In the war over plans to build a wind farm on Nantucket Sound, a new battle has erupted.
Joining the fray are individuals and groups who say they are undecided about the Cape Wind proposal to build 130 turbines over 24 square miles on the Sound. One issue unites them: They say the 30-day public comment period following the company’s filing of an environmental impact report with the state last month is not long enough.
The public comment period ends the week after next, and on March 22 the state Executive Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, will announce whether Cape Wind’s environmental impact report passed state muster.
If it does, the document will become the information source for all state, county and municipal agencies that will consider Cape Wind applications to build the turbines, lay electric transmission cables from the Sound to the Cape and build a transmission plant in Yarmouth.
While the report is not a permit to begin building the wind farm, its acceptance by the state ”triggers the official time clock for the Cape Cod Commission’s regional regulatory review of the Cape Wind proposal as a Development of Regional Impact,” according to commission executive director Margo Fenn.
The 5,407-page report, required by the state, covers a variety of potential environmental issues and is based on studies conducted by Cape Wind Associates or companies they have hired.
Opponents and the self-declared neutrals alike want the public comment period extended. However, there is no is provision in state law that allows for an extension of the public comment period unless Cape Wind voluntarily withdraws the impact statement and resubmits it later. Cape Wind has declined to do that despite requests from agencies such as the Cape Cod Commission and the Nantucket Airport Commission.
”We believe that the state’s 30-day comment period is sufficient. Reviews don’t take an infinite amount of time,” Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said. ”We began this process in 2001 and don’t believe further delay would be helpful.”
Rodgers noted the final environmental impact report includes much of the same material as a draft report that underwent public scrutiny and comment three years ago.
However, supporters of a longer public comment period have written letters to Gov. Deval Patrick and Bowles, asking each to persuade Cape Wind to withdraw its environmental impact report for the time being.
A spokesman for the state Office of Environmental Affairs said Bowles would not intervene to make such a request of Cape Wind. The governor – who has spoken favorably of Cape Wind – did not return calls to the Cape Cod Times yesterday.
”Thirty days is just not long enough for anyone to digest the report,” said Barry Gibson, director of the Recreational Fishing Association, an affiliation of groups and individuals that lobbies for recreational fishing access to saltwater fisheries.
The group, which represents more than 3,000 Massachusetts recreational fishermen as well as saltwater recreational fishermen across the country, has taken no position on Cape Wind’s proposal. But Gibson said he is wary of some of the claims the company has made in its environmental impact statement. ”There are a number of statements in the report we would like to review and discuss with experts,” he said.
Among Gibson’s concerns are Cape Wind’s assertion that turbines will improve recreational fishing in the Horseshoe Shoal area. Gibson also questions some of the company’s assumptions based on ”talks with eight recreational fishermen, only two of whom regularly spent time fishing in Horseshoe Shoal,” he said.
In addition to the state environmental review, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Federal Minerals Management Service is also scrutinizing Cape Wind’s proposal. A draft report from the federal agency on the proposed wind farm’s potential environmental impact is due in April.
Sometime before the federal report is released, the commandant of the Coast Guard is expected to issue a decision on whether the proposed wind farm would be a hazard to navigation. A Coast Guard spokesman said yesterday that a specific date for the commandant’s decision was not available.
By Karen Jeffrey
Cape Cod Times
7 March 2007
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