Interior Secretary pays Horseshoe Shoals a visit
Wearing a black cowboy hat and boots, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the US Department of Interior, stood at the bow of the 175-foot US Coast Guard buoy tender Ida Lewis Tuesday afternoon surrounded by a large group of shivering, jostling media types. The throng had been invited to join Mr. Salazar for a boat ride to Horseshoe Shoals in Nantucket Sound.
During the trip, Mr. Salazar did not tip his hand on the question of whether he will approve or reject the Cape Wind proposal, 10 years in the permit hunt. He did endorse wind energy development.
"What happens to Cape Wind, whether it goes up or it goes down, will not be determinative of the future of wind energy in the United States," he said. "There is huge potential up and down the coast."
Regarding Cape Wind, Mr. Salazar promised to take the process "to conclusion" and a decision by April. Picking his words very carefully, he did not suggest how he would resolve the long-running permitting battle.
"I'm very bullish on the future of wind energy in America," Mr. Salazar said. The critical question, he said, "Is this the right place for wind energy or is it not?"
Mr. Salazar's trip Tuesday to Massachusetts included visits with the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes, which oppose the project. Mr. Salazar said he met with members of the tribes as a sign of respect. "We hear them loud and clear," he said.
Asked why he decided to make the visit, Mr. Salazar said he was a fifth generation Colorado farmer, and it was important for him to visit Nantucket Sound to see and smell the place. "I'm a person of the outdoors," he said.
In January, 2009, Cape Wind developers and supporters smelled victory in the salt air when the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) issued a final environmental impact statement that said the 130-turbine wind farm planned for Horseshoe Shoal would pose little threat to the environment and could provide for approximately 75 percent of the electricity demand from Cape Cod and the Islands.
Yesterday, Mr. Salazar sent a letter to acting Inspector General Mary Kendall regarding an investigative report on the Bush administration's handling of the Cape Wind permit application process in 2008 and early 2009, according to press release. Although the Inspector General's report found that the final Cape Wind EIS was not the subject of improper political influence or otherwise deficient, Mr. Salazar told Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes to work with Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins to review the report and provide recommendations to him regarding those issues that are material to the Department's upcoming Cape Wind decision, said the release.
Federal law requires consultation with Native American tribes as part of the permitting process. Members of the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes claim that the wind farm would interfere with their view of the rising sun, an important element in tribal ceremonies, they say. And the wind farm will be built on a shoal that was dry land thousands of years ago and remains a sacred burial and cultural site.
Early last month, the DOI's National Park Service announced that Nantucket Sound is eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, due to its significance as a "traditional cultural property and as an historic and archeological property." It was the first time such a designation had been applied to a body of water.
Mr. Salazar stepped into the fray promising to try and seek a compromise agreement between the developers and the tribes, but one way or another he said he would make a decision.
Mr. Salazar is not optimistic that everyone will be pleased. "I'm not holding my breath for a consensus," he told reporters gathered on the bow of the Ida Lewis, against a backdrop that included the meteorological tower that Cape Wind Associates erected to collect data and the distant Cape and islands shorelines.
The Ida Lewis pulled up to the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority dock about 11:30 am. Mr. Salazar, accompanied by MMS officials, security personnel and assistants walked up the gangway fresh from a meeting in Aquinnah with members of the Wampanoag tribe.
The group of more than 30 reporters, who went along for the three and a half hour ride on flat, winter seas, out to and back from a spot in Nantucket Sound, hoping to learn something significant, were provided little access to the secretary other than a brief news conference held in 28-degree weather on the forecastle - the "pointy end" of the boat, said one helpful Coast Guardsman following the announcement about where the secretary would meet with the press once he had had lunch.
Mr. Salazar showed no interest in shooting the breeze with reporters in the galley, in the way that officials sometimes do while on official travel. Other than a brief press conference the secretary stayed out of sight of broadcast reporters and photographers, who passed the time exchanging shop talk gossip, and the daily print reporters, under the gun and busy preparing stories with whatever shreds of copy they could gather.
The Ida Lewis traveled at a speed of 18 knots, and the secretary's day had begun well before dawn. Prior to traveling to the Vineyard, Mr. Salazar joined members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Popponesset Beach in the town of New Seabury before dawn to watch the sun rise. Mr. Salazar told reporters on the Ida Lewis that it was a beautiful morning sunrise and watching the sky turn crimson in the east was very meaningful for him.
From Mashpee, he traveled to the Vineyard for a meeting with members of the Wampanoag tribe in Aquinnah, who later accompanied him to the dock and were disappointed to learn that they would not be joining the secretary on board.
Following the trip to Nantucket Shoals, the Ida Lewis, flanked by a Coast Guard motor lifeboat, returned to the Coast Guard base at Woods Hole where Mr. Salazar stepped to a podium and spoke to another contingent of frozen reporters, including those that had made the trip, as demonstrators for and against the wind farm gathered at the base gate shouted to be heard.
Tribal officials and Jim Gordon, Cape Wind president, were also there to greet him.
Mr. Gordon told The Times he was gratified Mr. Salazar had met with members of the tribe and visited Horseshoe Shoals. It is the type of leadership that is needed, Mr. Gordon said.
Speaking to a Globe reporter, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Gay Head Wampanoag tribe, said Mr. Salazar spent more time with reporters than representatives of the tribe. She said the tribe's 90-minute meeting did not provide adequate time to describe the tribe's 13,000 years of history.
At the same time that the tribe has raised objections to Cape Wind, the tribe has been exploring the possibility of land based turbines. In 2006, the Wampanoag tribe received a $50,000 feasibility grant from the Massachusetts renewable energy trust. The MET Tower was erected in 2008. The results of the feasibility study have not yet been made public.
Yesterday, efforts by The Times to reach Ms. Maltais and Bettina Washington, the tribe's historic preservation officer, by telephone and email, for comment on the Salazar visit and the tribe's wind power plans, were unsuccessful.