Nine years into a regulatory battle that has been fought in virtually every legal , political and bureaucratic venue imaginable, Secretary of State Ken Salazar said today that the stakeholders must come to a compromise by March 1 or he would intervene and make the final decision on the proposed offshore wind farm in the waters of Nantucket Sound near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Salazar reiterated that if the timeline he laid down last week wasn’t met, he would consult with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent party, to make a final decision.
In a series of meetings with about three dozen representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, Native American groups, Cape Wind and the primary opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Secretary Salazar said “the public, the applicants and all the stakeholders deserve resolution,” calling the nine-year process an example of government failure.
Cape Wind CEO Jim Gordon and other project supporters welcomed the direct intervention from Secretary Salazar. On a phone call today with reporters, Gordon said that he is “convinced that when Secretary Salazar has the complete record before him that the verifiable public benefits of creating jobs, greater energy independence, cleaner air and mitigating climate change will far outweigh any perception of negative impacts.”
But Native American groups expressed some disappointment in today’s meetings. “It was insulting,” Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the council chair of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, told the Boston Globe outside the Interior Department. “I’ll be frank, it was disrespectful — there seems to be no real reason.”
The Aquinnah Wampanoags are one of two Native American tribes that say the offshore wind project would destroy spiritual sun greetings and disturb ancestral culturally significant lands on the seabed. The Aquinnahs were bolstered by a recent decision handed down from the National Park Service saying that Nantucket Sound was eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Here is where we still arrive to greet the new day, watch for celestial observations in the night sky and follow the migration of the sun and stars in change with the season,” wrote Bettina Washington, historic preservation officer for the Aquinnah Wampanoag, in a letter to federal officials.
But supporters of Cape Wind have pointed out that the Aquinnah Wampanoag’s land is actually on the western side of Martha’s Vineyard, which does not face Nantucket Sound. But the National Park Service ruled that the sound was significant to both tribes.
Gordon said that Cape Wind has already taken several mitigatory steps to reduce the impacts of the wind farm including: a reduction in project size from 170 to 130 turbines; reconfiguration of turbines away from any areas considered archaeologically sensitive; eliminating daytime lighting; reducing nighttime lighting; and using off-white colors to reduce visual contrast. In addition to physical mitigation, Cape Wind has also offered a compensation package, but it is not entirely clear how much it would be, or to whom it would go.
“We’ve had this on the table, but we have had no response from the parties,” said Gordon, of Cape Wind’s efforts to engage the other stakeholder parties.
Thus far, the only proposal opponents have come up with is to move the entire project to an area that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has already examined as a possible location for a wind farm. Moving the site would certainly cost the developers millions of dollars and essentially reset the entire regulatory and permitting process back to square one, with no guarantee it would ever even go through; a fate that Cape Wind supporters–and the offshore wind energy industry as a whole –are hoping against.
Cape Wind CEO Jim Gordon thinks the nine-year battle has no reason to carry on. Said Gordon, “This is the right project in the right place at the right time.”
Article by Timothy B. Hurst, appearing courtesy of Celsias