Secretary Salazar approves Cape Wind project in sound

The federal Department of the Interior has approved the Cape Wind renewable energy project destined for Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar traveled to Boston to announcement his decision. Gov. Deval Patrick, who joined Mr. Salazar at the State House ceremony, said he expects construction on the massive offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound to begin “within a year.”

Mr. Salazar said he will require the Cape Wind developer to agree to additional binding measures to minimize the potential adverse impacts of construction and operation of the facility, according to an Interior Department press release.

“After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analyses of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project at the Horseshoe Shoal location,” Mr. Salazar said. “With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region.”

Mr. Salazar emphasized that the department has taken extraordinary steps to fully evaluate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on traditional cultural resources and historic properties, including government-to-government consultations with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and that he was “mindful of our unique relationship with the tribes and carefully considered their views and concerns.” He said the developer would be required to change the design and configuration of the wind turbine farm to diminish the visual effects of the project and to conduct additional seabed surveys to ensure that any submerged archaeological resources are protected prior to construction activities that would disturb the bottom. Mr. Salazar said he understood and respected the views of the tribes and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, but noted that as Secretary of the Interior, he must balance broad, national public interest priorities in his decisions. “The need to preserve the environmental resources and rich cultural heritage of Nantucket Sound must be weighed in the balance with the importance of developing new renewable energy sources and strengthening our nation’s energy security while battling climate change and creating jobs,” Mr. Salazar said. “After almost a decade of exhaustive study and analyses, I believe that this undertaking can be developed responsibly and with consideration to the historic and cultural resources in the project area,” Mr. Salazar said. “Impacts to the historic properties can and will be minimized and mitigated, and we will ensure that cultural resources will not be harmed or destroyed during the construction, maintenance, and decommissioning of the project.”

The State House News Service reported that mitigation measures included “substantial” financial set-asides from developers and the state for two Native American tribes in the area.

Mr. Gordon is pleased

“Secretary Salazar’s decision today to approve Cape Wind has launched the American offshore wind industry. It allows our nation to harness an abundant and inexhaustible clean energy source for greater energy independence, a healthier environment and green jobs,” Cape Wind president Jim Gordon said in a press release following the announcement.

“We hope to begin construction of Cape Wind before the end of the year,” Mr. Gordon said

Tribe is disappointed

Federal law required consultation with Native American tribes as part of the permitting process. Members of the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes opposed the project claiming that the wind farm would interfere with their view of the rising sun, an important element in tribal ceremonies. And they said the wind farm would be built on a shoal that was dry land thousands of years ago and remains a sacred burial and cultural site.

The National Park Service added weight to the tribes’ objections when it announced that Nantucket Sound was 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. On a visit to Horseshoe Shoal on February 2, Mr. Salazar urged the tribes and Cape Wind to try to reach an agreement that might allow the project to proceed, but he admitted he was not optimistic. “I’m not holding my breath for a consensus,” he told reporters.

In February, the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes rejected a Cape Wind offer of $1 million each, paid over 20 years, as part of a mitigation offer, according to published reports.

In a press release issued Monday, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head said it had retained a lawyer experienced in tribal historic preservation efforts “to fully prepare for administrative and judicial relief should the project move forward.”

Yesterday, the tribe issued the following statement: “We are disheartened and disappointed with Secretary Salazar’s decision to proceed with the Cape Wind project. The tribe has no choice but to explore all of its options for relief from this decision, including injunctive relief. Under the advice of counsel, no further comment will be made at this time.”

More comments

Mr. Salazar’s statement pointed out that Nantucket Sound and its environs are a working landscape with many historical and modern uses and changing technologies. “These include significant commercial, recreational and other resource-intensive activities, such as fishing, aviation, marine transport and boating, which have daily visual and physical impacts, and have long coexisted with the cultural and historic attributes of the area and its people. “A number of tall structures, including broadcast towers, cellular base station towers, local public safety communications towers and towers for industrial and business uses are located around the area. Three submarine transmission cable systems already traverse the seabed to connect mainland energy sources to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. Visual and physical impacts associated with Nantucket Sound and its associated shorelines abound; it is not an untouched landscape.” Mr. Salazar said the view-shed effects are not direct or destructive to onshore traditional cultural properties. “In no case does the turbine array dominate the view shed,” he said. “The project site is about 5.2 miles from the mainland shoreline, 13.8 miles from Nantucket Island and nine miles from Martha’s Vineyard.” Interior has required Cape Wind to reduce the number of turbines and reconfigure the array to diminish its visual effects. The developer will also be required to paint the turbines off-white to reduce contrast with the sea and sky yet remain visible to birds. No daytime Federal Aviation Administration lighting will be placed on the turbines, unless the U.S. Coast Guard requires some “day beacons” to ensure navigation safety. FAA nighttime lighting requirements have been reduced, lessening potential nighttime visual impacts. These mitigation measures, coupled with the overall distance from which the turbine array will be viewed at any location, will reduce the visual impacts of the project, the Interior department statement said. The Cape Wind Associates facility would occupy a 25-square-mile section of Nantucket Sound and generate a maximum electric output of 468 megawatts with an average anticipated output of 182 megawatts, according to Interior. At average expected production, Cape Wind could produce enough energy to power more than 200,000 homes in Massachusetts.