Along with federal recognition comes a seat at the table for members of the Mashpee Wampanoag, who will have a voice in determining the future of a proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
Members of the tribal council have made their views clear: While emphasizing support for alternative and renewable energy projects, they oppose Cape Wind Associates’ plans to build 130 turbines on Nantucket Sound. They’ve asked that alternative sites be considered.
Members of the tribal council are concerned about aboriginal fishing rights and damage to potential underwater archaeological sites.
”Historically the Sound is of great importance to the tribe,” tribal spokesman Scott Fearson said. ”The tribe considers the Sound to be ancestral waters. There are a number of concerns about this project.”
The Mashpee Wampanoag, like their sister tribe, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), have been designated as a cooperating agency by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Mineral Management Service, the agency that will have the final say on the project.
That means the tribal council’s views and its analysis of the proposed plan have been actively solicited by the federal government. And while the tribal council will not participate in the actual decision-making process, like the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Cape Cod Commission, to mention a few, the tribal council’s views will carry great weight.
As federally recognized tribes, the Mashpee Wampanoag and their sister tribe on Martha’s Vineyard are considered sovereign nations. As such, interactions between the tribes and the Department of Interior are considered ”government to government” communications.
Donald Widdess, chairman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal council, said his tribe has not taken a public stand on the proposed wind farm but is keeping an eye on the issue. A tribe, he said, ”is a community, and in that community there are diverse views on a subject such as this.”
Until such time that it becomes clear ”who is the beneficiary of this project, we will probably not issue an opinion,” he said. He added, ”Projects like this are usually driven by self interest. Whether that means a benefit to the consumers or to the project developer could affect what, if anything, we will say.”
However, members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council voiced their concerns months before federal tribal recognition was assured.
Last summer they met privately with a representative of Minerals Management Service – the deciding agency on the wind farm proposal.
In a follow-up letter dated Aug. 24, 2006, members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council wrote, ”The Tribe’s economic health and cultural heritage are virtually defined by our reliance on our coastal resources. ”The Cape Wind project would disrupt the fragile habitat of these aboriginal fishing grounds and pose new navigational hazards to our fleet. The consequences would be devastating, in terms of both economic development and public safety.”
Also of concern to the tribe are potential archaeological sites in and around Horseshoe Shoal.
In 2003, during an archaeological survey paid for by Cape Wind Associates, scientists found evidence of an ancient forest buried 6 feet under the floor of Nantucket Sound. Pieces of birch wood, grass, soil and insect parts were found in what scientists believe was a forest floor some 5,500 years ago. And while this prehistoric landscape suggests the area was above sea level then, questions remain as to whether there are archaeological artifacts in the same area.
As a result of these finds, Cape Wind altered its plans, moving some turbines farther from the discovery site. Still, members of the tribe told the federal government of concerns that siting a wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal could be a hazard to future archaeological investigations.
Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind Associates, offered no opinion on the position staked out by the Mashpee tribe. But he said, ”We believe at the end of the day, when all the analysis and assessments have been done, Horseshoe Shoal will prove to be the most viable site.”
By Karen Jeffrey
Cape Cod TImes
1 March 2007
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