Cuttyhunk says yes to wind, but on its terms
Gosnold, including Cuttyhunk Island, is the smallest community in the state, but it could experience the greatest effects of commercial wind development, as proposed in the draft Ocean Management Plan.
The plan designates an area southwest of Cuttyhunk for utility-scale wind power projects. In recent weeks, Gosnold residents have moved to make their voices heard by state regulators. While a consensus is emerging generally in favor of wind power development, Cuttyhunk residents have significant concerns they want addressed, and they are demanding a role, including veto power, in regulating any wind power projects in town waters.
"We have been confronted with the issue of wind turbines for a while now," said Malcolm Davidson, chairman of the Gosnold board of selectmen. "The Ocean Management Act raises questions about such matters as community benefit for us, issues about decommissioning, issues about appropriate environmental review, and local involvement. I don't think there has been expressed in the town [the kind of] opposition that I understand is coming from many voices on the Vineyard."
The draft plan offers Gosnold little influence over the critical decisions ahead. "This Ocean Management Plan, this group has just come in and said we supersede everything," said Jay Merriam, a member of the Gosnold conservation commission. "This management plan says 'We're in charge of everything.'"
Vineyard public officials recently won concessions from Ian Bowles, secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs that give the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) a significant role in determining the scale of wind power projects in local waters up to 100 megawatts. But the MVC has no regulatory authority over larger projects or in Gosnold or the waters surrounding the Elizabeth Islands which form the town of Gosnold. Some Vineyard officials have sought a measure of control over wind development off Cuttyhunk, but state regulators have not conceded on that issue.
Still, many Gosnold town officials, after considering the views of residents, support wind power development.
"If a commercial wind project has to be somewhere in state waters, the town of Gosnold is willing to do its part," wrote the selectmen in an eloquent five-page letter to Mr. Bowles and other regulators with a hand in the draft Ocean Management Plan. "The character of our town would be forever changed by a commercial wind project in our viewshed. We would no longer have the deeply visceral and highly spiritual experience of a sunset over the water without evidence of human impact. On the island, we feel more closely connected with nature, and away from human things. The sight and sound of manmade objects destroys that experience."
The letter outlines five suggestions for change in the draft plan. Selectmen called for a thorough environmental impact study of any proposed project, full participation by the town in the review and approval process, an exclusion zone around Sow and Pigs Reef, escrow funds to decommission a wind project, and a specific guarantee for community economic benefits.
But selectmen said if those concerns are met, the town is willing to have a commercial wind project sited in town waters.
"Our town has come together to discuss this issue, and there is naturally a wide range of opinions," the selectmen said in their letter. "We have serious reservations, as described in this letter. We believe that despite the technical challenges, there is a role for offshore wind as our Commonwealth moves to more renewable energy. If there must be a place designated in state waters for a commercial wind project, we are open to it, as long as our concerns are fully addressed."
The letter also demonstrates the independence and self-reliance Cuttyhunk residents are famous for. "While we don't want to seem un-neighborly, we would like to continue to manage our own affairs. For example, we do not have representation on the Martha's Vineyard Commission and do not want any commission making decisions for us," the letter says. "We do not find it reassuring that the plan gives the regional planning agency a role in project siting. We want our town to have an active role in any project approval, including veto power."
The possibility of wind turbines on Sow and Pigs reef, a rocky underwater extension of the Elizabeth Islands, known for fishing and rich marine life, is of particular concern to many Cuttyhunk residents.
In their letter to Mr. Bowles, the selectmen called for a ban on turbines sited on the reef itself, and a one-quarter mile "exclusion zone" around the reef. This week the town's conservation commission sent its own letter to Mr. Bowles. The conservation commission wants more of the waters around the reef protected.
"We believe that the one-quarter mile exclusion zone called for in the selectmen's letter would cause damage to marine life and the environment, and the very livelihood of hundreds of island and off-island families would be irreparably harmed," wrote the conservation commission members in their letter. "We view with alarm this intrusion into an area that is known the world over for its fishery."
Town clerk Lisa Wright said it has been difficult to reach a consensus on the issue, with many homeowners or seasonal residents away from the Island. She said in general, the selectmen's letter put everybody on the same page.
"We are the smallest community in the state, but we have some beautiful resources," Ms. Wright said. "There are so many questions. I don't think anyone is not in favor of wind power. It's how it's going to affect our town. There are a million questions."
How those questions are answered will make all the difference for Cuttyhunk.
"Our voice is heard," Mr. Davidson said. "We are not under the regulatory authority of the MVC, we have a distinct voice. We have left the path open (to wind development) but we are very much interested in having our concerns met."