Federal Panel Conducts Final Public Hearing On Wind Farm
By: Michael C. Bailey
Which is more in the public’s best interests: establishing an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound to increase the state’s renewable energy portfolio and potentially lower energy costs; or preserving what many regard as a national treasure and an area of historic and spiritual value to the region’s two Wampanoag tribes?
Those were the two conflicting viewpoints expressed at a public hearing before a six-member panel from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). More than 100 people attended the Monday afternoon hearing held at Cape Cod Community College -- the final public hearing before Kenneth E. Salazar, US Secretary of the Interior, issues his “record of decision” on the Cape Cod Wind Farm proposal.
The focus of the hearing was on the wind farm’s potential impacts to the Cape and Islands’ historic and cultural resources, specifically those tied to the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribes. This issue has come to the forefront in the final months of the wind farm review process, but has been brewing for a few years according to some of Monday’s speakers.
Part of the overall wind farm review included an assessment of the project’s potential impacts on historic resources. That 204-page report, entitled “Documentation of Section 106 – Finding of Adverse Effect,” was submitted by the US Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) in 2006.
In its introductory summary, the report states, “The proposed project will have an adverse visual effect for the 25-year life of the project on twenty-eight above-ground historic properties, and will impact the traditional religious and ceremonial practices of the Gay Head/Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribes, including visual intrusion into one specific sacred historical site identified to the MMS by the Tribes.”
These findings were not discussed in earnest until late last year, as pointed out by Mark Rodgers, director of communications for Cape Wind Associates. He said Cape Wind met with representatives of both tribes very soon after the project was first proposed in 2001, and neither tribe expressed any concerns at the time.
While wind farm supporters have accused the tribes of raising these concerns in an 11th-hour attempt to derail the process, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, said their late action was in fact the result of the reviewing agencies’ failure to engage them earlier in the process and the tribe’s own “procedural ignorance.”
According to Ms. Andrews-Maltais, the MMS failed to consult with the tribe as outlined in Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, under which federal agencies must take into account the effects of a proposed project on historic properties, and determine through the consultation process whether agreement can be reached on minimizing or mitigating any adverse effects.
“Section 106 was not properly followed,” she said, and the findings contained in that report were erroneous and incomplete because of it.
Mr. Rodgers maintained that samples taken of the site showed no direct evidence of habitation by ancient Native Americans, and the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources determined that no further investigation was necessary.
However Ms. Andrews-Maltais, along with Brona Simon, the state’s historic preservation officer, explained the series of core samples taken of the ocean floor as part of the archeological survey were more appropriate for finding buried shipwrecks than evidence of previous human habitation.
Ms. Simon further argued that the MMS was inaccurate when it determined that the wind farm would have only “indirect” impacts on onshore historic properties, since that determination only considered whether the wind farm, which would be visible from the identified historic properties, would cost those properties their status as historic places.
Aside from the sound’s historic qualities, speakers discussed its spiritual value to the two tribes. George F. (Chuckie) Green of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe spoke at length about the tribe’s sunrise ceremonies, which he said would be ruined by the wind farm’s presence – so much so that any Wampanoag who wished to partake of such a ceremony would have to leave the area in order to find an unobstructed ocean view.
Mr. Rodgers disputed Mr. Green’s claims as to the project’s impact on Native American ceremonies, stating that the sunrise ceremony issue had not been raised publicly until 2008. He also noted that the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe has publicly refuted the other tribes’ claims regarding the observance of the ceremony.
In a letter sent to Sec. Salazar this month by George Spring Buffalo, chairman of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe, Mr. Spring Buffalo wrote, “We understand that two tribes in Massachusetts have made claims that the Cape Wind Project would conflict with certain religious ceremonies they perform. We have asked our elders and they do not know of and have never witnessed a daily ceremony on the waters of Nantucket.”
Many of Monday’s speakers urged Sec. Salazar to reject the Nantucket Sound site and approve the project for an alternate site identified in the MMS’ Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) south of Tuckernuck Island, about four miles off the southwestern coast of Nantucket.
Proponents of the alternate site said relocating the project would address all of the tribes’ concerns. However, Sec. Salazar made it clear during a February fact-finding trip to Cape Cod that his decision on the project would be a straightforward acceptance or rejection; he would not issue an acceptance contingent upon the developers’ relocation the wind farm or a rejection with an accompanying recommendation for relocation.
Sec. Salazar also said that if the project were to relocate, the review process would have to start over again – a claim wind farm opponents have rejected as false, stating that much of the groundwork had already been laid as part of the FEIS process and little new work would be necessary.
The ACHP will continue to accept written comments until 5 PM Monday, March 29. Comments may be e-mailed to Dr. John T. Eddins at the ACHP at email@example.com or faxed to 202-606-5072.
All comments will be made public on the ACHP website after they are filed with Sec. Salazar, which will happen no later than April 14.
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