New Report Refuels Debate on Wind Farm
As the federal government begins a 60-day public comment period before it can make a final decision on the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound, the project's chief opponent says the government should allow more time for public response to a crucial 4,000-page report that appears to pave the way for the wind farm's approval.
The new draft environmental impact report, prepared over three years by the Army Corps of Engineers, will be released in full today, but supporters and opponents responded to details that became public yesterday morning. The findings are largely favorable to the project, suggesting that the 130 turbines proposed to be built off Cape Cod would have little or no negative effect on the surrounding air, sea, and animal life.
The public has 60 days to comment on the report before the Corps issues a final version and makes a decision on the project, which is expected next year.
The report is by far the most important hurdle the controversial project must overcome before construction begins. The draft gives the first public look at the federal government's stance on the 460-megawatt power plant.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group founded to block the project, said yesterday that it intends to ask the government to extend the comment period to six months, saying that two months is too little time for the public to digest the enormous amount of information in the Army Corps report.
"A 60-day comment period during the holiday season on a complex and controversial project is unfair," said Susan Nickerson of the alliance.
Army Corps officials said yesterday that they would consider written requests to extend the comment period, but that they had already added 15 days to the minimum required time of 45 days.
Even though few had seen the entire report by yesterday afternoon, reaction was swift from opponents and supporters after details were published by news agencies and summaries of the report were leaked. The two sides have begun lining up engineers and scientists to start poring over the document.
"The struggle has just begun," said Charles Kleekamp, vice president of Cape Clean Air, an environmental group that supports the farm.
Governor Mitt Romney, who opposes the project on aesthetic grounds, says the report downplays a key consideration. "The question is, does the wind farm impinge on the beauty of one of the great natural resources on the East Coast, and it does," he said.
Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers said few projects are blocked because of aesthetic considerations, in part because it is such a subjective matter. Supporters of wind farms have called the proposed turbines futuristic and beautiful, while opponents have called them a blight.
The Nantucket Sound wind farm, proposed by Cape Wind Associates, would be the country's first offshore wind farm. A host of politicians have attempted to block the project since it was proposed three years ago. If the Army Corps sticks to the 60-day public comment period, the agency is likely to issue a decision next year. If it is approved, construction could begin soon afterward.
"This is great news for citizens hoping to turn decades of rhetoric into action on renewable energy," Cape Wind president Jim Gordon said, referring to the report's findings.
The $13 million draft environmental impact report was paid for by Cape Wind. Some 16 agencies and groups weighed in with comments and data about potential impacts the farm would have, and the Army Corps received hundreds of individual comments.
Cape Wind's involvement in the report has drawn critics, including Nickerson, who says the Army Corps was overly reliant on data collected by consultants paid for by the developer. They also faulted the Army Corps' hiring of TRC, a national engineering firm with an office in Lowell, to help put the federal document together. Nickerson said TRC would be bound to write a favorable review because it works on wind issues, among others.
Army Corps officials said they specifically hired TRC as an independent third party because they have an energy background and experience with similar reports. A spokeswoman for TRC said Nickerson's comments were untrue.
"TRC deals with all kinds of energy," spokeswoman Samantha Guerry said. "The idea they would be biased to any particular energy source is ridiculous."
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, whose family compound would overlook the project, issued a statement saying the project shows the need for better rules to govern what he sees as the bequeathing of public ocean to private interests.
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said: "We cannot allow the federal government to give away 24 square miles of pristine waters to a private developer. . . . [W]hat is happening here is wrong."
Marc Breslow, director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, which supports the plan, said if the report summary is accurate, "completion of a final [environmental report] should be done expeditiously."
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News