More than one year ago, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) unveiled an ambitious plan to harness the prevailing winds that sweep off the Atlantic to produce electricity for the tribe’s needs and the Vineyard community.
The tribe had teamed up with a Boston-based wind energy developer who spoke about his interest in helping Native Americans. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative provided a $50,000 grant.
The first step was to erect a 150-foot meteorological tower that would scientifically measure the wind and collect other relevant data over a six- to nine-month period on tribal property.
The tower was to be erected on an old LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) site cluttered with junk vehicles.
Last spring the tribe applied for a building permit and received permits from the Aquinnah planning board and conservation commission. But that is apparently where the plan stopped.
Town officials reached by The Times said they had heard nothing more about the project and knew little about where it stood.
The principals involved, Paul Reeves, the developer who first approached the tribe about the potential for wind energy, and Durwood “Woody” Vanderhoop, tribal planner, had little to say about a relationship that has apparently soured.
Last spring, Mr. Reeves told The Times that his interest was “in working with poor folks and people of color in order to own the means of production of renewable energy.” He said that developing wind was in keeping with the tribe’s philosophy and cultural sensitivity to the environment.
In a telephone conversation Thursday, Mr. Reeves told The Times that his relationship with the tribe dissolved in May 2006 when they “mutually decided” they could not work together, Mr. Reeves said, refusing to elaborate. He said his work is still directed toward helping people of color produce renewable energy, including Native Americans in the Midwest.
This week, Mr. Vanderhoop was equally circumspect about what led to the end of the working relationship between the tribe and Mr. Reeves. “We felt that the relationship had gone bad, quite honestly, and we chose not to continue on with that,” he said.
Meanwhile the LORAN site, which is owned by the Wampanoag Tribe, still needs to be cleared of trees, brush, and the remaining junk cars. “We’ve been held up, because the site we’ve selected has not been made completely ready-we’re still trying to prepare the site,” Mr. Vanderhoop said.
Carl Widdiss – former selectman, brother of the tribal chairman Donald Widdiss and owner of Widdiss Recovery – has used the site to store old cars.
Bret Stearns, director of the tribe’s natural resource department, said that Carl Widdiss has access to the site and was in charge of removing the cars.
Mr. Vanderhoop attributed the delay of the project to “internal issues” within the Wampanoag Tribe and, in particular, a “lack of communication” between the Tribe and Carl Widdiss. “It’s something we’re all trying to work out,” he said.
Asked about cleanup of the LORAN site, Carl Widdiss said most of the cars had been moved in a recycling effort that began before the wind project.
The tribe has no current plans to move the project forward, according to Mr. Vanderhoop. “If I could have had the tower up a short while ago, I would have done it,” he said, “Nothing seems to happen in a good, timely fashion around here.”
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the agency that was prepared to loan a tower to the tribe last May, is still prepared to loan a tower, Mr. Vanderhoop said.
Tribe chairman Donald Widdiss referred all questions to Mr. Vanderhoop.
Should the tribe decide to move forward, the grant money would remain available to the tribe for another two to four years, according to Emily Dahl, MTC spokesperson.
Grant money is released to the tribe once it achieves planned milestones and submits detailed invoices for its spending, Ms. Dahl explained. To date, the Tribe has been reimbursed approximately $5,000 for its efforts to educate the community on the plan and on some of the preparatory work at the LORAN site, she said.
By Aaron Macy
5 July 2007