Gov. Deval Patrick has been accused of snubbing attempts by a delegation of Vineyard community leaders to meet with him and share their concerns about the impact of the state’s draft oceans plan on the Island.
The delegation, which includes representatives of every Island board of selectmen, the Dukes County Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Wampanoag tribe, has been trying without success for almost three weeks to get a meeting with the governor.
Instead, the governor’s office offered them time with the chief architect of the plan, the Secretary of the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles. But as of yesterday, he also had not agreed to a meeting, according to West Tisbury selectman and Island delegation member Richard Knabel.
The delegation’s purpose in seeking the meeting is twofold: to ask for more time for a considered response to the plan’s provision for up to 166 large wind turbines within a few miles of Vineyard shores, near Cuttyhunk and Noman’s Land, and to restore full review powers to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission over development in Island waters.
The public comment period on the oceans plan expires just over three weeks from today, and the final plan is due to be released by year’s end. And as it now stands, the MVC’s power to regulate development is trumped by that of the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) and by that of the secretary, Mr. Bowles or his successors.
The secretary’s power has never been used in the 35 years since the commission was established, but Mr. Bowles cited it pointedly in an interview with the Gazette last week — and his comment has been seen by some Island leaders as a threat.
They believe the ultimate power over developments in Vineyard waters should rest with the MVC.
But getting anyone in a position of power in Boston to listen to their concerns has proved difficult, despite the Island delegation’s efforts to marshal state Rep. Timothy Madden and Sen. Robert O’Leary to the cause.
“I don’t know where the difficulty is, in all honesty,” said Mr. Knabel.
“I was asked by the all-Island selectmen to coordinate a meeting with the governor about the oceans plan,” he said on Wednesday.
“It’s now been two and a half weeks of trying.”
He said the only message he had received back was one from the governor’s office, directing him to Secretary Bowles, something Mr. Knabel said he thought a reasonable first step “since he owns the oceans plan and is the governor’s point man.”
But Mr. Knabel said it was becoming clear the governor wanted the delegation to deal with Secretary Bowles instead of him.
“And we want to see the governor regardless of whether or not we see Bowles. It seems they are trying to preempt the meeting with the governor,” he said, adding:
“I’ve learned from several sources that this governor is extremely inaccessible, even to legislators. They have a lot of difficulty getting in to see him even though he’s of their [Democratic] party.” Mr. Knabel continued:
“I talked to [former Islands’ state representative] Eric Turkington this morning and he said the feeling in the state house, while he was still there was that Governor Romney was actually better about seeing legislators and other people than Governor Patrick is.
“So that’s essentially where it is with the governor. As for Bowles, we have not heard anything back.
When the Gazette contacted Governor Patrick’s office yesterday, it was told all inquiries about the matter should be directed to Secretary Bowles’s office.
But Catherine Williams, assistant press secretary for Mr. Bowles, said she was unaware that the Island delegation was seeking a meeting.
“We haven’t received a specific formal request,” Ms. Williams said.
But she said the secretary was prepared to see the delegation before the comment period on the ocean plan closes on Nov. 23.
Last night, Mr. Madden sought to resolve the confusion about meetings.
He said he and Senator O’Leary had met several time with Mr. Bowles over the past couple of weeks, most recently on Wednesday, and he was certainly aware the Island delegation wanted to sit down with him.
“I think part of the problem here could be that we’re not talking to Bowles’s staffers, we’re talking to Bowles himself.
“We’re trying to work through this, and we’re pretty dug in, the senator and myself. The Vineyard Commission has to have the final say-so.
“I think the secretary is trying to be accommodating and is, I think, trying to work in good faith with us to get to where we need to be.
“So there will be a meeting, but we have not set a date. Our goal is that when we — the secretary, Rob and I — meet with the delegation, we have something to show this group, that might answer some of their concerns,” Mr. Madden said.
As for the governor, Mr. Madden said when he first approached his office two or three weeks ago, he was told he was “booked up through October, and they would get back to us.”
Mr. Madden said he was still hopeful that the meeting would happen, and he advised the delegation to send a letter to the governor’s office.
Meanwhile, the approval process for the other wind turbine project near the Vineyard — Cape Wind — continues to drag on, with the most recent delay caused by consideration of the traditional beliefs of native Americans.
The Wampanoag tribes of Aquinnah and Mashpee are seeking to have all of Nantucket Sound declared traditional cultural property and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The claim is based in large part on the effect turbines would have on the view. An unobstructed view of the sunrise is culturally important to the tribes. They also claim their forebears hunted on land now submerged under Nantucket Sound, but which was dry land thousands of years ago, when sea levels were lower, at the end of the last Ice Age .
While a listing would not necessarily stop the project, it would make the permitting process even more time consuming. Even if a listing is ultimately denied, which is seen as likely by the project proponents and others versed in the legalities of the issue, it has the potential to delay approval, which was expected to happen quickly following a favorable environmental impact report earlier this year.
Indeed, it has already caused several additional months’ delay.
In June, the Minerals Management Service became aware it had to rule on the historic register question. The agency is required to consult the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Officer, Brona Simon. If she finds the site eligible, it would fall to the National Parks Service to resolve the issue, which could take up to a year.
But Cape Wind developers remain hopeful it will be sooner.
“I believe a decision by the state historic preservation office is due by mid-November,” said spokesman Mark Rodgers. “It’s my understanding that MMS does not view Nantucket Sound as eligible for consideration for a traditional cultural property, and our view is that the requirements for traditional cultural property make it pretty clear Nantucket Sound is not eligible.
“So we’re hopeful that the state office reaches the same conclusion.”
by Mike Seccombe