Wind farm faces new roadblock
By Patrick Cassidy
January 05, 2010
The U.S. National Park Service announced yesterday that Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, a move that could sink the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm.
The finding provides the Sound with greater protections from development and creates another barrier for Cape Wind developers who have already endured nearly a decade of contentious review.
More on local wind farms
Read the complete decision from the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places to declare Nantucket Sound eligible for listing on the Register
Some opponents of the wind farm claim the turbines will damage now-submerged archaeological sites used by the Mashpee Wampanoag and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
Tribe members also say the wind farm would degrade views that are important to the religious and cultural identity of the tribes.
"This decision confirms what the Wampanoag people have known for thousands of years — that Nantucket Sound has significant archaeological, historic and cultural values, and is sacred to our people," said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council.
The eligibility finding is positive for the tribes beyond the potential effect on the Cape Wind project, Cromwell said.
"We are confident that the Obama administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will ensure that the federal government will take all necessary steps to fully consult with our tribe when considering development on Nantucket Sound," he said.
The Sound was determined eligible for listing as a "traditional cultural property" based on the area's association with the ancient and historic period of exploration by Native Americans and its association with the stories of Maushop and Squant/Squannit, according to the decision from Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, Carol Shull.
It is also integral to the Wampanoag way of life and as a possible repository for cultural, historical and scientific information, she wrote.
"A determination that a property is eligible for the National Register assures that the values that make it significant are considered in the planning of projects in which the federal government is involved," Shull wrote.
The U.S. Minerals Management Service — the lead federal agency to review Cape Wind — released an environmental report a year ago that found few negative impacts from the company's proposal to build 130 turbines in the Sound, but the question of its impact on historic and tribal properties has lingered, holding up a "record of decision" on the project by the U.S. Department of Interior.
'Time to move'
In a statement on the eligibility announcement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday said the finding could clear the way for a decision on Cape Wind in the next two months.
"After several years of review, it is now time to move the Cape Wind proposal to a final decision point," Salazar said. "That is why I am gathering the principal parties together next week to consider the findings of the Keeper and to discuss how we might find a common-sense agreement on actions that could be taken to minimize and mitigate Cape Wind's potential impacts on historic and cultural resources."
Salazar said he hopes an agreement can be reached on these measures by March 1.
"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," he said. "The public, the parties, and the permit applicants deserve certainty and resolution."
A Cape Wind spokesman said there is a silver lining to yesterday's announcement.
"While we found the National Park Service decision disappointing, far more important is that Secretary Salazar has signaled the beginning of his personal involvement in bringing the Cape Wind permitting process to a speedy conclusion," Mark Rodgers said.
The eligibility decision highlights shortcomings in the review of Cape Wind and the lack of ocean zoning across the country, said Audra Parker, executive director of the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
"It confirms the historic significance of Nantucket Sound," Parker said.
The finding is more evidence that Cape Wind should not be built in the Sound, she said.
"The reason Cape Wind has been in review for so long is because they picked a poor location," she said.
Salazar has key role
Even with the eligibility finding Salazar could decide that Cape Wind should go forward.
The Minerals Management Service forwarded a request for a determination on the Sound's eligibility to Shull in November after the chief historic officer for Massachusetts found the Sound should be eligible for listing.
Proponents of Cape Wind have argued that the declaration would delay the project and could negatively affect other activities on the Sound.
The move could also have ramifications for large swaths of ocean that might otherwise be open to renewable energy projects, Cape Wind supporters argue.
Although she did not agree that the Sound should be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now, said she sees hope in Salazar's comments.
"We really do feel at the end of the day that the record of decision will be rendered and Cape Wind will be given a green light," Hill said.
Cape Wind Associates LLC first proposed to build a wind farm in the Sound in 2001. The company recently entered into negotiations with National Grid to sell power from the 130 turbines it wants to build on Horseshoe Shoal.