Opponents of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm scored a key victory yesterday when a federal panel on historic preservation recommended that U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar kill the project.
The recommendation from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is the final piece required in the review of Cape Wind’s effects on historic properties, including sites considered sacred by Indian tribes on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.
The federal panel joins the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the top historic preservation official in Massachusetts in calling the plan to build 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal inappropriate and damaging to historic and cultural properties. The National Park Service in January determined the Sound is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In its seven-page recommendation to Salazar, the advisory council included suggestions for evaluating historic impacts of future offshore alternative energy projects.
“The ACHP’s review of this project has highlighted the need for broader coordination among federal agencies, states, Indian tribes, industry, consulting parties and the public to address these challenges,” the panel advised.
The review of Cape Wind’s effects on historic properties did not occur early enough in the review process and did not allow for adequate consultation with the local Indian tribes, according to the advisory council.
“With today’s recommendation by the ACHP, every historic preservation agency at both the state and federal level has come to the same conclusion — that Nantucket Sound is a place of deep historical, spiritual and cultural significance,” Mashpee Wampanoag chairman Cedric Cromwell said.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is thrilled with the advisory panel’s recommendation and “hopeful that Secretary Salazar will also recognize the significance of the shoal and view shed, support our collective position and deny the permit for that location,” tribal chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said.
Both tribes have argued their ancestors once lived in the area that is now the Sound and are likely buried there. They also contend the 440-foot-tall turbines would interfere with important sunrise ceremonies, although a small group from the Aquinnah tribe contends the sunrise ceremonies have been overblown.
Salazar has said he would make a decision on whether to approve Cape Wind by the end of April.
“He will fully and carefully consider the information and recommendations provided by the council as he moves forward to make a final decision on the Cape Wind power project,” his spokeswoman, Kendra Barkhoff wrote in an e-mail to the Times.
Barkhoff would not say when Salazar’s decision would come, but a comment period on an updated environmental review of the project does not end until Wednesday. Despite the advisory council’s recommendation, Salazar could still approve the project.
The advisory council’s recommendation represents only one of many concerns Salazar will evaluate in making his decision, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said.
“The bulk of the record was contained in a very favorable final environmental impact statement issued by the Minerals Management Service of the Department of Interior last year that looked at every benefit and impact of the project,” Rodgers said. “The (environmental report) found Horseshoe Shoal to be the optimal site for this project.”
The advisory council’s recommendation is not surprising but it is disappointing, said Barbara Hill, executive director of the main pro-Cape Wind group, Clean Power Now.
Cape Wind has been a driver for the creation of a regulatory process for offshore wind projects, she said. “It has provided lessons learned for everyone,” Hill said. “Given that, I do believe that (the historic review of Cape Wind) has been thorough.”
The benefits of Cape Wind far outweigh any of the negative impacts of the project, she said.
But for the main Cape Wind opposition group, the advisory council’s recommendation adds to a long list of problems with the project.
“I think it’s a major setback for Cape Wind,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “The advisory council has basically said historic preservation and renewable energy are compatible but just not in Nantucket Sound.”
Salazar must give considerable weight to the advisory council’s recommendation, she said, adding that if he does not, his decision will be open to legal challenges.
In addition to the historic review, there remains the outstanding issue of whether the Federal Aviation Administration will ultimately approve the turbines, Parker said. The FAA has said Cape Wind would have to substantially mitigate the effects of the wind farm on flights over the Sound, something the company has said it can do.
by Patrick Cassidy