The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has filed a lawsuit to try to block the development of the Cape Wind project on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

In a statement issued Friday, the tribe announced the tribal government had authorized the long-threatened lawsuit against the Department of the Interior‘s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which has approved the 130-turbine wind farm.

Tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said yesterday that the complaint was filed on July 6 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. She said the tribe is represented in the case by Kelly Davis, an attorney with the Institute of Public Representation at Georgetown University. Ms. Washington, who was traveling, had no further comment. Telephone calls to Ms. Kelly were not returned by press time Monday.

According to the statement put out by the tribe, the complaint cites multiple violations, including irreversible alterations, significant adverse effects and the destruction of historical, cultural and spiritual tribal resources through the permitting of the Cape Wind project.

It relates to the fact that Horseshoe Shoal was dry land 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, and alleges that disturbance of what now is the sea floor could obliterate archaeological sites and evidence of ancient human occupation.

The complaint also holds that building the turbines — each some 440 feet tall — would obstruct the view across Nantucket Sound, a vista important to a cultural tradition of welcoming the rising sun.

“Cape Wind will destroy our traditional cultural property, Horseshoe Shoal and the surrounding Nantucket Sound, where our Tribe has flourished and continues to utilize for significant cultural and spiritual ceremonies and practices,” said Ms. Washington in the statement.The Massachusetts Historical Commission has recognized Horseshoe Shoals by including it in the National Register of Historic Places.

Extensive archaeological survey work carried out by Cape Wind found no evidence of cultural artifacts, but the layout of the project was revised to avoid areas identified by archaeologists as potentially sensitive. A preconstruction plan in the final Environmental Impact Statement for the project calls for further surveys.

The Wampanoag legal challenge is one of 11 currently underway, brought by various groups opposed to the project, which has been 10 years in the making.

“These pending challenges against the Cape Wind Project could ultimately stop the construction of the project,” said Ms. Washington in the statement.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the central group opposing Cape Wind, has previously stated a strategy of bringing lawsuits partly in the hope of discouraging potential financiers for the project.

Cape Wind communications director Mark Rodgers said yesterday the lawsuit came as no surprise and had long been expected.

“Opponents have been litigating against this project since day one and to date they have lost every legal decision that’s been made,” Mr. Rodgers said, adding:

“We’re quite confident this current litigation will be equally unsuccessful. They’re challenging permits that are the most comprehensive and robust ever issued to an energy project of any kind in the northeastern United States.”

He anticipated the various challenges would be consolidated in the courts, adding that the legal actions against Cape Wind have created obstacles in obtaining financing for the project.

“But that’s not unique to our project; that’s always the case with any project that’s putting together a financing package when there’s ongoing litigation” Mr. Rodgers said.

by Mike Seccombe

Reader Feedback

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 6:28am

The Tribe’s decision to spend money on a frivolous lawsuit is particularly ironic. The money would have been better spent cleaning up the mess that was made in Menemsha Pond when their failed aquaculture project was abandoned. It is disingenuous to claim that the view to the east towards the rising sun (there is no view of Cape Wind’s proposed installation from tribal lands)is sacred while the much more immediate view across Menemsha Pond strewn with their trash is not a concern.

– Island Observer , chilmark