The Cape Cod Commission – a regulatory agency formed to slow the dizzying pace of development of the Cape in the 1980s – is expected to deny Cape Wind Associates a permit this week, potentially delaying the nation’s first offshore wind farm even further.
A subcommittee recommended that the commission deny the permit due to insufficient information – a ruling that prompted howls from allies of Cape Wind Associates, which has been pitching its plans to the commission and other governmental agencies for six years.
“We believe we have been as cooperative and responsive as we should be expected to be,” said Cape Wind’s attorney, David Rosenzweig. “And it didn’t appear to us that there was additional information we could supply or that the benefit of additional time would have led to a different result.”
The prickly Cape Cod Commission wields unusual power over development decisions across the Cape’s 15 towns – and has not been afraid to exert its influence beyond its traditional jurisdiction of large-scale developments. Early this month, at the behest of preservationists and Truro residents, the commission decided to hold hearings on plans for a private home – a controversial, 6,500-square-foot mansion planned for private property near the former home of American artist Edward Hopper.
Formed by the Legislature in 1990 to protect the Cape’s natural resources from the ravages of booming development, the Cape Cod Commission has gained a reputation for stringency that sometimes frustrates eager developers.
“It’s very, very staff-intensive and the way the Cape Cod Commission’s act is written, there’s a lot of broad, comprehensive requirements,” said Patrick Butler, a Cape Cod attorney who estimates he has represented developers before the commission more than 100 times. “You’re dealing with traffic, water quality, aesthetics, and community character. You get to the point where you’re arguing over what color brick are we going to put on the building.”
This time, Butler is on the other side, fighting the development and representing the opponents, who say that Cape Wind has not taken the local proceedings seriously enough.
“Throughout the hearings, they have taken a very dismissive and uncooperative approach to the Cape Cod Commission,” said Audra Parker, a spokeswoman for the opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
The wind farm itself is in federal water – beyond the commission’s jurisdiction – but the commission holds sway over the underwater transmission lines that will be built into the ocean floor to deliver the turbines’ power to shore. Cape Wind’s allies note that the commission has not always been so passionate about underwater cable: Two years ago, it decided not to review a proposal to install new electric lines to Nantucket.
The Cape Cod Commission worked alongside the state and federal panels reviewing Cape Wind. After the state approved the project last March, Cape Wind asked the commission for the permit it needs to proceed with the transmission lines. A federal decision on the project is now expected in mid-November.
At the request of the Cape Cod Commission, Cape Wind this summer agreed to a two-week extension of the review process and to provide more information. But last week, the subcommittee ruled that both were insufficient. The panel said, for instance, that it wanted a more detailed emergency response plan. And it also ruled that Cape Wind should provide parkland to compensate for the cable lines that touch on land.
Cape Wind officials are quick to note that they can circumvent the Cape Cod Commission. The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board has the power to overturn decisions by local boards, as it did in another recent energy ruling by the Cape Cod Commission. But the siting board has six months to make a decision, which could be subsequently challenged in court, potentially costing the project another year’s delay.
By Stephanie Ebbert
15 October 2007
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