With waterfront access to anywhere, port cities up and down the East Coast have served as bustling business epicenters, supporting — and thriving off of — various lucrative industries throughout history, including commercial fishing, fuel, textiles, ammunition and produce.  

Once the heart and soul of local business, commercial port facilities that supported industries of the past now sit vacant, deteriorated, becoming a possible safety and environmental hazard. However, with their premier waterfront locations — which aren’t considered economically viable for new residential development because of high cleanup costs — these facilities and sites still hold extreme value.

Though the coronavirus has brought about economic uncertainty, it hasn’t halted innovation or deterred interest. In recent years, progressive remediation and renovation efforts have revitalized existing buildings and infrastructure — showcasing their extreme potential — in hopes of reviving port cities and attracting new business.

The offshore wind market, for example, has taken off in the U.S. Multiple states have made commitments to increase renewable energy generation by incorporating offshore wind into their energy portfolios. The East Coast is uniquely positioned for this market because of the shallow outer continental shelf, where traditional foundation technologies work well and wind patterns are good. In fact, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been leasing offshore areas to interested developers for offshore wind development. According to a December 2019 update by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), these lease areas total more than 1.7 million acres of offshore area across 11 Eastern states.  

Additionally, the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, vigorously preparing for the offshore wind boom, are issuing RFPs to developers who already have lease rights for current offshore wind farm areas. Six states have signed mandates into law, stating that more than 25 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind will be installed by 2035, as per the AWEA status report. To date, capacity contracts for 6 GW of offshore generation already have been issued by various states to help meet these goals.

Because the U.S. is relatively new to the offshore wind industry, it doesn’t have all of the necessary local infrastructure or supply chain to build offshore wind farms. Onshore wind farms, already scattered throughout the U.S., typically use 3-megawatt (MW) turbines; offshore requires 10- to 12-MW turbines, with blade lengths longer than a football field.

The sheer size of these offshore wind turbines has equipment providers discussing where to produce them, their foundations and various components as well as how to transfer them to the offshore location for construction — and to do as cost-efficiently as possible. In Europe, equipment providers are leasing waterfront property, where they can build a factory to manufacture turbine blades and associated components, then directly roll them out onto the ship to be delivered to the offshore work site, making transit costs much less. In addition, for the construction, operation and maintenance of these facilities, a robust system of support facilities will be required, including fabrication shops, crew transfer facilities, offices and warehousing.

When it comes to the U.S., developers are seeing the same potential in waterfront properties — such as those vacant, large-scale facilities along the East Coast — and are starting make infrastructure investments. In Norfolk, Virginia, for example, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam agreed to lease 1.7 acres of the city’s Portsmouth Marine Terminal to wind farm operator/developer Orsted through 2026, with options to expand to 40 acres. Orsted will use the site for staging materials and equipment for its multiple projects along the East Coast, where it plans to install nearly 3,000 megawatts of wind energy projects during that time. New London, Connecticut, also has big plans in the works to redevelop the state pier to accommodate the offshore wind industry

But before a new industry can settle in, remediation investigations are required to identify and remedy any potential environmental impacts left by previous industries, ranging from lead and asbestos to subsurface contamination. Depending on access, former manufactured gas plant and old steel mill sites — with tons of space to spare — are becoming viable options for the offshore supply chain, after appropriate site cleanup.

Obtaining the necessary permits to conduct an abatement and dispose of materials accordingly will achieve certification for certain pollutants; others will require a more concerted effort. Subsurface contamination, for instance, requires a thorough site investigation to determine what contaminants are present and which, if any, remediation techniques could be required to meet regulations. Engaging an environmental team early on, one with comprehensive remediation experience, will guide investors and manufacturers through what can be complex remediation and regulatory processes, then deliver the most economical approach for site and facility cleanup.

Despite today’s current disruptions, numerous offshore wind projects continue to move forward, the supply chain is in the works, and revitalization processes are underway. Discovering a new purpose for these dilapidated port facilities lining the East Coast is proving to not only be beneficial for the environment but also the up-and-coming offshore wind industry.


With the development of the Clean Energy Center, Massachusetts has proclaimed its commitment to clean energy, a pledge that resonates across the state. In April 2019, it proactively turned its attention to New Bedford, an industrial and fishing town in disrepair. Through a lengthy revitalization effort, the town has new life and a new purpose, primed to support the offshore wind industry.

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Rob Young, regional environmental practice manager for Burns & McDonnell in the Northeast, leads a team that supports more than $10 billion in major infrastructure programs through the performance and management of natural resource surveys, siting, permitting, environmental compliance, stakeholder management/outreach and land acquisition.