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Cape contingent flies to DC to tilt at wind farm

Local political and business leaders made a flying trip to Washington, D.C., Dec. 14 to meet with top officials of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency slated to release a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Cape Wind Project within weeks.

“Personally, I’m tired of hearing about the NIMBYs,” said state Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, who led the contingent. “That’s not everybody (who’s opposed).”

The Hyannis Democrat said he pointed to votes in Mashpee and Martha’s Vineyard showing significant opposition to the plan to erect 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, as well as statements by the Barnstable Town Council and other local government bodies.

“We’re not saying we don’t like renewable energy,” Atsalis said. “We made it loud and clear down in Washington that we’re open to suggestion, maybe breaking it up from a cluster of 130 to maybe four clusters spread out, not in one 24-mile area.”

Atsalis said MMS Director Randall B. Luthi “said this was the first time (he’d) heard in this fashion from elected officials. That just blew me away. We’re not here for the wealthy, for the views.”

The delegation included Barnstable Town Council Presidents Janet Joakim; Mashpee Selectman Chuckie Green, who serves also as Wampanoag tribal historic preservation officer); Yarmouth Selectman Dr. Bill Marasco; Cheryl Andrews-Mattais, chair-elect of the Aquinnah Wampanoag; Jim Powell of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission; and John O’Brien, former CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

Joakim said the “whole permitting process seemed to be leaving us out completely.” She said she raised concerns about equipping and training local fire departments to respond to emergencies at the wind farm, including possible oil spills.

“We’re the abutting neighbors,” Joakim said. “We’re the most affected communities and nobody is talking to us about how this will affect us. Our own governor is advocating this, and he’s never sat down and talked to town staff or elected officials that I know of.”

Joakim said Green spoke about “how the process is backwards, how they’re coming back with standards in April but giving a decision on this project in January.” She said Green and Andrews-Mattais offered historical records indicating that Horseshoe Shoal had once been a forest above water. “They’re concerned about burial grounds, archaeological issues,” she said.

Marasco said he was “very interested to hear that the Wampanoag believe that they have some interests and concerns at this area.” During the visit, he said, he realized that it’s “only recently that some of the local issues and concerns are being impressed at the federal level.”

In meetings with officials including Michael D. Olsen, deputy assistant secretary for the Department of the Interior, O’Brien said he focused on the financial aspects of the project.

“No one’s ever done an objective cost-benefits analysis,” he said. “The developer has said it’s his private business. Essentially, the thing rides on public subsidies, so he should be forthcoming on how it’s financed.”

Citing termination of offshore wind projects in New York and Delaware due to cost concerns, O’Brien questioned the “economic viability” of the Cape project.

He joined political leaders in trying to convince federal officials that opposition extends beyond the shoreline. “We left them with a list of towns and organizations opposed to it, including fishermen, most of the south-facing towns, small-business people,” he said. “They were quite surprised.”

Atsalis said he paid for the trip from his campaign funds. Joakim and O’Brien were looking for reimbursement from the town council and chamber, respectively. Marasco said he paid his own way.

Publication of the DEIS will begin another round of public hearings leading to a final EIS and a decision on the project. Marasco said Cape Codders who want to be heard should not despair.

“Although it seems the federal government is very impersonal and has its own interests,” he said, “the impression I got was that the federal government is very interested in what every citizen has to say. Some argue that this is a federal issue and we shouldn’t get involved from the local level. The message I got was that the federal level is very interested in what local people think of this project.”

By Edward F. Maroney
Associate Editor

The Barnstable Patriot

18 December 2007