At least they’re talking. Cape Wind Energy and the Cape Cod Commission subcommittee reviewing the offshore wind project gave each other some breathing room this week, postponing the deadline for the agency’s decision until Oct. 21. That means a vote of the full Commission could come Oct. 18.
For now, the proponent has agreed to fill in a few of the blanks the Commission’s staff report flagged. Another subcommittee meeting is to be held Sept. 20 at 10 a.m., probably in the Assembly of Delegates chamber in 1 st District Court House in Orleans.
Commission planner Phil Dascombe, who is coordinating the Development of Regional Impact review of the project, characterized Tuesday’s meeting as a “conversational back and forth.” Among the issues discussed was the possible relocation of the transition vault at the transmission cables’ landfall on New Hampshire Avenue in Yarmouth.
Another delay for the project came from the Minerals Management Service. In an e-mail to cooperating agencies, including the Cape Cod Commission, the federal agency said its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, expected this month, would be delayed until November.
Full Day of Testimony Monday
It seems the week was all about extensions. After a weekend of rest following last Thursday’s public hearing at Mattacheese Middle School in Yarmouth (see sidebar, page A:9), the Commission subcommittee hosted a full day of expanded testimony.
Hyannis attorney Pat Butler, representing the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, held the lead-off spot and called for denial of the project on procedural grounds if full information is not supplied, or rejection because it fails to comply with the county’s Regional Policy Plan and its minimum performance standards, the Town of Barnstable Local Comprehensive Plan, and the Commission’s own costs-benefits weighting.
The Commission’s “jurisdiction is exclusive and final,” Butler’s associate, Sarah Turano-Flores, said as she urged members not to act as if any decision of theirs could be overturned by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board. Only Barnstable Superior Court and the Massachusetts Land Court have jurisdiction to review Commission decisions, she said.
Another Butler associate, Eliza Cox, walked the subcommittee through an extensive list of minimum performance standards she said the project does not meet. Objections included planned construction of the landfall transition vault in a federal flood zone in Yarmouth and potential destruction of eelgrass beds and fish habitat during construction dredging.
Glenn Wattley, the Alliance’s new CEO, pointed to the recent scrubbing of a Long Island Power Authority offshore wind farm due to financial concerns and said the full cost of Cape Wind has not been made clear. Having that information, along with more detailed wind speed numbers, forms “the foundation of good analysis,” he said.
Butler returned to the podium to stress the unique qualities of the historic districts that front on the Sound. He noted that Cape Wind has not specified its intended response to mitigating the alteration of historic viewsheds, deferring action until after federal review of the project.
That’s not enough for Butler, a 40-year resident of the town who spoke of all the people who have stood atop Sunset Hill in Hyannis Port at St. Andrew’s Church and taken in the magnificent views – “ordinary people enjoying the grace and gift.”
Rising to his argument, he spoke of reading that the Alliance “consists of a bunch of NIMBYs. Some might stand on Sunset Hill and say, “Not in God’s back yard.’”
Patty Daley of the town’s growth management department, formerly the Commission’s in-house counsel, called the town’s 4,730 acres of protected seacoast waters “probably the most important resource Barnstable has to offer.”
That’s part of the reason the state did protect Nantucket Sound by making it an ocean sanctuary, said assistant town attorney Charles McLaughlin. The former U.S. Navy tugboat captain recalled pulling a grounded tanker off the beach in Sandwich. “We cannot afford one more oil spill,” he said.
That was backed up by Hyannis Fire Department Deputy Chief Dean Melanson, who said the department’s equipment, including boat and containment booms, would be no match for a spill from the wind farm’s transformer platform or a fueling ship en route to it.
McLaughlin also raised concerns about collisions with the towers, an assertion rejected by former town councilor Richard Elrick, president of Cape Wind supporter Clean Power Now.
“The potential, frightening and catastrophic scenarios of collisions, groundings and oil spills presented by the opponents have never seemed reasonable or plausible, not supported by the available evidence,” said Elrick, who has captained passenger ferries on the Sound for a quarter-century.
Beyond that, Elrick said, a disabled ship would only be traveling at the speed of the current – 1 to 4 knots – and would not be going fast enough to do any damage to itself or a wind tower. He added that tower arrays in Denmark are a quarter-mile to one nautical mile from shipping channels, and no accidents have been reported.
Later in the day, Steamship Authority port captain Greg Gifford said the turbines could interfere with tacking maneuvers, particularly on the Hyannis to Nantucket route. He also asked that Cape Wind be required to specify the mitigation it would provide to businesses if ferry service were cancelled due to an accident in the wind park.
Edward Barrett, president of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, said the Sound was chosen over the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary as a productive area for juvenile cod by the New England Fisheries Management Council. “Lots of fish come out of that area,” he said to support the position that the potential risks of the project outweigh the benefits. “It’s a very hefty resource.”
It fell to Chuck Kleekamp of Sandwich, vice president of Cape Clean Air and Clean Power Now, to make an extended argument about the environmental merits of Cape Wind. At one point, subcommittee chair Elizabeth Taylor of Brewster reminded him, as she had others, that he should not cover familiar territory, but Kleekamp said it was important to refute other’s testimony, especially regarding threats from the transformer platform.
Kleekamp said the transformer’s 40,000 gallons of mineral oil contained no PCBs and presented no adverse health effects. To prove his point, he hoisted a bottle of CVS mineral oil and took a swig. “Don’t do this with what goes into the Mirant plant,” he advised, referring to the power plant on the Cape Cod Canal.
Highlighting again substantial reports of the Cape’s poor air quality, Kleekamp said Cape Wind’s operation would reduce the need for electricity produced by fossil fuels, saving the equivalent of 100 million gallons of oil per year.
He defended the choice of Horseshoe Shoal, citing an average wind speed of 19 mph, a manageable wave height, and its location outside shipping lanes and aircraft approaches.
Edward F. Maroney is Associate Editor of The Barnstable Patriot.
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