Several representatives from environmental, clean energy and labor organizations have sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar and Minerals Management Service (MMS) Director Elizabeth Birnbaum urging final approval and leasing of the Cape Wind project.
The letter states that the current administration should ‘move forward expeditiously with final approval and leasing of the pioneering 130-turbine Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts.’
Among the signatories of the letter, which also expresses opposition to efforts by Native American tribes to obtain traditional cultural property (TCP) status for Nantucket Sound, are Susan M. Reid, director of the Massachusetts Clean Energy & Climate Change Initiative; Margaret R. LaCroix, vice president of marketing and communications for the American Lung Association of New England; Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now; and Edwin D. Hill, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
In January, the MMS – the lead agency in charge of offshore energy projects – released a favorable final environmental impact statement (EIS) for Cape Wind. The project was expected to be granted a lease 30 days after the final EIS was issued.
However, a National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Section 106 review, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, is holding up a final decision. Cape Wind has gone through eight years of environmental and permitting reviews.
‘Section 106 is the only aspect that is not yet completed,’ says Mark Rodgers, communications director for Cape Wind Associates. ‘It's the only thing standing in between us and a decision from MMS.’
The Section 106 review is not complete because of opposition by Native American tribes claiming that Nantucket Sound is TCP. The United South and Eastern Tribes Inc. (USET), an intertribal organization consisting of 25 federally recognized tribes, drafted a resolution earlier this year asking that the MMS halt action on Cape Wind.
According to the resolution, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is opposed to the project because it considers Nantucket Sound part of its ancient homeland and cultural property.
‘The Cape Wind wind farm project will forever change the physical integrity of the sacred site and will ruin the eastern vista viewshed, essential to maintaining the tribal identity of the Wampanoag people and their spiritual well-being,’ the resolution states.
The letter-writers, however, have asked the MMS to issue a favorable record of decision as soon as possible.
‘Contrary to the assertions of a handful of project opponents, the approximately 560 square miles of unenclosed ocean water known as Nantucket Sound are not appropriate for listing on the National Register as a 'Traditional Cultural Property' under the NHPA,’ the letter states. ‘Moreover, such a drastic departure from longstanding practice and precedent would have a far-reaching, chilling effect on responsible offshore renewable energy development in federal and state waters, just as MMS endeavors to unleash the [Outer Continental Shelf] Alternative Energy program and Massachusetts strives to finalize and implement its first-in-the-nation Ocean Management Plan.’
Nicholas Pardi, from the office of public affairs at the MMS, says the department is in the final phases of reviewing Section 106 and also making sure the proposed development complies with the Clean Air Act. However, he did not give a time frame as to when a final decision would be issued.
Rodgers agrees that if Nantucket Sound gains TCP status, it could have a ripple effect on all offshore projects.
‘It would set a bad precedent and open up all of the Atlantic waterways to similar claims by other tribes,’ he notes.
If the tribes were to obtain TCP status for Nantucket Sound, Rodgers says it would be much more difficult to develop Cape Wind. He adds that requesting TCP status because views might be hindered is very unusual.
‘In the past, [TCP] has never been granted for this kind of request,’ Rodgers explains. ‘There have been times when places immediately adjacent to tribal lands have received this status, but not in the instance of a distant-view horizon, which is what you're talking about here.’