Wind Supply Chain, in March detailing a “roadmap for leveraging manufacturing and infrastructure advantages” related to offshore wind. The report specifically names Radio Island as a potential location for developing the state’s offshore wind manufacturing capabilities.
The North Carolina State Port Authority currently owns about 200 acres of mostly undeveloped land on Radio Island, about 150 acres of which is set aside for future port development. The land is situated within the limits of Morehead City and is zoned for port-maritime use.
“Radio Island is uniquely positioned on the East Coast of the United States for this type of project related to port development,” Kirkman said. “…The property is already publicly owned, it’s on deep water, there’s a minimal amount of dredging required, the infrastructure is all in place, including Morehead City water and sewer utilities, the zoning is in place.”
Despite the opportunity presented, Kirkman said Radio Island is far from being ready to support the industry as it’s still largely undeveloped. To that end, he hopes North Carolina Ports applies for a federal grant announced by the U.S. Maritime Administration March 30 making $230 million available for ports to prepare for offshore wind development.
“Radio Island is literally years away from being ready, and we’ve got to start that process with master planning, engineering, looking at the design for the rail extensions and working with (the N.C. Department of Transportation) on the Newport River Bridge replacement and other highway infrastructure to position Radio Island to successfully compete,” he said. “…(The grant) is really a key first step, the grant application deadline is (Friday) July 30 so there’s a sense of urgency.”
In a follow-up email, Kirkman said he went before the Morehead City Council Tuesday not necessarily for permission to pursue the project, but to share information about it and hopefully garner some support from local leaders. The MARAD grant program doesn’t require letters of support, but he said N.C. Ports could request them for its application, if it materializes.
“I am confident that both the Town of Morehead City and Carteret County Board of Commissioners would enthusiastically support the grant application given the economic development, port and environmental benefits associated with the project and the growth of this clean, renewable energy sector,” he wrote. “As I noted during my presentation, the main port facility in downtown Morehead City is at full capacity, and the future growth of the Port of Morehead City will occur at Radio Island. Without infrastructure, however, including bulkheads and berths for vessels, ships are unable to call on Radio Island for any port-related activity, including offshore wind energy.”
If the plan comes to fruition, depending on the scope of the facility, Kirkman estimates it could bring 500 to 1,000 new, high-paying jobs to Carteret County.
This story is provided courtesy of the Carteret County News-Times, a twice weekly newspaper published in Morehead City. Coastal Review Online partners with the News-Times to provide our readers with news of the North Carolina coast.