U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will meet with Cape Wind opponents and proponents, among them members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe in Washington on Wednesday, following this week’s finding that Nantucket Sound was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic places.
Monday’s announcement by the National Park Service, upholding an earlier decision by the state Historic Preservation Officer Brona Simon, came in response to a claim by the Wampanoag tribes of Aquinnah and Mashpee that the proposed wind farm would interfere with their spiritual ritual of greeting the rising sun.
They also argued the construction of 130 large turbines on Horseshoe Shoal, in the middle of Nantucket Sound, would have significant archaeological and historic impacts; some 5,000 years ago the area was dry land where Indians lived, hunted and buried their dead.
The boundaries of the area at issue are ill-defined, but it appears the claim refers to some 500 square miles of Nantucket Sound. The tribes’ bottom line is that the whole venture should be moved somewhere else, out of view.
The two decisions, by the state preservation officer and the National Park Service, took Cape Wind supporters somewhat by surprise. Approval of a cultural claim by American Indians over such a large area of water is unprecedented.
The approval process for Cape Wind has so far taken more than eight years. The intervention of Secretary Salazar amounts to an attempt to force the intransigent parties to some form of compromise.
In a statement announcing the meeting — actually a series of meetings — Mr. Salazar said it now was time to “move the Cape Wind proposal to a final decision point.”
He said he hoped by gathering the parties in Washington to “find a commonsense agreement on actions that could be taken to minimize and mitigate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on historic and cultural resources.”
In the event of failure of the talks, he warned, he would act.
“If an agreement among the parties can’t be reached, I will be prepared to take the steps necessary to bring the permit process to conclusion. The public, the parties, and the permit applicants deserve certainty and resolution,” the secretary said in a statement.
But even if Mr. Salazar decides, after seeking the advice of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, to approve the project, the park service and historic preservation officer determinations could provide fodder for legal action by Cape Wind opponents.
As to what the secretary’s conclusion might be, the various interest groups remained predictably divided.
A spokesman for Cape Wind, Mark Rodgers, portrayed the secretary’s involvement as another part of the process, and said the proponents “don’t think this changes anything.”
The Massachusetts Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, saw the personal involvement of Secretary Salazar as good news.
“I think he recognizes that this is a project that has been unfortunately heavily litigated by opponents for a long time and that it requires his personal leadership to resolve the issues and move it forward. So I’m very pleased that he’s personally convening the parties next week and intends to bring it to resolution by March 1,” Mr. Bowles said.
And he expressed confidence that the project would proceed as planned. “Absolutely. That is our expectation,” Mr. Bowles said, adding:
“I don’t think there are any other remaining [regulatory] hurdles. The project is now being litigated at the Supreme Judicial Court, as to our state decisions. We expect that will be resolved in the next six months. I imagine there may be additional litigation in federal courts, but I think the pathway forward is clear.
“I think [Cape Wind] will be operating by the end of 2012. I think that timeline is reasonable and likely.”
But those opposed to Cape Wind read Mr. Salazar’s involvement differently.
Mark Forrest, a spokesman for Cong. William Delahunt, a staunch opponent of Cape Wind, quoted from the Salazar statement which noted that while it was important to develop alternative energy sources, “We must ensure that we are doing so in the right way and in the right places.”
He said the two determinations had to be taken seriously and it was unfortunate that the concerns of American Indians were being taken seriously only at the end of the approval process, because the federal agencies required to document historic and cultural values, principally the Minerals Management Service (MMS), had failed to properly document historic and cultural values and to consider the impact of the proposal, as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
“Section 106 was a law written to facilitate consensus. But frankly Minerals Management did a bad job of the consultation process. The tribes were disenfranchised from the very beginning,” Mr. Forrest said.
“MMS and Cape Wind treated the provisions of the law as just a nuisance, so now it’s fallen in the secretary’s lap.”
He said the approach of the MMS to the Cape Wind project was to be expected, given the attitude it and the previous Bush administration had shown on energy and conservation issues generally.
“These are the people who wanted to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on Georges Bank,” Mr. Forrest said.
He described as “courageous” the determination by the National Park Service, in the face of considerable pressure, to dismiss the Indian claims.
“What is refreshing is that under the Obama administration, people are being more serious and conscientious about doing their jobs,” he said.
Bettina Washington, the historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), one of the two representatives of her tribe who will attend Wednesday’s meeting, also was critical of a lack of previous consultation.
“Steps should have been taken long before this to take our views into account,” she said. “Instead, so far down the road, we finally are dealing with issues that should have been dealt with at least five years ago.”
But the lack of consultation was unsurprising, given the historical record.
“Four hundred, 500 years have gone by without taking our viewpoint into consideration. But now the state [Historic Preservation Officer] agrees with us . . . in their determination of eligibility for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The federal agency agrees with us. This really is very important to us.”
She said the message she and the other delegate from the tribe, chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, would take to Wednesday’s meeting was that the tribe was not opposed to wind power, but opposed to the siting of this wind farm.
“We are against the placement,” she said. We want it moved out of our viewshed.”
Perhaps the only thing that is clear in advance of Wednesday’s consultations with Mr. Salazar is that it will require major diplomacy to reach any kind of compromise.
The day has been carefully structured. He will meet at 10 a.m. with representatives of the tribes, then at 11 a.m. with all parties — including the state historic preservation officer, tribes, MMS, National Parks, and other representatives of other stakeholders, believed to include various pressure groups for and against the project.
At 1 p.m. there will be a third meeting, including only those signatories under section 106, the developers, historic preservation officer, MMS, park service and tribes.
by Mike Seccombe