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Report finds wind farm plan illegal


By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff | August 20, 2006

A Romney administration report has concluded that a proposal by a prominent Boston developer to build up to 120 wind turbines off Buzzards Bay would violate state law and could threaten an endangered species of bird.

The report is a setback for the developer, Jay M. Cashman , who unveiled plans for the wind farm in May and said he had hoped to see the turbines anchored to the ocean floor and generating clean energy by 2011.

In his 23-page finding, Stephen R. Pritchard , the state’s secretary of environmental affairs, said his office “strongly support[s] the development of renewable energy” in Massachusetts.

“Like my predecessors, I firmly believe that an ambitious program of renewable energy development, including wind power, is in the interest of the people of Massachusetts,” Pritchard wrote.

However, Pritchard wrote that Cashman’s project presents a number of problems, which could doom it among state regulators who would eventually need to sign off on the plans.

“First, the project as proposed is not [permitted] under the Ocean Sanctuaries Act,” Pritchard wrote in the report, dated Aug. 9. The Ocean Sanctuaries Act, a 35-year-old state law, forbids the “building of any structure on the seabed or under the subsoil” as well as “the construction or operation of offshore or floating electric generating stations,” in the Cape and Islands Ocean Sanctuary. The sanctuary ranges from Marshfield to Race Point in Provincetown, and includes the area of Buzzards Bay, off Fairhaven, Gosnold , and Dartmouth, where Cashman plans to build.

“The proponent therefore proceeds at risk of denial of required permits,” Pritchard wrote.

Pritchard also raised concerns that Cashman’s proposed location “is both within and proximate to the breeding, nesting and foraging habitats of the roseate tern, a state and federally protected endangered species.” Echoing concerns raised by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and state wildlife officials, Pritchard wrote, “it is uncertain whether avian mortality and habitat impact could be adequately mitigated.”

“The project proponent,” Pritchard’s report stated, “faces a high threshold in addressing these issues.”

Vanessa Gulati , a spokeswoman for the executive office of environmental affairs, said the report leaves open the possibility that Cashman could seek a change in the Ocean Sanctuaries Act.

Cashman could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In the past, Cashman has said that he is eager to work with officials at all levels of government to come to an agreement on the wind farm. He contends that his design – which calls for turbines that would reach heights of 450 feet and be located as close as two miles offshore – would produce half of Cape Cod’s electricity.

Representative William M. Straus , a Mattapoisett Democrat and critic of the plan, said yesterday that Pritchard’s concerns are “kind of bureaucratic code words for `You have a very environmentally difficult project, but if you want to go ahead, knowing there’s a strong chance you’re going to be turned down, it’s up to you.”

“My guess is this developer, judging by his involvement in projects elsewhere in Massachusetts, is probably going to keep pressing ahead anyway,” Straus said. Cashman’s company built parts of the Big Dig, and is now constructing the Greenbush commuter rail line.

Senator Mark C. Montigny , a New Bedford Democrat and critic of the Buzzards Bay wind farm, called the findings “music to my ears” because they mean the project would need approval by the Legislature.

“I’m more confident that the developer will be forced through a number of hurdles, which will get us to a more positive, balanced development,” Montigny said.

New Bedford mayor Scott W. Lang , another citric of the Cashman plan, said the concerns raised in the report show Cashman’s design is too big for Buzzards Bay.

“I can’t imagine that the report completely eliminated the idea that wind power might have some practical purpose down in our area,” Lang said yesterday. “But if you saw the largesse of this proposal, well, I haven’t met too many people who looked at it and said it makes any sense in the area we’re talking about.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

Globe staff reporter David Abel contributed to this report.