When the MVC created a district of critical planning concern for the waters of the county of Dukes County, it offered a rare opportunity for the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Cuttyhunk to work together to preserve the unique attributes of their environment – I say “their” because this environment is truly theirs – shorelines and waters which are the most pristine and undeveloped of any for hundreds of miles in either direction.
Suddenly a new challenge faces both islands: an effort by the state to locate two massive industrial windfarms within three miles of our shores – beginning with 166 turbines, each 50 stories high, blades flashing in the sunlight, strobe-lighting our night skies. Two small areas, one off the western end of each island, are the only areas in the Commonwealth designated for these commercial installations, written into the draft Ocean Plan without so much as a “by your leave” consultation with either island.
Even more disturbing, the state takes the position that if the MVC were to have the audacity to reject a windfarm developer in these shared waters, the developer need only run to the Energy Siting Board (composed of political appointees of the governor) to have the decision overruled. Since its creation, decisions of the MVC have been appealable only to the courts, which balance considerations using principles of justice rather than political convenience.
Word of this plan came late but galvanized the Vineyard’s elected officials into a rare united front to call for a continuation of local jurisdiction over matters which so profoundly affect our natural environment (land, sea and air), the qualities of place which call us to make our homes here, and a water- and tourist-based economy which is fundamental to the island populations’ very survival.
The state has offered Cuttyhunk special concessions to induce its acceptance of a windfarm just off its shores, but rather than acquiesce to a plan whose deadline looms a scant two weeks away, without assurances backed by recourse to the courts, both islands would be wise to work together to preserve our individual autonomies, our rights to steward the unique treasure of the waters of our individual islands.
We can act together to reject promises that do not respect the rights of the islands to protect their surrounding waters by appeal to the courts rather than to more politicians. The Energy Siting Board should not be allowed to bludgeon Cuttyhunk any more than it should the Vineyard. The powers of the MVC should be offered to Cuttyhunk to use as it deems desirable to defend itself; this is the opportunity to weld a shield against abuse by the Boston bureaucrats.
The current Oceans Plan so recently laid before us and due to be finalized in two weeks time is inadequate: it is poorly thought through; data has been ignored, crucial considerations left out of the mix. We can do better for the future of wind power, but we are more likely to succeed if we stick together and use the power granted to the [Dukes County] MVC some 35 years ago, in recognition of the unique and yet vulnerable resource that the islands and their waters presented to the East Coast corridor long ago.
J. B. Riggs Parker is a Chilmark selectman.