Cape Wind Receives Final Regulatory Approval

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A proposed wind project that has been in the national spotlight for almost a decade and gone through an extensive permitting process has finally received federal approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), but with conditions. Ken Salazar, secretary of the DOI, issued a favorable record of decision for Cape Wind, a project that is proposed to be built on federal submerged land on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

The Cape Wind project would be the first of its kind on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf and is expected to generate enough power to meet 75% of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined.

‘Going first is never easy, and Cape Wind is proud of the role we played in raising awareness for what will become a major component of our energy future and in helping the United States develop a regulatory framework for this new, exciting industry,’ Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, said in a press release.

Cape Wind will have to agree to additional measures to minimize the potential adverse impacts from project construction and operation.

‘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,’ Salazar stated today in a press release. ‘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.’

During a press conference, Gordon was asked whether the recent deadly explosion at an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana might have influenced DOI's favorable decision.

‘Certainly, we don't look for any tragedy like that helping our cause, but I think it gives the nation pause to reflect on, really, what are our energy choices and how are we going to live with them,’ he said. ‘Every energy project has some impact. This was never about a choice between Cape Wind and nothing.’

Because of concerns expressed during consultations, Cape Wind will have to change the design and configuration of the wind project 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 bottom-disturbing activities, according to DOI.

The project will now consist of 130 turbines instead of 170, in order to reduce the visual impacts from the Kennedy Compound National Historic Landmark. The positioning of the turbines will also have to be changed to move it further away from Nantucket Island.

The project has faced fierce opposition throughout the years, and the DOI's decision did not quell the opponents' concerns. A coalition of stakeholder groups have announced that they will immediately file suit in response to the DOI's decision to approve the project.

Lawsuits will be filed on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups – including the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Three Bays Preservation, Animal Welfare Institute, Industrial Wind Action Group, Californians for Renewable Energy, Oceans Public Trust Initiative (a project of the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Land Institute) and Lower Laguna Madre Foundation – against the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and Minerals Management Service for violations of the Endangered Species Act.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, along with the Duke's County/Martha's Vineyard Fishermen Association, will also file suit against the federal Minerals Management Service for violations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The Town of Barnstable has filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit on the same grounds, and the Wampanoag tribe is preparing to mount a legal challenge to the project for violations of tribal rights. Additional legal issues include violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Clean Water Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

‘While the Obama administration today dealt a blow to all of us who care deeply about preserving our most precious natural treasures – this fight is not over,’ said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, in a press release. ‘Litigation remains the option of last resort. However, when the federal government is intent on trampling the rights of Native Americans and the people of Cape Cod, we must act. We will not stand by and allow our treasured public lands to be marred forever by a corporate giveaway to private industrial energy developers.’

The project is expected to occupy a 25 square-mile section of Nantucket Sound and generate a maximum electric output of 468 MW, with an average anticipated output of 182 MW. The project includes a 66.5-mile buried submarine transmission cable system, an electric service platform and two 115 kV lines connecting to the mainland power grid.

Gordon hopes to begin construction on Cape Wind before the end of the year and expects it to be completed by 2012. Siemens will supply 130 3.6 MW turbines for the project.

Regarding possible seabed cultural and historic resources, a chance finds clause in the lease requires Cape Wind to suspend operations and notify DOI of any unanticipated archaeological find.

Gordon said during a press conference that significant archeological investigations at the site have been conducted and he does not expect any new archeological finds. However, if something is discovered, a state archeologist will be brought in to determine the importance of the items, and turbines will be moved if necessary.

Earlier this month, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) recommended that Salazar and the Minerals Management Service not approve the proposed Cape Wind project.

Among the reasons ACHP cited in the decision was that direct and indirect adverse effects on historic properties could not be avoided or satisfactorily mitigated; Section 106 was initiated late in the planning process; and tribal consultation under Section 106 was tentative, inconsistent and late.

Salazar disagreed with ACHP's conclusion that visual impacts from the proposed wind farm, which will be situated between and at substantial distance from Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard, was suitable rationale for rejecting the siting of the project.

The viewshed effects are not direct or destructive to onshore traditional cultural properties. In no case does the turbine array dominate the viewshed. The project site is about 5.2 miles from the mainland shoreline, 13.8 miles from Nantucket Island and 9 miles from Martha's Vineyard, according to Salazar.

Cape Wind has agreed to paint the turbines off-white to reduce contrast with the sea and sky yet remain visible to birds. In addition, no daytime Federal Aviation Administration lighting will be 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.

The upland cable transmission route was located entirely below ground within paved roads and existing utility rights of way to avoid visual impacts and potential impacts to unidentified archeological or historic resources.

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