The pros call it a milestone. The cons call it a surprise and, to them, not a happy one.
But the fact remains that Cape Wind Associates, the would-be developer of a commercial-scale wind farm in Nantucket Sound, has filed its Final Environmental Impact Report with the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act Office.
The Feb. 15 filing starts the clock for public comments regarding the FEIR, a submission period which will end March 22.
The filing also highlights the differences in perspective between Cape Wind and its chief opponent, The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
“We hope this filing brings the public benefits of cleaner air, greater energy independence and new jobs closer to becoming a reality for the citizens of Massachusetts,” said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind.
In a prepared statement, Cape Wind said the state filing is in response to information requests made by the secretary of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs as part of the Certificate on the Draft Environmental Impact Report, or DEIR. According to the company, the FEIR includes responses to all other comments submitted on the DEIR. Cape Wind, which seeks to construct 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal, called the filing “a permitting milestone” because it is now the nation’s first offshore wind energy project proposal to have filed its final environmental impact report.
But the Alliance argues the state filing effectively abandons a joint review with the Minerals Management Service because that federal agency won’t have its draft environmental report ready until the spring.
The Alliance pointed to comments made by the state’s former secretary of Environmental Affairs, Ellen Roy Herzfelder, in her March 2005 certificate on the DEIR in which she urged joint review of the project.
“This aggressive strategy appears designed to rush the new state administration to a quick approval and deprive the state and the public a chance to review the state issues in context with the interrelated federal issues,” said Charles Vinick, president and CEO of the Alliance. “The developer appears to be betting that this administration will overlook or minimize the legitimate and serious environmental and safety concerns outlined by the prior administration in March 2005.”
Vinick expressed confidence that any issues raised would be answered before the review becomes final but said Cape Wind’s decision to file flies in the face of the virtues of joint review.
“This is obviously an end run around the public’s interest in coordinated and rational decision making,” he said.
However, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said the option of joint review is the prerogative of the applicant and that, in this case, much had changed over the years. He said the MMS is now the clear authority on the project with a well-defined scope of review, which was not the case when the review started six years ago. Another difference is that the federal review is still in its draft stage whereas the state review seeks final approval.
“These processes are no longer on the same time track,” said Rodgers. “It no longer made sense to have these reports filed jointly.”
In terms of credibility, Rodgers responded that he doesn’t think the Alliance has much high ground in that area. “The folks leveling the criticism are the same ones who sought to subvert and end the permitting process through legislative means,” he said, referring to last year’s proposed amendment which would have given then governor Mitt Romney veto power over the project.
Copies of the FEIR are available at Cape Wind’s Web site: capewind.org/FEIR.
By Craig Salters
21 February 2007